A tribute to dad, John O. Emmerich Jr.

Published 7:06 pm Friday, June 25, 2021

It took Father’s Day rolling around to realize I had never written a column on Father’s Day about my father. Although I am a week later, better late than never. My father was 65 when he passed. I will soon be 63.

First of all, let me say that my father, John Oliver Emmerich Jr. was a wonderful father and a wonderful man. I should thank God every day that he blessed me with such wonderful parents.

People are like snowflakes. Each snowflake examined under a microscope is an incredibly beautiful, an intricate complex of symmetrical patterns, yet each one is unique. No two snowflakes are the same.

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Trillions of snowflakes create a beautiful blanket of snow. Billions of people create the miracle of humanity but that still doesn’t change the absolute uniqueness of every single individual. This is a miracle of God that occurs every day right before our eyes.

I am overwhelmed when I think of all the wonderful fathers out there, both living and past, who made unforgettable imprints on all those around them, especially the members of their families.

We will never forget these men. They will be with us until the moment we die, their memories bright and vivid as though they never left. Then when we die, we will be with them again. So, in fact, they never leave us for a moment, first in memory, then in spirit and then eventually in the resurrection.

At my father’s funeral, Norman Gillis of McComb, my father’s lifelong dear friend, told the story of being in a car wreck with my father. The car had flipped in a ditch and everyone was panicking trying to get out.

“Relax, Norman,” my father told him. “We all have to go sometime.”
My father and I had a wonderful relationship. It wasn’t like modern times. He didn’t hug or kiss me or anything like that. He would have considered that unmanly and detrimental to my development. That’s what mothers were for.

My father definitely saw me as free labor and took advantage of this perk whenever he could. For me, this was particularly taxing because my father loved the outdoors and horses. We were always building barns, putting up fences, clearing brush and the like. I was digging post holes before I went through puberty. It was hard work.

We did it together.

It’s funny the things that stick in your head. “You need to be able to change a car tire in under five minutes,” he would lecture me. I took that as a challenge and learned to do it in three, a skill that amazed my friends on several occasions.

My dad loved cars and he insisted I get a used 1965 Mustang for my first car. He shopped and shopped and found one eight years old and with damage history — a great deal for $500. I had to pay half, so I mowed lawns, washed cars, scooped ice cream and sold roses on street corners. That same poppy red car is sitting in the Northside Sun parking lot as I type this.

My father was a clothes horse. I still wear his suits (even though nobody wears suits anymore!) It’s cool to see my sons wearing the suits of their grandfather that they never knew. His suits have lasted three generations. He knew his clothes.

He would take me to the local gentleman’s clothing shop and buy me a new suit. As I tried one on, he would grab my shoulders and say, “Stand up straight,Wyatt!’ He never figured out that I was born with scoliosis, a slight curvature of the spine.

My father had an incredible zest for life and delved into hobbies with enthusiasm. My mother was the same way. Together they were forces of nature. Believe it or not, I was the most laid-back member of my family.

When we moved to Houston, Texas, my father got the horse bug. He ended up building an entire neighborhood of stables with dozens of horses and horse shows attended by hundreds. There’s a 50-story skyscraper there now.

Every spring he would withdraw us from school so we could go on a week-long 200-mile trail ride ending in the big downtown Houston livestock parade. I learned to ride for eight hours a day and two-step with young girls at night at the dances, usually in old VFW buildings.

One year my teacher gave me all “Fs” for the week because she wouldn’t excuse my absence to go on the trail ride. Oh boy, did my father let her have it! Once I was marked wrong on a test because the textbook was dated. I actually gave the right answer because I read newspapers and kept up with current events. That teacher got a piece of John O. Emmerich Jr.’s mind and my grade was changed.

All these are just silly things I remember like a million others. He excelled at the big things. State champion football team. Army infantry lieutenant in the Korean War where he saw real action.  Hall of Fame at Ole Miss. Harvard grad. A great husband and a true southern gentleman. An intellectual with a great sense of humor. I could go on and on about his accomplishments and abilities. They are almost endless.

He was so wise, so kind, and so interested in other people. He loved a party. He loved journalism. From a small town newspaper, he became vice chairman of the Associated Press, which was the largest news gathering operation in the world at the time. He met with emperors, presidents, kings, communist leaders and dignitaries all over the world.

He was a brilliant journalist and newspaperman. His well-written words and insights changed Mississippi for the better. When he died I lost my father, my best friend and my business partner all at the same time.

He was a runner. (So I can eat.) He detested cigarettes, but he loved his after-work scotch and soda. He loved to travel.
When he died, the stories never stopped pouring in, people telling me what he did for them, how he helped them and how much he meant to them. I still hear the stories today.

When our 30-year-old horse Joe died, my father said, “Son, death is part of life. It’s natural. There is no reason to fear it.”

He believed Jesus Christ was a great man and a great philosopher, but I never heard him tell me Jesus was his savior or that he really believed Jesus rose from the dead.

This bothered me tremendously after he died. I was late to catch a plane to Africa to help build a church in rural Kenya. Suddenly, I remember that we needed our Sunday best for the dedication ceremony. Africans dress up for church. Rushing out the door, I grabbed a tie. Out of my dozens of ties, it happened to be the one blue and gold stripe tie that was my father’s.

We worked hard to finish the church. It was a wonderful mission trip. Hundreds poured in for the dedication service. There was beautiful singing and dancing and clapping and celebration. I was wearing my father’s tie.

Suddenly, the voices in the church grew silent. I could still see them swaying and dancing to the beat of the hymns. But no sound came from their mouths. In fact, it was perfectly silent.

Then I had the most eerie feeling. It was not me singing and dancing anymore, but my father. He had suddenly become me or I him or something like that. It was he who was singing and dancing in my body.

Then I heard these words echo through the church as clear as a bell. I cannot write or tell this story without tears streaming down my face.

“Do not worry, Wyatt. Your father is with me.”

Wyatt Emmerich is president of Emmerich Newspapers and publisher of the Northside Sun.