Christmas Eve 2011

My dad was born in Texas on Christmas Eve 1946.

He was a child with no privilege, a post-war baby, the son of a decorated Navy man, the son of a boxer who would fight for the sake of fighting, the son of a gambler who would gamble for the sake of gambling. Grandpa–a minister, sign-painter, and factory worker–had the name “Ruby” tattooed on his arm.

Ruby Pike was a dustbowl child with red hair and a cloudy, blind eye. She read every word of every book she handled, and then she read again to mark out the words she found offensive. Ruby had many sons, but my father was the only one she called “June.” June meant “junior,” though Dad was never officially such. He was simply one of a litter of children who lacked indoor plumbing, who shared bathwater with his brothers and sisters, and who, in the face of every obstacle poverty would present, overcame.

Dad died almost exactly one month short of his 65th birthday. Only his parents, a brother who died in childhood, and a brother who died recently preceded him in death.

I am my father’s first son, one of two children who are completely different and blessedly the same. I am the one who trades in words, yet I can’t find the ones to tell you how important my dad was. To tell you his story might take me the rest of my life. I want so badly for everyone to know him, but every time I sit down to write, every word feels in inadequate. As I struggle to find a way to find the tie that binds everything together, I’m left on Christmas Eve with this lesson my father taught. He never said it aloud. He never wrote it down. He simply lived it.

Work as hard as you can to achieve all you can.

Give all you can to help others achieve all they can.

Love all you can to help others learn to love as much as they can.

On this Christmas Eve, on what would’v been my dad’s 65th birthday, I look to that lesson as the story of how we–a people, a country, a family–should live.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I wish you were here to tell me I’m telling it right.

Dad and his family, Christmas 2010

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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5 Responses

  1. M says:

    As I knew you would, told exactly “right.” Thank you. This is such a beautiful tribute to an incredible man. I love you!

  2. John boyanoski says:

    Powerful as usual.

  3. Doug Ross says:

    Brad, I feel for your loss. I know your Dad was a proud Dad. I am proud to know you and I wish you and your entire family a very Merry Christmas!

  4. Janice says:

    Mission accomplished: I’m touched and inspired.
    Thinking of you!

  5. Bammer says:

    Took the full week for me to gather whatever it takes to reply.

    a) I don’t know how you do it.
    b) I know I’ll never get to that point
    c) I do know this, you ARE doing it right.

    Sounds silly to most I know but honestly, thanks for being the you I get to know.