People often say, “Be yourself.” I have always known this to be good advice. Well, not always… there was a time as a young girl when I tried to emulate so many people. I didn’t fully understand the gifts God had given to me. I think I realized that God had made me with special gifts just like He had with others, when I was singing for my dad one day. I sang my heart out to Pat Benetar. I knew I had nailed it! I hit her notes, I belted out the same power she had… and I remember my dad’s reaction. “You sound just like her – I want to know what you sound like,” he said.
It didn’t hurt my feelings – it intrigued me. At that time in my life, that was a new concept. You mean that I can create my own sound? I don’t have to be like somebody else? I liked that actually. I was a creative person and Daddy was giving me permission to be even more creative. From then on, I explored the gifts I had inside me that I didn’t even know were there. This would actually be a lifelong journey.
As a teenager, my friends all liked rock and roll. I did too, but my favorite music was classical and ballads or older music. I was different from my friends, but I was all for trying things even if I felt it ‘wasn’t me’. If someone introduced me to their music or their favorite foods, I was willing to explore that because it just might reach something inside me that God had tucked away until just the right time for me to know that about myself.
Daddy had also made an impression on me with food. I was definitely a pizza and cheeseburger girl, like most of my friends at age 14. Daddy took me on a dinner date about once a week. It was time that he made for just me after having to travel for work. When I ordered the same tired item from the menu, Daddy pointed out to me that I should try new things. Again, I was intrigued. Order something when I don’t know if I like it or not? Ah yes, that makes sense because that is the only way I will know if I like it. And if I don’t, what is the harm?
So, I ordered something that I had never had before. I didn’t know what I ordered - we were at a pretty nice restaurant and they had weird names. When the waiter brought our meals, I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Eggs? Who would put eggs all over my food?” I exclaimed. I couldn’t understand why anyone would like eggs on top of whatever it was I was having – it sounded like a horrible combination.
The handsome waiter laughed at me (which made me embarrassed) and Daddy explained, “That’s cheese.” Cheese? But cheese is yellow and square… I had never seen cheese like this before. I should never forgive my Daddy for introducing me to the wonderful world of cheeses – at least my hips should never forgive him. I love all kinds of cheeses now and I understand when they are different colors and how they may bubble up or taste salty or ‘bleu’. My favorite cheese is goat cheese, and I probably would have never known this if Daddy hadn’t encouraged me to try something new each time we went out.
I learned to broaden ‘who I was’ when I lived with my father. He taught me to be open and to be honest – especially with myself.
The first year I went to live with him after the divorce, I was 13 years old. I had my clothes that Mama had always picked out for me when I lived with her, but I was still growing and needed new clothes. Daddy didn’t mind taking me shopping. He liked clothes and he was a sharp dresser. I found out that I liked clothes too. I was at the age where I was not a little girl anymore and my style needed a change.
Daddy suggested an outfit for me and I didn’t like it. I was trying to build a relationship with my father and I wanted to please him so I pretended that I did like it. Thankfully, Daddy could tell and he let me off the hook with another new concept - honesty. I knew that I was not supposed to tell a flat out lie, but I didn’t understand about being true to myself. This was something Daddy was teaching me as I began learning who Jennifer was.
“If you tell me you like it when you don’t, it will just hang in your closet. That doesn’t do you any good and it will be a waste of my money. I want you to be honest - don’t just tell me what you think I want to hear,” Daddy said matter-of-factly. Sometimes I think females think too much - at least when we think for someone else. We are geared to be relationship builders and subconsciously choose to do what will promote a good relationship. Men are more pragmatic and emotions are not always going to be involved.
It doesn’t mean that men are heartless and have no emotions, but they are busy thinking about the overall picture or the bottom line. I hope I am able to pull out this trait from my Daddy at times. I can’t change how I am geared as a woman, but I do like to stop and think sometimes to change initial reactions if they are not good for me. Saying yes to an outfit that I didn’t like would only have made me lose the chance of getting an outfit I would wear most often.
Daddy traveled for his work and I never knew what his title was - he was just the smartest man I knew. Mama said he was just short of his doctorate for not completing his dissertation. When I was little, he taught at UK. Daddy was ambitious. Having lived with polio all of his life, he was an over-achiever. He golfed, played tennis – he always found a way to do anything he wanted to do, which made people admire him. He was involved with Kiwanis, DECA and really high up in the education field. He wore suits every day and his office was in the State Building of Frankfort.
When he went out of town to give lectures at colleges, sometimes I got to go with him. I always felt like a big shot when I got to hang out with the college students while Daddy was working, and sometimes he would drop me off at the country club nearby and let me swim and hang out there all day.
After my grandfather had passed away, Daddy inherited “Jeffrey’s Clothing Store” in Murray. Murray was a pretty far drive from Frankfort and Daddy found out later that it was too much for him to keep up. My grandfather had the store lined with the working man’s clothing…something like “duckware” or whatever, and some suits, ties and dress shirts. The other side was ladies clothing – dressy ladies clothing with really fancy jewelry and hats.
When Daddy was in charge of it, he changed it up. It no longer was the way my grandfather had it. Daddy said that times had changed and we had to give customers what they wanted. We went to Louisville to do some buying, (please note that when you read the word Louisville, we Kentuckians pronounce it ‘Lou-a-vul’… there is no ‘s’ sound and it is not ‘Louie’).
I loved buying! I even thought I would want to own Jeffrey’s one day and do all the buying. Growing up in the 80’s, designer jeans were the hottest item. Daddy brought in several Gloria Vanderbilt and Calvin Klein jeans for the store with the hot-pink leather strip on the back pockets. Some of them had a shiny pink strip all the way down the leg. It looked a little flashy to be going in my grandfather’s store, but Daddy thought the store would need to change with the times- he even bought me a pair. I loved wearing them to the skating rink (with my 80’s permed hair).
My grandmother was in an assisted living facility and, when we were in Murray, we would take her to lunch. She loved carrot salad. My grandmother was a diabetic and she was not allowed to have sugar. When I told Daddy that the carrot salad was full of sugar and raisins he said, “I want her to enjoy.” My grandmother didn’t have many years left and Daddy knew it wouldn’t hurt to cross boundaries in order to make memories. I still have the memory of seeing my grandmother spooning the carrot salad in her mouth and enjoying it. I remember seeing my Daddy smiling with eyes of love for his Mama.
A side job that Daddy enjoyed was speaking on the radio. He was a DJ at his school when he was young and later did it again part-time for enjoyment. He had a deep voice and was a very good speaker. It thrilled me whenever he would make sure I was listening and take the time to say hello to ‘his daughter Jennifer’ on the radio.
My early teen years were probably not the time I needed to live with my father, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I will never forget when he told me that I would need ‘certain supplies’ while I lived with him – and not to be embarrassed to ask for them. I think I learned from my Daddy’s openness, that we are all human and not to be ashamed of it. I could talk to him about anything. I learned that being honest and unashamed was a major trait that Daddy instilled in me.
After Daddy had sold my grandfather’s house, we had to organize some of the household items and make room for it in our house. Daddy and I spent a lot of time at the linen closet folding all the towels a certain way and making them fit in the closet. I loved organizing! All of these little things I learned from my Daddy were a lot of who I already was as a person; I just began to see where it originated.
When I was 15, Daddy took me to a specialty shop called Jerome’s for my new swimsuit. I wanted something special because I was growing up and was experiencing puppy love with the skating rink owner’s son. I had filled out quite nicely and had the perfect curves for a sexy bikini – would daddy be okay with that? Would he buy me one? I had picked out a leopard print French-cut bikini that had a long wraparound string which crisscrossed over the torso. I went up the spiral stairs to try it on with the lady that helped me.
I hollered down to Daddy that I loved it and I wanted it. He said to let him see it. Gulp! I wasn’t sure he would approve. It wasn’t trashy, it was very pretty and it did cover me, but it was quite sexy. It had a matching sarong wrap so I tied that around my body and onto one shoulder and I trailed down the spiral staircase. Daddy told me to show him what it would look like …‘when I swam’.
Off came the wrap and my dad’s reaction surprised me. He did not tell me to march back up the stairs and get a one piece. He smiled as if he were proud that his daughter was growing up and had picked out a tasteful swimsuit - even if it was a little sexy. Daddy taught me to be proud of being a woman and to not be ashamed that I had a little sex-appeal. Maybe 15 years old was too young to be thinking about anything more, but I still knew that it was okay to look like the young woman I was becoming.
When Daddy died, I had mixed emotions. I was too young to not have a daddy and I was angry that mine was taken early. I was robbed of time when many things were left unsaid between us. Life with Daddy was not perfect and he made his share of mistakes. I wanted to see him draw back on his faith that he had when we were little. I needed more time with him.
Years of learning what to do about the things I wished were different, learning how to forgive, learning to empathize with my father through my adult eyes instead of a confused girl, also had taught me the things that molded my character in who it is that I am today.
I get my logic and quick-wit from Daddy. I get my hearty laughter from him. I get my out-going nature and my courage from him. There is so much my Daddy taught me. In my 20’s, I sought a father figure. Someone who would make up for me not having my Daddy, but also for the father I thought he was supposed to be. The Ward Cleaver father. The Robert Young father. As I reached my 30’s I realized Daddy was exactly how he needed to be. I still realize he made mistakes, but I also realize – so have we all.
All of his shortcomings, anything he was ‘not’ is okay by me. Daddy didn’t need to be the father who could run – my Daddy walked on crutches. He didn’t have to be the father who was always at home, mine traveled but he made the time he was with me very special. He didn’t have to be the father who never got divorced - mine did. He didn’t have to be the father who never made me cry; many tears spilled on my pillow. Daddy just had to be himself and share with me who he was. Life isn’t perfect. But it is honest. Daddy taught me that. I just had to learn to accept it and …my heavenly Father taught me that.