As Father’s Day approaches, I find myself thinking more and more about my own, although he has been gone from this world for 32 years.
Homer Huckaby was born at home, in Brooks, Ga., on the first day of December in 1911.
He saw a lot in the 76 years God allotted to him on this earth. He did a lot. He worked hard.
He worked so hard, always on the second shift in the Osprey Mill in Porterdale, throughout my life. Him working on the second shift meant that he was home with me, and my sister, during the mornings and early afternoons.
As I grew older, I was out of the house more and in with my daddy less, but I still remember those early years the best. My daddy gave me a wonderful gift — two gifts actually. The twin gifts of time and attention.
I have a 5-month old grandson, Walker, that I haven’t gotten to spend nearly enough time with, and a 5-year old grandson, Henley, that I have been blessed to look after for a large part of his life. I love every minute he is with me and seek to spend as much time with him as possible, but honesty compels me to admit that I’m an old man, and he just wears me out. The more I am around Henley the more I am amazed at how much patience my daddy had with me in those early years.
He taught me to read, sitting at our kitchen table. Now get the picture. That room was about 12 feet square. There was a sink on one wall, with a cold-water spigot. No hot water and no bathroom inside. There was an ice box and a small wall cabinet that held our jelly jar glasses and Melmac plates. The plates came from the grocery store, four-for-a-dollar with a $10 grocery purchase. There was a small pantry where we kept flour, sugar, salt and cans of Spam and Vienna sausage. Daddy hid his moonshine liquor in the back-left corner of that pantry.
There was a single light bulb hanging down from the ceiling.
We were in Spartan surroundings, understand, but that was my first classroom and at that kitchen table I learned my letters and then to put sounds together and finally words and sentences. Daddy had not graduated from high school, but he was a highly self-educated man, and he made flash cards and taught me sight words and phonics and I was reading fluidly before I turned 5.
I ain’t making this up, y’all. I was. I read the Atlanta Constitution every morning of my life, starting with the funny papers and then moving to the sports and then skimming the headlines in the rest of the paper — headlines that I, of course, didn’t understand whatsoever. But Daddy made me read the words.
I still read what is left of that big city newspaper in much the same manner every day, and I understand even less of the headlines than when I was 5.
With that kitchen table as our base my daddy and I took trips all across this great land and around the world, through the magic of books. I wish he could have lived long enough to know that his baby boy has now seen most of the world that we read about together.
My daddy also taught the Gleaner Sunday school class at the Julia A. Porter Methodist Church for as long as I could remember, and I loved to watch him prepare his lessons. While he was studying his lesson, he had me sit beside him and read the same story from my children’s Bible. I got a strong foundation in scripture doing that, and during my own Sunday school I would always try to leave class early and slide in the back door of his class and listen to him summarize his lesson. He was a great speaker, and I learned much from him.
I wish I had been half the father to my kids that my daddy was to me. I tried. I tried hard. But it is a tough job.
And, unfortunately, for a large segment of our population, fatherhood has gone out of vogue. I think most of the problems we are facing in this country today can be traced to that one problem — the breakup of the family unit. More children are being born, and raised, out-of-wedlock than into a nuclear home where the mother and father are married in America today.
If we could bring back fatherhood — if we could have a lot more daddy’s like Homer Huckaby — teaching their kids to read, to fear God, to respect other people, and themselves---and to treat other people — all other people— the way they would like to be treated — that would go a long, long way.
Cherish your father, if you have him, this Sunday, and every day. I know I sure appreciate — and miss — mine.