Have you seen A Goofy Movie? If so, then you've had a glimpse into what it was like having Harold James White Jr. as a father. Not the bumbling buffoon dad who can't do anything right (although he somehow managed to hurt himself more than any person I've met), but more so the father who attempted to turn the seemingly mundane into an adventure.
He and I agreed the tagline for that movie was appropriate for our relationship - "It's hard being cool when your dad is Goofy."
But that's the thing - Dad was cool. Growing up, all I ever wanted was to be like him. Little did I know that in pursuit of such a goal I would eventually resemble him to a startling degree. So much so that as an adult he got immense joy from people confusing us for brothers instead of father and son. I'm not sure if that was a comment on me looking like a 40-year-old in my twenties or how he aged gracefully. Probably a little of both.
I distinctly remember things from my childhood growing up with Dad that will forever bring a smile to my face:
Trying to beat The Lion King and Aladdin games on Sega Genesis. The memories of me and Dad (and often his roommate Gary) attempting to beat these video games are some of my earliest that I can recall. These games had no business being as difficult as they were. It was marketed for kids and grown men were rage-quitting and having to leave the room because they were unbeatable. Man, we had a blast though.
Watching funny movies. Repeatedly. Dad loved to laugh. When he was laughing, you couldn't help but laugh along even if what he was laughing at wasn't really that funny. Dad enjoyed making other people laugh and he enjoyed experiencing humorous things with others. That's why I'll always remember when I was old enough to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail with him. From the opening scene of King Arthur and Patsy "galloping" with their coconuts to them being repeatedly taunted by the French, we laughed. His laugh wasn't just a chuckle. It would turn into a chorus of wheezing and forehead-vein-popping. It was a sight. And from then on we quoted it often. It didn't matter if it was the first time watching the movie or the 50th, we laughed every time.
The Chicago Blackhawks, San Francisco 49ers, and Kansas City Royals. Jordan. Young. Maravich. Brett. Roenick. McEnroe. Dad loved sports. Well, he enjoyed watching them more when he was younger and had become turned off by the drama surrounding major sports in recent years. I should say Dad loved sports when that's just what they were - sports. He grew up loving George Brett of the Kansas City Royals and watching Braves games. He fell out of love with baseball during the MLB player strikes of the early 90s. Dad loved the hay-day of the 49ers when Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, and Jerry Rice were tearing up the gridiron. His love of San Francisco continued through the Steve Young era. In recent years he didn't care as much about football and I can't really blame him. And then there's the Chicago Blackhawks. The early to mid-90s featured a stellar squad with guys like Jeremy Roenick, Steve Larmer, and Chris Chelios. He remained a lifelong fan of the Blackhawks and hockey in general. He shared his love of sports (and shared his displeasure) with his kids. Be it baseball, hockey, or tennis, my sisters and I would bond with him over his passion for athletics our whole lives.
Pranks. This naturally flows in line with his dedication to making people laugh. Dad loved a good prank. His pranks would range from simple to the elaborate. There was the time he convinced his mother-in-law that Y2K had caused a community-wide power outage. He slipped out of the living room during the final countdown on New Year's Eve and when it reached midnight he flipped the breakers to the house. Amidst the screams emanating from the living room (mostly from Nanny, love you) you could hear Dad's infectious laughter. Or there's the time he and my stepmom put up tacky Christmas decorations at his sister's house while they were out for the evening. They came back home and she couldn't believe someone would terrorize their house like that. I can still hear Mema and my Aunt Teri say, "Honestly, Hal...".
Comics. Dad loved comics. He loved Batman specifically. But in truth it didn't matter - Marvel, DC, Valiant, etc - he was a fan of all of it. Well, most of it. His love for comics began as a kid. He'd save his money and then ride his bike to the comic shop for a new comic just down Highway 9 from his house in Boiling Springs. His passion naturally became mine. I remember many weekends spent at the comic shop with Dad and the guys. They were all big children so I fit right in. That love continued throughout his life. He thrived getting to work at Comicon every year. He loved meeting the various people and connecting with writers and illustrators he admired since his childhood. He also got to hang with various celebrities like Cary Elwes - how awesome is that?
There are a myriad of things I'm leaving off, but there's one more item I think it's pertinent to include about Dad - okay maybe two: Dad loved his family and Dad loved Jesus.
Dad would go out of his way to put his family first. He loved making memories with his family. He loved me and my sisters. He loved and cherished my stepmom. Dad adored being a Papa. He and Clark were the best of friends and Dad loved being silly with him. Dad loved Kaycie and would remind us several times that it's because of him we got together. He would follow that up either a "You're welcome" or "I'm sorry" depending on how I was behaving. Dad was an incredible husband, father, son, brother, grandfather, and uncle.
Dad loved Jesus. He loved teaching others about Jesus. He served in so many capacities from singing in choirs to working in kids' church. He especially enjoyed ministering to children. He was so good with kids partially because he was just a big kid himself. He put them at ease and could express to them just how much Jesus loves them. He and my stepmom worked side-by-side for years loving and nurturing even the toughest cases. And Dad didn't just talk about it on Sunday mornings, he lived it every day.
Today is Dad's birthday. It's a tough day. This another one of those "firsts". I hate every part of this because it often feels like you're okay, but then you walk through a day like today and you realize you're not. You understand a little bit more that grief is not a destination - it's a journey. You don't arrive at a moment when grief has passed and think, "I'm fine... I've grieved." You learn that the grief is a part of you. It's a part of your story now. You don't let it own you but you allow yourself to feel those feelings understanding that God isn't finished working within you.
We grieve but we keep moving forward because that's what Dad would want for all of us. It's what he would do.
Today, I'm choosing to express my grief by remembering and sharing just a flash of what it was like living life with Dad. My family has countless stories that we share often about him. We talk, we laugh, and we cry because the hurt and loss are real. And then we think of something Dad would say and had said and we all begin laughing again. Because that was Dad.
I think I'll end the day doing what he and I ended many days doing - watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
"'Tis but a scratch!"