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Thank You, Dad

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Red clay to purple rain, I hear different people describe my dad different ways.

Whatever and wherever my father has been, who he is hasn't changed.

My introduction to the world came overseas, far from the tall, southern pines where my father grew up. Both of our birthplaces were veritable map dots; you just had to spin the globe like a basketball to find them. The only photo I've seen of myself as a newborn has me, all wrinkly and red, wearing a shirt of my dad's favorite college football team. It was a tiny-T, but, with a military family stationed continents away, a major statement.  

Time can sometimes add a little extra intrigue to memories, exaggerations that grow like children. With my father, I sense the opposite might be true, instead. Some of his stories, I fear, have been edited for content and consumption, a layer of proverbial protection for two confiding kids. When I'm around dad's friends and family, the best tales are, every-now-and-then, told with mere glances and grins; when I introduce myself to people who know my father, they cachinnate and chuckle. Those laughs leave lots of room for interpretation.

The son of a lawyer and a legislator, my dad's upbringing came with an interesting mix of freedom and fortitude, recreation and rigidity. In terms of that image, my father was a down-home dichotomy. His red neck, when his mom made him, was covered with a crisp collar. He rode in big trucks, but drove an all-white Pontiac Firebird, rumored, by some, to be the "love at first sight" attraction for my mother. Dad is now a walking buzz-cut, but had long, frizzy hair into adulthood. He played college soccer, even once had a faster time than an admittedly already-exhausted Herschel Walker in a prep track meet, but his best athletic attribute may have been simply keeping his pop in chase.    

Red clay to purple rain, I hear different people describe my dad different ways. Some will talk of a boy who, along with his younger sibling, ran wild through the woods with no shoes and no fear. Others describe a fraternity brother who danced at the disco, curly locks included. Whatever and wherever my father has been, who he is hasn't changed.      

Dad is a giver. He still pays for my meals, changes my oil and, as a multi-decade member of the United States Armed Forces, has dedicated his life to service. He shies away from the distinction, but my father is a hero. Like countless others in the military, his accomplishments are on display on his chest, in frames and, perhaps most prominently, in memory. His influence has always been front and center, even when he hasn't been home. As someone who can speak to his passion, my dad's love for corps and country is strong.  

Becoming a grandparent, though he doesn't prefer that exact term, has changed the way I see my father, though reinforced the values in him that I hold dear. Watching my dad with my kids has offered a glimpse into how he was with me, decades in the past. Pictures, for lack of a better phrase, have come to life.

What is fascinating about my father is that, even into his 50s, he still looks the same. As I age, he stands as a fixed frame of reference, which, quite honestly, isn't flattering for me. My wife's college roommate had a crush on him. Dad can still run faster and further than me and would probably get picked before me in any team sport-selection with my peers. As I get older, heftier, and what seems like shorter, he, in my eyes, looks just as he did when I was a child; his legend, quite conversely, is still growing.  

When I was a young grade-schooler playing local soccer for a tough, hard-nosed coach, a simple sideline instruction, a finger-point telling me to stand "right there", led, mere moments later, to my very first soccer goal. I still view my father with that same sense of bewilderment. 

Dad grew up working to help others, even sometimes when he didn't know it. He tells a story of my grandfather gathering he and his friends together to dig a pool; gleefully and willingly, the new-recruits labored until the job was done: a hole for a new septic tank. Through the years, dad has been quick to lend a helping hand. Begrudingly, at times, I've learned that value all the same.  

The evolution of my perspective on my parents has been numbing. From seeing them as the ultimate end-all-be-all, to trying and testing those limits, to shaking my head in doubt, then their hands in appreciation, their support has been unwavering. Some call my dad by his name, some by his rank; even when it's tough for two guys to say much, I call him just to talk.  

A walk through my parent's hallway is a step back in time, with photos and trinkets wrapping like wallpapper. Some of the most prominently displayed pictures, however, are those taken with a trail-cam. Many images of my dad are of him in camouflage; his legacy, however, isn't hard to find.  

Things have come full-circle for my father. Around the globe and back again, he has gone through his mid-life mini-crisis and emerged as a high school soccer coach. My father has come in many forms, though has stayed true to what he believes. Through memoirs and memories, I've seen my dad's life unfold. I see him as the man I want to be.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports