Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Dad

In addition to being Father's Day, today would have been my dad's 79th birthday.  Russell Lee Davis was born June 19, 1932 and died August 18, 2003.  This is an abridged version of the eulogy I delivered at my dad's funeral on August 20, 2003:

Many of you who knew my dad probably remember him as a quiet, shy man.  That was only his public persona.  I would like to share some of my family's memories of the real Lee Davis.

When we started talking about our memories of my dad, we discovered a common theme - fishing.  My dad loved to fish.  He would always get his fishing equipment together the night before a fishing trip.  He told us kids to keep our distance from him for fear that we would tangle his line or be stabbed by a fish hook.  How many times did we hear him say, "Don't step on any fish hooks!"

He also had his bait routines.  To make doughballs, he would spread newspaper on the kitchen floor and sit down with some Velveeta cheese and a box of Wheaties, knead them together, and form them into small balls.  He also caught his own night crawlers.  After dark he would grab a flashlight, a tin can, and the closest kid and head for the backyard.  He would hold the flashlight, the chosen child would hold the can, and we would creep around the yard capturing night crawlers.

My dad at East Fork Lake, near
Williamsburg, Ohio in 1998
My dad wanted all three of his kids to be good fishermen.  Russ still fishes, but dad wasn't as successful with Cheryl and me.  Cheryl's first fishing trip was almost her last.  The first time she tried to cast her line out she hooked her sweater instead.  Dad told her he would never take her fishing again, but later relented.  I recall one of the last times I went fishing.  I was around 10 or 11 years old and hooked a real fish - a trout - for the first time.  I started to reel it in and thought I had caught something the size of a small whale.  It was hard work, but dad wouldn't help me reel it in.  I suppose this was one of those parenting moments to build my character and teach me self-sufficiency, but the only thing I learned was that fishing wasn't much fun.

My dad also enjoyed hunting.  Cheryl and I never went hunting with him, but, as adults, we did go with him to check out his favorite hunting spot before squirrel season began.  Russ and my mom did go hunting with him, serving primarily as hunting dogs.  Mom was the more successful in the role.  While hunting in some high grass, dad instructed mom to walk in front of him and scare out rabbits.  She agreed to do so, as long as he didn't shoot her.  Sure enough, she scared out a rabbit and he shot it.  Mom told him that she was the best hound dog he ever had.

As a child, dad also did some trapping.  One day, he and a friend set out some traps.  On their way to school the following day, he and his friend checked the traps.  The good news was that they trapped something.  The bad news was that it was a skunk and, as dad put it, they "got skunked."  They then proceeded to school.  Upon catching their scent, the teacher told them that if they would just leave and go home, she wouldn't even mark them absent.

Having heard our fishing and hunting stories, you might think that my dad was the stereotypical slovenly male.  This wasn't the case.  He was very particular about his appearance and even dispensed fashion advice to us.  On days when he went to church or some place where he would need to dress up, he was obsessed.  He would ask if his tie was too long, if it was too short, if the knot was straight.  His hair had to be perfect, his shoes shined, and his socks absolutely had to coordinate with the rest of his ensemble.

Dad rarely shopped for his own clothing, but when he did, the experience was nearly unbearable for anyone accompanying him.  He wore exactly the same type of pants to work every day, but Russ remembers spending an hour with him, shopping only for one pair of work pants.

His obsession with finding the perfect clothing also surfaced when he shopped for my mom's Christmas presents.  Each year he recruited me to go Christmas shopping with him.  I remember one excriciating evening when dad and I spent what seemed to be hours at McAlpin's trying to decide between two outfits he had selected.  After weighing the pros and cons of each outfit, he finally decided on one.  Incidentally, I was back at McAlpin's a few weeks later when my mom exchanged the outfit he had taken so long choosing.

My dad could be very stern, but he also had a playful side.  Since he worked early hours on the railroad, he was usually home when we got out of school.  Cheryl remembers watching the Flintstones and Tom and Jerry cartoons after school with dad.  Russ remembers how tired dad would be after work, but that he would still play with him.  He would tell Russ to get his marbles and plastic army men and they would shoot marbles at the army men.  Dad enjoyed sports and often took us bowling and to play putt-putt golf on his off days.


My dad and his granddaughter, Alyssa
 However, his playful side really kicked in when he became a grandfather.  Although he occasionally disciplined Alyssa, he was more often her partner in crime.  For instance, one day he took a plastic newspaper wrapper, formed it into a ball, and threw it at her.  Alyssa pretended to hold a baseball bat and took a swing.  This continued until Cheryl walked into the room and reminded them that they shouldn't throw things in the house, to which dad replied. "She started it!"

Dad also enjoyed his time with Quincy and looked forward to playing baseball with him.  Each time he saw Quincy he said, "Boy, he's really going to be something."

I hope you have enjoyed hearing a few of our memories of my dad.  He had a great sense of humor and would rather be remembered with laughter than with tears.

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