My dad is cool. For one thing, he's a stand-up kind of guy. Honest, hard working... you know, all those qualities you expect from a man you'd call "Dad." He's a pretty darn good friend, too.
The third of six kids born to Clarence and Elma in the Ozarks of Arkansas, John Baty Ledbetter grew up tinkering with machinery, playing in his family's gospel group, and (I'm only guessing at this) dreaming of a strapping son to take hunting and play basketball with. The fact that his only child ended up being a non-athletic, vegetarian daughter is, no doubt, one of life's little ironies, but one that he's embraced with good-humored resignation.
Dad was a handsome kid with green eyes and a wicked sense of humor, and I don't doubt that he caught the eye of many a southern belle during his high school years. He played basketball and apparently wore dapper bow ties off the court, and I don't think there was ever a time in his life when he wasn't working, whether on the family's farm or in the workshop.
When Dad was ready to venture out on his own, he moved to Little Rock and put all that tinkering experience to good use in his job as an office equipment sales and service man. It was there that he was introduced to Miss Patricia Couch, the beauty who would become his wife.
Dad served his country in the National Guard, and worked hard to prepare for the adventure to come (fatherhood, I mean), until that fateful December morning when his life was forever changed by a six-pound, three-ounce bundle of opinionated unpredictability (yeah, that would be me). The poor man. I mean, I seemed so small and harmless at that time...
Perhaps feeling the need for more personal space, Dad moved his little family to the open rangeland of southern Idaho when I was two, and that's where I grew up. Without question, his little girl pushed every button, tested the very limits of human patience... and just plain wore him out. But, he persevered, providing a safe and happy home, Barbie dolls in the early years and Bee Gees albums later on, and never failing to love me, no matter how opinionated and unpredictable I might be acting.
I remember my dad watching Monday Night Football and trying to explain what a "first down" is. I never quite got it. I remember him picking up a guitar that I'd bought with money I earned selling Christmas cards, and, to my amazement, playing it perfectly. I remember him taking in a baby squirrel that had fallen from its nest, and I remember him incredulously questioning my choice in boyfriends. And, I remember him teaching me to drive in an AMC Pacer on the icy winter roads south of our little town. It's a wonder he didn't have a heart attack. In the end, he survived, but I don't think the clutch did.
It wasn't until he was in his late 50s that Dad discovered what was to become his life's passion: Restoring small antique gasoline engines. I'm not sure quite how it began, but I remember visiting one weekend and seeing that he'd somehow acquired a garage full of rusty, decrepit little engines, many of which were already undergoing the process of being transformed into a driveway full of beautifully renovated, fully functional little treasures. As the years have passed, his part-time hobby has blossomed into a full-time vocation, one that brings him a great deal of joy, a community of like-minded friends, and considerable notoriety in the Antique Gasoline Engine world, where he's known as "Two Engine John." He helps new enthusiasts learn the ropes and displays his latest renovations at the County Fair every year. He even has his own blog where he shows his "before and after" photos. He's an amazing craftsman, and I'm very proud of him.
Dad, thanks for keeping me safe and teaching me to look out for myself. Thanks for loving me no matter how maddening I was. Thanks for giving me everything I needed and a lot of stuff I didn't need but wanted, anyway. Thanks for letting me make my own choices and taking care of me when those choices turned to be all wrong. Thanks for a million little things, and most of all, for always being there for me. I love you very much.
Happy Father's Day! You are the best.
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