William A. Darden, called Bill or Allen by his friends, was a Tennessee Renaissance Man. He was a long distance runner on the Vanderbilt track team. He won medals on the debate team. He was keenly intelligent and rose to leadership in any organization he was part of.
He was a decorated soldier, courageous and honorable, winning the Bronze Star and Legion of Merit Medals in World War II among other honors for his service in the Pacific Theater. He served as Army attaché to the American Embassy in New Delhi, India, in the late 1950s and early 1960s where he became a renowned big game hunter. He was asked by a local village to track down and kill a tiger which had killed a local villager, which he successfully did.
He was so handsome, his secretary Thelma once told me, that whenever my father entered the room that housed the secretarial pool at work, all the women would stop their work just to stare at him. My father was well liked and respected everywhere he went… except at home.
My father wanted children badly and remained in a troubled marriage mainly to stay with his children who were born late in his life. Although I remember some marathon play sessions as a child, my father didn’t know how to show love in the ways children or teenagers can understand, and unfortunately, we did not know how to read the many signs of love he did show. I did not realize how much he loved me until after he died.
In hindsight now I see that he showed me his love on a daily basis. He worked hard to provide for us. He took us out for Cokes on Saturdays. He always bought birthday presents and Christmas presents that were not extravagant, but that he carefully researched trying to find just the right thing. He always carried small gifts back from his travels for us. And he always told me my class pictures were pretty (although some were just NOT!) and he ordered copies of every picture. He tried to get me to go with him to plays or office parties as I got older. He was not an affectionate man but he sacrificed his freedom, his wants, and his needs so that mine were met.
My father was charitable and provided for many people: relatives, third world children, Junior Achievement, orphans – many charities received money and time from my father. He never made a big deal or it – I found most of the evidence in his papers after he was gone. He also won many honors which were never celebrated, in fact, rarely mentioned. After his death I found the box of medals and ribbons he earned through his courageous military service, medals never displayed and never mentioned at home.
He went to church some when we were little children, but stopped going when we got older. When he got interested in going back to church after I was grown, none of us wanted to go with him to the denomination he picked. I was attending another church by then and nothing would persuade me to change churches. He soon stopped going. My father was not overly fond of organized religion and felt all religions should be treated with respect. I was never quite sure he was a Christian. He never talked about matters of faith.
After my father retired, he began to loose his great mind to Alzheimer’s. When he finally succumbed to Alzheimer’s to the point my ailing mother felt we could no longer care for him at home, she put him in a nursing home across town, There he liked to sit outside in the sun on my weekly visits and have me sing the old songs he taught me as a child: “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain,” “Clementine,” and “This Old Man.” I forgot he used to sing to us as children until I began to try to connect with his failing mind and remembered the old songs. One day when he could no longer speak in sentences, but could still say “yes” and “no,” a friend asked him if he wanted to receive Jesus as his savior. My father said “yes” eagerly and broke into a big smile. Sometime I think maybe he had to have Alzheimer’s to get past his own vast intellect to receive Christ in a truly childlike faith.
I miss my father terribly, and there are so many things I wish I could say now. Twice in my life I sent my father something in the mail to try to express feelings that were never openly spoken. As I sat by his bedside the night he died, I told him what a good daddy he had been. He opened his eyes and looked at me. I hope he heard and uderstood.
He tried to connect with me in his way. I tried in mine. We never quite made it, but there were moments when we came close, and those are the ones I will treasure.
If you are blessed to still have your father with you but don’t have a close relationship, break down whatever barriers from the past separate you, drop whatever baggage you are carrying, and find the ways to connect and communicate your love. Learn to recognize the ways he shows his love and to acknowledge them. Tell your father you love him. Then tell him again as often as you can. Give him a hug or at least a pat on the back – learn to show your love whether he can show his or not. Make time for your father and find ways to connect with him. Most of us owe our fathers so much. In my youth I didn’t see it; in my young adulthood I didn’t know how to show it; now I wish I had the opportunity to tell me father how much he meant to me and still means to me.
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From our archives, Fathers Day 2003