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  • jrblackburnsmith

Happy Birthday!


Image: Dick Smith, sometime around 2012


Friday, March 22, would have been my dad's --Dick Smith's-- 89th birthday. He died in 2016. My dad was a complicated man who led a complicated life. Dad was an alcoholic who was sober for 47 years. When he was drinking, he did it wholeheartedly, throwing his soul and being into it. He was the guy who never made it to work because he had to drive by a bar on the way and stopped in for one drink and never left. I'm sure he drove drunk. Once, he parked the car in the yard, the hood nestled between two decorative lamp posts. And when he quit, he did it just as wholeheartedly. He went to AA meetings seven days a week for years. He sponsored and mentored hundreds of men and women on their path to sobriety. He was always available when one of them needed him.


Dad was the epitome of the Type A personality. He was rigid, orderly, and inflexible. He was responsible in ways that still don't make sense to me. He ironed his underwear. He went out of his way to help people, even when doing so negatively impacted him. And he never told anyone else what he had done. The only way you would find out is if the person he had helped told you. Once, when I was home from college, Mom got a call from the parents of a local high school student who had died in a car crash. They wanted to thank my father because he sat in the rain and snow with their daughter, holding her hand, while waiting for emergency responders to arrive. They wanted to thank him for making sure their daughter didn't die alone. My father never spoke of that incident at any point in his life. He hadn't told my mom, and he never did.


At Dad's funeral one of my brother's said that knowing Dick Smith was like hiking along the shoulder of a great mountain. When you are that close to something, you can't see how big it is, or what shape it takes. I think that's true. Dad hated to leave anything unfinished. He would work on a project all night if he needed and leaving something unfinished galled him to no end. I think that's why he died on March 21, 2016. That was a complete life, wrapped up as neatly as possible the day before his 81st birthday. I believe he thought if he made it to his birthday, he would have had to live for another entire year and he just didn't have it in him.


Dad had dementia the last several years of his life. If you didn't know him well, you would never have been able to tell. When he would forget who my wife was, he just smiled and said, "Here comes trouble," in the most charming way. That greeting became special to Denise in its own right. He never forgot who I was, except the very last time I saw him. That visit was difficult. He slept mostly and didn't connect or show any signs of recognition when he was awake. As I was leaving, however, he gathered himself long enough to say four of the most important words I've ever heard. "Jeff," he said, "I love you."


Love you too, Dad.


Win a free Kindle edition of Love: a novel of grief and desire: I work with Reader's Favorite on the Kindle book giveaway. If you go to readersfavorite.com/book-giveaway you can sign up for the monthly giveaway. You can scroll through the list of giveaways (over 500 each month) or sort the list by title or author to find Love: a novel of grief and desire and put your name in for this month's drawing. Good luck!

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