As I write this message, Father's Day is just around the corner. I hope you and yours had a great time celebrating the dads in your life.
This publication day, June 20, is also my Dad's birthday. He would have been 99 this year.
Every year around this time, with the proximity to Father's Day, I find myself missing him twice as much. Dad died in 2009.
Over the years of my growing up, his birthday occasionally fell on Father's Day. After we kids all became teenagers, he let us know that a combination birthday-Father's Day gift was not cool, especially the years when they were the same day. A large gift was welcomed, but we couldn't say it was for both occasions.
One year, I got wise and gave him a pair of shorts for Father's Day, and in another package, wrapped in different paper, a matching polo shirt for his birthday.
He didn't complain, but he did grin at me sideways, with a raised eyebrow and a glint in his eye. I think he recognized that this clever apple didn't fall far from the tree.
My best memories of my dad are those of fun times - "prime time" as he called it in his later years. He simply enjoyed celebrating - Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, anniversaries. He even enjoyed family reunions - even those for my mother's side of the family.
Our last "prime time" together was truly a gift, even though I didn't fully realize it at the time.
We invited one of my sisters and Dad to join our family for Thanksgiving at a friend's North Carolina lake house we visited from time to time. I was delighted when he said yes.
It was a crisp weekend, but not cold. We had plenty of food (after all, it was a Southern Thanksgiving), wood for the fireplace, music and cards. We had a great view over the lake to the mountains. And we had access to our friends' boat.
The best time to go out was a bit before sunset, and we would shut off the engine when we got to the perfect spot. As the sun descended, the colors seemed to splash over the entire place.
On one of these trips, my son asked Dad if he wanted to drive the boat. "Well, son, I've never driven a power boat before," he replied.
So he got his first lesson in boating, and took to it like a champ. He took the wheel, gently steered us out of the cove, then sped up for a brisk ride to our sunset spot.
The look on his face was priceless. He was the captain of the ship, in control of his destiny. He was happy.
I took a photo before he realized it.
We left the lake on a Sunday. Just eight days later, Dad died peacefully after a minor heart attack two days prior.
Of all my memories of Dad, it's that evening on the boat that comes back first. And oh, what a great memory it is.