Posted by: James Atticus Bowden | July 2, 2014

He Would Have Been 95

Today July 1st, 2014, my father, James Albert Bowden, would have been 95 years old. Would have been.

He died at age 60 – February 23rd, 1980. It was his third or fourth heart attack – it happened on their 38th wedding anniversary.

My parents had a romantic, Hollywood-esque, loving and fun marriage

My parents had a romantic, Hollywood-esque, loving and fun marriage

“Would have.”

Two powerful words. They can be pregnant with promise when “would have” carries memories equal to the potential of any “could have”. They can be an accusation of failure – dripping with the poison of permanence. Or, the kick in the face when “would have” simply means “never”

“Would have” means I knew my father in the flesh for 29 years and knew him in memory and spirit for 34 years. All these years later, I love him as much as I did before – probably more. I think about him all the time.

I know my father is alive in Heaven. I saw him in a dream unlike any dream I ever had in my life. It was a vision the night he died.

James Albert Bowden holding James Atticus Bowden in 1950.

James Albert Bowden holding James Atticus Bowden in 1950.

I think he communicated to me because he was so worried how I’d take his loss. I’m grateful he was allowed to do so.

I’ve written about my Daddy before. So, I’ll probably repeat myself.

When I think about my Father’s “would have”, I don’t focus on what didn’t happen, but celebrate all the “was”. I’ll have to do the same for my late wife – for as much “would have been” there is to go in my life remaining.

Daddy and my Nellie

Daddy and my Nellie

My wife, Nellie Katherine, told me many times that when she met my Daddy, she knew she wanted to marry me more than ever. She loved how he treated my Mother. She loved how sweet he was to her. She loved how he loved his family.

It’s ironic that I held my parents’ marriage in such high esteem for how little conflict they had, when after my wife’s death I realized how much our passion and desire for one another was like theirs. That is a “was” to treasure.

I’m not my Father. Like many folks, I’m much like both parents and in a few respects nothing like either. Yet, one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever had in my life – because I know what all it meant – was when Cousin Carolyn said, “There’s a lot of your Daddy in you.”

If that’s true, my children and grandchildren will have plenty of “was” to hold dear through whatever “would have been” they live without me.

And, the thing I really know is true – is how much I look like Daddy these days.

Precious memories - Father and Wife "was" greater than "would have".

Precious memories – Father and Wife “was” greater than “would have”.

Daddy felt like a failure because he didn’t make his own career goals. I cheered him for almost 15 years to disabuse him of that notion. He hated how his heart attacks made him physically weaker than he had been.

His Mother died when he was a toddler. He had hard formative years, but was blessed when an Aunt raised him as her own. He always loved and respected his Father. Then, on his own he was a warm, hugging, kissing, verbal and loving father when many Depression Era and World War II generation dads weren’t.

He had a temper equal to his ‘Black’ Irish heritage. He was as stubborn, tough and brave as any Southerner and Scot-Irish man when he had to be. His blood was half Scottish. He lived duty as a soldier. He held high and dear the responsibilities due an officer. He said his nightly Christian prayers on his knees as a grown man. He was passionate. He loved to laugh. He was all about family, family, family.

Happy 95th Birthday in Heaven, Daddy. I’m proud you’re my Father. I love you.



  1. Fine comments and thoughts. I too lost my dad (about 10 years ago now). He was also Army Air Corps. Think about him every day. Someone once asked me that if I could have dinner with anyone from history who would I choose. Without hesitation, I said my father.

  2. Thank you, DV. Grateful to be born well – no doing of our own – to good men.

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