Buford was my Dad. Buford Herman Hitt. He passed away the day after Labor Day in 2005. This pic is from the mid-80's. We all knew the end was coming for Dad. He had endured a seven year struggle with Alzheimer's. Even so, when the time came, I was just floored by how much I missed him.
Of course I missed his smile and laugh, the sound of his voice and the free flowing hugs he gave every time he would see me again. I missed the way he played and interacted with his grandkids and the advice he gave to me every time I asked, and a few times when I did not. But most of all, and this one surprised me a bit, I missed having him as an encourager and dispenser of some timely, much needed attaboys.
I missed having someone I could tell about my dreams or plans or even things I was in the middle of doing, and know that the one across from me was a perfectly safe person to tell. He might ask me some thoughtful questions, but he was never going to shoot me down. Most often, he would say, "Are you having fun? Do you feel like this is the right way to go?" And if my answer was "yes," he would smile and say, "I'm happy for you and support you 100%." If my answer was, "I'm not real sure," and it often was, he would patiently and graciously talk me through some appropriate thoughts and considerations.
When I was an early teenager, I remember thinking my father was not as bright as I had thought in elementary school. As a middle teen, I thought he was downright ignorant. We played golf together a lot and he would try to offer fatherly counsel in between shots on the golf course as we rode in the cart or stood in the fairway waiting for the group ahead to clear the green. It was so lame. But then as a late teen, I began thinking might not be dumb after all. He might just be unenlightened - blinded by the values of a previous generation.
So imagine my shock when I got to be about 23 and realized he was almost just as smart as I was. He could actually keep up in conversation and occasionally offer a perspective I had not considered. Then I got older and wiser and Dad could still keep up. Amazing! Who knew that at his advanced age he could get smarter too. I must have been rubbing off on him.
Then the day came when I finally realized, Dad had been smarter than me all the time. And for the next twenty years, I regretted not having taken more full advantage of his counsel for the first twenty-five. But that's the way a lot of kids are.
After I finally woke up, the value I was able to receive from Buford was the way he encouraged and supported me especially when I was so unsure, so fearful, so insecure, and mostly really wrong about so many things. He let me find my way. He guided when he could. He always encouraged and always loved unconditionally. When I was irrational, he was a rock of steadiness. And I miss that so, so, so much.
But I can hear my Dad's voice giving me one last encouragement. "Be that for your own kids," he would say. "Be the one who when raged at, will not rage back. Be the one that an insecure and fearful son or daughter can come to and know that they will only be loved and encouraged. Be that safe place for your kids. Do not withhold sound advice or a needed dose of correction or challenge. But always do it in love. They will not always love you back. Do it anyway. The will not always appreciate you. Do it anyway. At times, the might think of you as the most ignorant man alive. Love them anyway."
So now, although my Dad and I are very different people, in a lot of ways, I'm really just playing Buford.