Based on his genetic history, my dad was never expected to live past 65. With this in the back of my mind, I always worried that every time I saw him, it might be the last. Knowing this over the years, I couldn’t help but want our conversations to be a little deeper and our hugs to last a little longer.
My dad has now lived 11 more years than anyone ever expected. He escaped polio as a child and has survived multiple mini strokes in his later years. Sadly, these mini strokes have caused him to walk a little slower and choose his words a little more carefully. It’s hard to watch your father get older. The man who has always been my Superman isn’t supposed to cripple under the kryptonite of aging. Why can’t fathers live forever?
In honor of the past 50 years with my father, I wanted to share a little about this extraordinary man.
Robert Roy Dunford was born to Love Clayton Dunford, one of the founders of Dunford Bakers (famous for their chocolate donuts). As a teenager, he watched his father work long hours in the bakery and learned the value of hard work along with devotion to God and family.
Robert was captain of his high school football team and senior class president. He knew how to ride horses and motorcycles. He met my mom when they were both in college but she had a crush on him since her freshman year in high school.
They had seven children and as the second oldest, I grew up watching him bake homemade bread, plant vegetable gardens, and prune fruit trees. He built my first doll cradle, a large puppet theater, and wooden marble race stands that entertained us for hours. He even built the most amazing play fort in our back yard complete with a fireman’s pole and escape hatch. He taught me how to ride a bike, decorate a birthday cake, and make homemade ice cream.
When my mother was pregnant with her sixth child, I told my dad that if it was another brother (I had four of them already), I wanted a kitten. I knew the day that my dad walked into the house with a kitten sleeping on his shoulder, that my mom had given birth to another boy.
When I was sick, he made me “Jungle Juice” to gargle so my throat wouldn’t hurt. As a child, my growing pains were often so bad that I couldn’t sleep at night so he would massage my feet until I fell asleep.
My father never wanted to climb the corporate ladder and instead preferred playing with his seven kids on Saturdays to golf games with his work colleagues. As a result, he was passed over for promotions and missed out on business deals. If he cared, he never showed it. We were more important.
Before we could write, he taught us how to set goals and held monthly interviews with all of us to make sure we were doing okay. He asked about what made us happy and what made us sad. He asked about our hopes and dreams. No matter how busy he was, he supported me in all of my activities and always believed in me. With my dad, the sky was the limit.
When it was time for me to get married, I asked him to decorate my wedding cake. He had made all my birthday cakes when I was growing up, so why not my wedding cake? He may have wanted to say “No” but he didn’t. My mom told me later that he practiced for hours on stainless steel bowls so he could get the decorations just right. How many girls can brag that their father made their wedding cake?
Over the years, my dad has been a constant in my life. He’s been the one I could always turn to for wise advice and fatherly counsel. He’s been my greatest cheerleader and my most loyal friend.
So what do you do when you know your Superman won’t be around forever? You write them a tribute for Father’s Day and hope someone finds an antidote to kryptonite.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!