Much owed to father who continues to inspire, teach

Published 12:20 am Sunday, March 5, 2017

Owing things to others has never become comfortable to me. Whoever you owe seems to hold a special position of power over you.

Unless, that is, the debtor is truly a generous soul.

Today, reflecting on the passing of another year in the life a person who is dear to me, the magnitude of the debt owed to him is substantial.

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Aside from his first name, half his DNA and many of his mannerisms, my father is definitely different from me. Dad has always had dark, almost olive skin, perpetually tanned. My own skin came from the other half of the equation. I share my mom’s fair complexion.

Unlike me, he also sports a good bit of hair on top of his head.

Slow to frustration, he is the polar opposite of me.

That said, we’re also a great deal alike as well.

Others who know us both say we share many of the same mannerisms. We even, apparently, stand alike.

Although his experience gives him far more depth of knowledge, we both share a knack for tinkering and fixing things.

Somewhere in a photo album at Mom and Dad’s house is an image illustrating how that trait was fostered at an early age.

In the image, typical of the 1970s with slightly off-hue colors, I sit in full diaper with a screwdriver in one hand, on top of dad’s truck.

That was back when giving a screwdriver to a 1-year-old was cute, not dangerous, and when we blissfully rode in the back of pickup trucks without a care in the world, let alone a worry about safety.

My older brother never had the patience for fixing things, so when I came along, Dad was stuck with a constant companion and a constant chatterbox of questions.

Although quiet around strangers as a child, that trait was merely a ruse. I wasn’t quiet at all, simply saving up my blistering array of questions for Dad.

And while I’m quite sure most of the time he didn’t need my “help,” he patiently played as if he did.

He rarely complained, even as I tried to teach him that holding the flashlight steady was nearly impossible for a small boy to do without much fidgeting.

Together, we spent many, many hours working in the family garage where he taught me many things about how cars and trucks work — and what to do when they don’t.

Through my teenage years, working with Dad to fix up an old Ford Mustang was priceless to me, both in what I learned and how I grew closer to the teacher.

To this day, we can still talk cars for a good, long time.

I am fascinated with his knowledge and recall of things many years past.

Bonding over that Mustang taught me many things. I will never forget one of the first times we drove it. We headed to the McDonald’s drive-through. Everything was good until I grossly clipped the curb while leaving. The sound of the car’s undercarriage scraping the concrete curb seemed to be amplified 10 times over.

I was mortified by the gaffe, but Dad didn’t miss a beat as coach and mentor.

“That’s what you call a humbling moment,” he said.

Indeed it was.

Many such moments were in my future, and many times I remembered that day scraping my way out of the McDonald’s parking lot.

That lesson was one of many he has taught me through the years.

Even today, as he turns 74, he still teaches me through his actions.

He’s always quick to jump in and help — even when not directly asked — and he’s quick to hold a baby or keep a 4-year-old occupied at the house.

He understands the value of family and the importance of spending time with those around him.

Dad retired a few years ago after a long career with the telephone company, but he hasn’t skipped a beat. He’s probably more active in his church than ever, and he and Mom regularly travel to visit grandchildren and just spend time with one another.

If anyone deserves to enjoy retirement, he does.

Happy birthday, Pop. We all love you and are better for knowing you.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or