I’ll just be driving along. Then, as a thought crosses my mind, I’ll smile and say out loud, “I love you, Daddy.” Even though my father, James Albert Bowden has been dead in this world for over 30 years (Born:July 1, 1919/ Died: February 23, 1980). I speak like he can hear me. He is still that close to me in my daily life. I can be thinking of something brand new, that just happened, not just a memory to invoke my Father.
His words and deeds have presence more than just lingering memories. My Daddy loved passionately. Wholeheartedly, unabashedly, unafraid and without guile. His love affair with my Mother was as hot the day he died as a newlywed. His love of family – both his own kids and grandkids and his extended Clan – defined him most of all. He loved his Country, the U.S. Army and the Corps of Engineers with loyalty and dedication. He loved his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, like an innocent child.
He was a complex person, not a cartoon, as we all are – of course. He had a hot temper that went flash bang. As fast as his emotions cooled down, it was over for him. It was really done. So much so, that he was perplexed when others’ emotional chemistry couldn’t reset from one state to another like his.
Daddy had had a tough childhood. His Mother died when he was a toddler. Eventually, an Aunt raised him as her own. It was a complicated time – and I never heard a word of ill will come from him about it. Never. My Mother told me in private when I was old enough to understand what I heard. Yet, my Daddy didn’t seen emotionally scared to me. He seemed wonderful.
Tough – at least on the outside – and demanding can be wonderful, when it comes with so much love and joy. Such obvious pride and hope. Such unswerving loyalty and devotion.
And, there was the stubborn. Stubborn unto being irrational. At least until my Mother could speak to him in private. But, what else could be expected? Bowdens invented ‘stubborn’. You can look it up.
He was one of 34 first cousins on his father’s side. They used to gather as a clan with the matriarch, Florence Ellen Maley Bowden (1855-1944) lived. In 1970, my Daddy got his cousins together for a family reunion – and pig picking – in Tipton County, Tennessee. The Clan has one every year since.
His was an unfinished life for his dreams for family. He bought 10 acres a few miles from where my Mother grew up in Greenville County, South Carolina. He wanted to work another 2 years to save up the money for a barn – to go with an elegant house – and some horses for grandbabies. He didn’t live long enough to see any of it. He had build the first house he and my Mother wanted – at age 57 after a lifetime of hard work.
I remember the hard work, the selfless service, he gave in the Pentagon that lead to heart attack #1 at age 47. Actually, I remember it from my earliest memories of him. Long hours and a hardship tour in Vietnam – in 1956. Duty had to be done. And, he would do anything to provide for his family.
Now, after years of reading widely, I can attribute one thing or the other about him to the times he lived in, being Southern, West Tennessee, Scot-Irish and Scot, growing up in Arizona and Tennessee, being Southern Baptist, etc. But, I’m never sure what had origins from his past and what was original with him. Like when he sang, “Danny Boy” and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”, was that from his “Arash” Grandmother or the Bing Crosby movies of his day?
I know the apparent conflict of coming home and having a couple of fingers of Jack Daniels and ginger ale after work while saying his prayers by his bed on his knees was no conflict for my Daddy. It all fit him.
I can hear his laugh and see his smiling, bright green eyes more than anything. I can feel his hug and his kiss on my cheek – even when I was a grown man.
When my cousin, Carolyn, said, “There’s a lot of your Daddy in you,” I felt like I was in tall cotton. Even better.
If I live long enough to share more of life with my grandchildren, then 60 or 70 years from now, when they are celebrating Father’s Day and they recall their old Papa, they’ll be celebrating my Daddy too. I think that is the way families are supposed to work.
Love you, Daddy.