I believe I have mentioned before that I never met my Father, and that is one of the biggest regrets of my life. He was gone from our home when I was born, and I was told that he and his family did not want to know me. I was informed that he died when I was 7, but I was not allowed to attend the funeral. My Mom said he did not love me or want to see me, and it always made me very sad and more than a little confused.
As I drove through the state of Mississippi yesterday, my thoughts were full of fatherhood. I never had a dad that I knew, and I have never fathered any children of my own. But over the years, there have been some men who had a profound influence in my life.
First and most important, my Pappy, who was my Mom's father. We lived at his house during the first five years of my life, and he was a quiet and somewhat distant man. But he cared about me, and tried hard to be a good role model for me. I always felt that he didn't understand why my own Dad didn't ever come around to check on me.
There was Ernie Parkinson, my boss at a car dealership when I was 20 and driving a shuttle van. Everyone said we resembled each other, and they even called me Ernie, Jr. I have stayed at Ernie's house many times as I've driven around the country. He asks each time I stop by when I'm going to get off the road and put my true talents to work.
My old college Professor Sam Levinson, who encouraged me to be a writer and to push myself beyond my personal expectations. We used to drink beers together until we got silly, and then he'd grab me in a massive bear hug and scream, "Give 'em hell, kid!" That man loved me so much, and he was certain that I could achieve anything I put my mind to.
Morty Blystone was the owner and publisher of the magazine that I worked on as chief Editor, before it went bankrupt. This was one of the most brilliant men I ever met in my life, and he shared many valuable life lessons with me. He also had a wickedly dry sense of humor.
And Stan Manning, the Air Force pilot who flew many dangerous missions back during the Viet Nam conflict. He was a quiet, unassuming man who loved to cook and made a superb dry martini. Whenever I had a problem, he'd say, "Let's go take a walk on the beach." We'd walk for hours, and I'd get sand between my toes while he dispensed wonderful common sense wisdom.
How could I ever forget the crazy guy at the mall in Denver last month, who followed me for an hour saying, "Son! My son! Don't you know me? It's your Dad, your dear old Dad, I love you and I miss you and, by God, I'm damn proud of you. Come here and give me a kiss." As you know by now, everywhere I go "Bill's people" always find me, the nut jobs who are attracted to me like a magnet. God bless them each and every one.
I sent each of these men mentioned a Father's Day card every single year, and called them to thank them for being so kind and loving to me. Stan and Morty and Sam all died this past year, and I miss them all terribly. When I went to buy cards last week, it hit me pretty hard when I remembered I had three less to purchase. I will never forget them, or what they meant to my life.
In my heart, I believe that my own Dad was just as fine a man as those I mention here today. And though I was raised to believe that he wanted nothing to do with me, I still hang onto hope that he really did love me. And sometimes when I'm out traveling the open roads of America, I feel like he is watching over me. I never met the man, but I love my Dad. He's my guardian angel, and that thought keeps me going.
Happy Father's Day to all the great Dad's out there.