Remembering the best dad one could have

Published 9:01 am Friday, June 14, 2019

Unfortunately, I’ve been called a mother more than I have a father. But that’s for another story.

Father’s Day is Sunday, a time to celebrate our fathers who are still with us, and to remember those who have passed.

Growing up, I pretty much had two fathers. One until the eighth grade, another one after that. But it was the same guy.

My dad, known as “Hump,” had a major stroke when I was in middle school. The man who was quick to work in the garden or to play ball with us was no longer able to do the things he loved most. The man who fried the best chicken ever for us almost every Sunday wasn’t even able to eat. He was in the hospital for months, had the hiccups for weeks, and had to learn to talk and walk all over again as the recovery process was slow.

So prior to that time, my dad pretty much did everything. He worked daily with the N.C. Department of Transportation, came home and played with us or worked on projects at home. He loved softball, and coached my sister’s team for years. His enthusiasm for the game was obvious. Sure, he was out to win, but more than that, he was out to have fun. I’m sure that playing ball for my dad was a great experience.

But a stroke changes things. Big time.

Quickly, I became a caregiver. Immature and not at all worldly, I’m not sure how I survived those years. A loving mother, brother and sisters helped.

The man who spent almost all of his time outdoors had been cooped up in the house way too long. One day, probably when I was in about the eighth grade, I decided to help him get outside. Using his walker, I managed to help him out the door and down the step. But then – he went down. But I got him back up and in the house. Thinking I was a failure, he let me know otherwise. It had been his best day in months, he said.

My dad never recovered to his old self, but the new one after the stroke was quite the guy. He was kind and generous, loving and caring. He took an early retirement because he could no longer do his job, and because the office work they tried for him after the stroke just didn’t take. He was smart, but never was one for the books.

He took up golf after the stroke. I remember by mom’s brother, Uncle Whitey, taking dad to play golf at Twin Cedars for the first time. They had hit a few balls on the practice range and then went to the course. On the first hole, a par 4 with a dogleg to the green, dad rared back and swung, doing everything a coach would tell you was wrong. The ball ended up a few inches from the hole – on a par 4. My uncle was flabbergasted, my dad was hooked. An eagle on his first hole ever played.

We played golf hundreds of times after that. He was my favorite golf partner ever, always wanting to have fun. He didn’t even care if you kept score, he was just glad to be out there. He couldn’t hit the ball far. He couldn’t make one back up on the green. But he hit it straight – almost every time. A hundred yards down the middle beats 250 into the woods any day.

His happiness on the course was there one day at Foxwood Golf Club in Woodleaf. He was laughing to beat the band while I had the cart at full speed going down a hill. A big yellow-bellied grasshopper flew right into his mouth. Then, the rest of us were laughing to beat the band.

Wednesday afternoons was a ritual for us to play golf. Sometimes it was just us. Sometimes we had others to go along. Every time, we all had fun.

Dad passed in 2004, happily living some 36 years after that stroke.

My golf game didn’t improve. I quit playing. But I’ll never forget my dad and all of those great times we had. I can still hear his laugh. It came from the heart of the best dad ever.

– Mike Barnhardt