The Measure of a Man

When I met Phil, he was a young airman who had just days earlier had celebrated his 21rst birthday. Our youngest child is now older than his dad was then. At the time, I was broken. I had just got out of a marriage in which I was not the person I wanted to be and I no longer trusted military people or men. I had my eyes on a future of status and success which was possible because I was waiting for a slot to the military medical school. When this young muscle bound man walked into my pool, I wanted nothing to do with him. In fact, I was sassy and emphatic as I turned him down over and over again. He asked me out 19 times before I said yes on the 20th time. What changed my mind?

Phil came to the pool one day when I had my three children. I was playing with them and talking. He came over and spent all day with a 3, 4, and 5 year old. He had no exposure to young children, but I saw something gentle and kind. I saw the same thing when he volunteered to coach the Special Olympics with me. He was not comfortable, but his soft heart made every swimmer love him best of all. Those events led me to say yes when he told me that he would never again ask me out if I said no on the 20th date offer. We eloped four months later. It wasn’t easy. He was simply the best father a child could ask for which then made him the best husband a woman could have.

Phil gave up a lot to be with me. His mother never forgave him and it led to a lifetime estrangement. She thought I had married him for his money; he was an airman first class at the time. She assumed he married me because I was good at sex because I had three children after all. Because we were at a small base, people gossiped and assumed many things that were not true. Within the walls of our simple abode, we lived minimally giving what we could to Patrick, Joshua, and Emily. We gave up every luxury as we invested time and what we had into our children because that was how Phil viewed my children. They weren’t mine, he wanted to be their father.

They did not make it easy. Once Patrick spent two hours in the car kicking the back of the seat of the car laughing. Phil did not know what to do. When he came home to me, he was so stressed out, he went to bed for hours. Even doubting his parenting skills, he still invested time in them. He took them every day to the park to play. In the chasing and laughing, he broke through. He became dad. The day that Alex was born and the children came to live with us full time, Patrick took Josh and Emily aside. He insisted that they call Phil dad so that Baby Alex wouldn’t call him Phil. Patrick was on his siblings when they forgot and soon he was just dad.

Being “just dad” was the role he was born to. He was not blessed with parents that set an example for parenting, yet he thrived on being loved—and not just by me. There is something magical in the way a child loves and trusts a good parent and Phil recognized the gift of being more than the label. He bore the burdens of being a parent, also. He never complained about eating rice and beans six days a week, not having cable, clothes, going out, etc. He just simply looked for ways to make life easier. He delivered newspapers and went tdy to help our children have the things they wanted—like sports and scouts, field trips, and the occasional hamburger. He didn’t believe in handouts, thus when our children were little, it was about family picnics, family walks, popcorn nights, reading together, and board games. Phil would patiently explain time and time again that zero did not mean a space needed to be counted. He laughed when one of our boys threw the cards every time he lost. He knew what to say. He simply thrived in the role of being dad.

Phil’s humor shone in his parenting. Once he and Alex and Tim went on a Freezerie camp-out with the Boy Scouts. When they returned home, I heard hollering to come and see Tim’s foot. I ran up the stairs and I could see a black and purple foot across the house. I grabbed my purse and ran to the car. As we drove down the street, I looked at Phil and Tim who could barely contain the laughs. They had painted tim’s foot with markers and shoe dye.

Phil came up with a family motto that we can all repeat verbatim . He uttered these words from the time the children were about five: “Don’t quit. don’t fail. Don’t get anyone pregnant (or “don’t get pregnant”). The children would roll their eyes and mock Phil, but they all laughed.

Poor Emily. As the only girl, she had to put up with the most. Phil would sneak into movie theaters to see if she and the boy she was dating were behaving, he would wait on a bench with the dog for her to come home, and he gave every boy the speech. He told her repeatedly that she was special and worth a whole lot of camels (inside family joke). He once had an operator in Utah break a connection so that he could check on his little girl “who might be in trouble.” He checked on her more than she will ever know when she was at USAFA and he loved that she filled the house with her friends while at the Academy. When we moved her senior year of high school, Emily gave up so much. She could have stayed in Utah, but Phil told her that he would miss her too much. He also looked forward to walking her down the aisle of her wedding. When she was 14, we went to Majorca between his OTS and tech school. He insisted on buying jewelry for her wedding. Yes, she will one day have the gift her father picked out long before her wedding and his death.

As the children grew up and the problems became larger and more out of his control, Phil often felt helpless. He wept when Josh destroyed his knee because he knew what wrestling had done for Josh. He wept when we had a cancer scare with Alex…and he wept when he dropped each child off at the Service Academy or at DU. He felt like he wasn’t done being a parent, either. On our 22nd anniversary, he took me to our restaurant in Manitou Springs. He talked to me and asked me if I would consider adopting two more children. He felt that we were strong as a couple because of how united we were as parents. He felt that we finally had the resources to give children love and resources. We were well into the process when Phil deployed. We were waiting for the Vietnam adoptions to reopen so that our two would look like their cousin, Nate. We even had the names picked out—Hope and Grace. Readers know how the story ended, but Father’s Day brings a myriad of emotions because Phil did spend his whole adult life being dad and sacrificing without complaint. I wanted him to have time and things for himself, but I have come to a realization. Phil got what he wanted and what he did not have growing up. He got a stable life filled with activity, noise, companionship, and love. I am thankful that each and every one of our children witnessed a man loving his wife well and experienced a man giving unconditionally and fully to five children.

 

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