HUMAN INTEREST STORIES

FATHER’S DAY

by Jeanni Ritchie

I was three years old when President Richard Nixon declared Father’s Day a national holiday. By then I already knew that my dad deserved a day that was all about him. I was the apple of his eye and he was the hero in my story.

Over fifty years later and that hasn’t changed one bit. Always a daddy’s girl, I found being under the same roof with my parents again after 35 years to be a blessing in disguise, even though the circumstances that led me there had been heartbreaking.

We’d always been close, even when I lived several states away, but becoming a part of each other’s daily lives again was healing. As Frenchy said in Grease, “The only man a girl can depend on is her daddy.”

There have been many times in my life when that was true. Dad made dozens of midnight grilled cheese sandwiches while listening to me lament boy trouble. He taught me how to laugh at uncomfortable situations that threatened to derail me. He encouraged me to try new things when fear stopped me in my tracks. Years later, when life had nearly chewed me up and spit me out in middle age, he was still firing up the skillet for grilled cheese sandwiches and joining me on the porch for swing talks. He has always been my biggest cheerleader.

One of my favorite memories is clothes shopping with dad. In junior high, we were at the Galleria in Dallas and I wanted something cool to wear to school. Frustrated, I was ready to quit and go back to the hotel when he found the perfect sailor top. I wore that shirt twice a week for two years. After that, he became my shopping buddy. Never a big shopper, he managed to make it fun even when I found myself having to shop for plus sizes. Explaining the difference one year between Misses and Women’s clothing (one is for skinny women; the other is not) he laughingly began asking on future trips if we were going to the Misses or the Women’s section.

When I moved home last year and began writing for the newspaper, I wanted to commemorate my first assignment and press badge with a new outfit. I didn’t just want to go get new clothes, I wanted my dad to go shopping with me. He patiently sat outside the dressing room as I tried on several outfits, helping me find the perfect one to wear to launch my new career.

At an age where many of my friends no longer have their parents on earth, I know what a blessing it is to have both of mine here. My dad, ever the life of the party, fills in as de facto dad for them all. My friends are his friends and he frequently creates group chats so everyone feels included and loved.

The biggest lesson I learned from my dad is that God is no respector of persons and neither is he. A man of faith, he modeled this biblical principle in the way he treated everyone he encountered. Whether it was the prostitute informant on the street or the mayor, he was kind and compassionate and didn’t put one over the other. I saw my dad interact with President Clinton, Reba McEntire, and a death row inmate and treated them all with dignity and respect. I credit my father today with my ease in speaking to people from all walks of life.

He has been an incredible father, grandfather, and now great-grandfather. He has served our city and our community as both a citizen and Alexandria’s former Police Chief with integrity and honor. He is the greatest man I’ve ever known and I am proud to be his daughter.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Father’s Day is on Sunday, June 16th.

 

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