By Teresa Wells
My dad’s name was Joy. It was an ironic moniker for my stoic and manly father who spoke only when necessary. When I could wrangle a few words or a grin from Dad, I was elated.
I miss him. When my mom, brother, and I get together, we share our Joy stories. More than memories, they’re celebrations of times my father broke through his wall of silence and became one of us, his family. Like the time he gently poked fun at my 16-year-old dramatics. Watching me fling myself on the sofa, mascara and tears trailing down my cheeks after a run-in with my mom, Dad spoke from his armchair, expressionless: “Are you trying out for a play?” Puzzled, I shook my head. “All that yelling, I thought you were rehearsing for a part.” A sudden twinkle in his eyes broke my mood, and I couldn’t help but laugh.
That story goes down in family history because it was rare for Daddy to join in the melee of family life. Usually conversations went on around him without his contributions or acknowledgement. We yearned for his interaction, but most of the time he was closed off and remote, sitting in his armchair in the den, his cheek resting on his fist. On a normal day he spoke only a handful of words to us. Because he was so silent, I wondered if he loved me.
As I matured, I realized how deeply he did love me. We were just not in the same communication ballpark. It took time, patience, and even heartache to get us in the same league. But that league, it turned out, was doing things together, his way.
Seeing Daddy’s Character
My mother patiently coached me on Dad’s solid character. She was his number one fan, helping me see he was honest, good, considerate, and dependable. She made me appreciate that, unlike some fathers, he didn’t crave the limelight, instead preferring to stand off to the side and let others be the center of attention.
When he entered discussions, he amazed us with the wealth of information living inside his head. When asked a question, Daddy knew the answer or had an informed opinion. I suspect the source of his encyclopedic knowledge came from the stack of books he kept beside his armchair.
Daddy never told me he loved to read—I just never saw him without a book in hand. Once a week when I was growing up, he’d stand, jingle the change in his pocket, and ask, “Teresa, do you want to go to the bookstore?” I would jump at the chance to go with him. At Fultz’s News Stand we spent countless hours perusing books and magazines and adding to our personal collections. I cherished my books so much, I played library with them, and years later I became a school librarian. I know our mutual love of books had an influence on my career choice.
Shared times connected us, leaving deeply embedded roots. Recently my granddaughter opened her little fist, revealing a shiny pink rock. I touched it, smiling. “Your great-granddad Joy used to collect pretty rocks.” Suddenly old memories flashed of visiting the rock store with my brother and Dad. He encouraged Doug and me to start our own collection of rocks. Nowadays I can’t pass by a stand of polished rocks without stopping, running my fingers along their silky, smooth surfaces, and remembering Daddy.
Daddy wasn’t only fascinated with the polished beauties. He had the soul of a treasure hunter, and he took Doug and me along dusty farm roads as he broke open craggy gray rocks, hoping to find sparkling wonders inside. Our anticipation was thick as Dad hefted his sledgehammer over his shoulder and brought it down with a resounding clang, breaking rocks in chunks. Usually we groaned with no success and turned to find another oval-shaped rock that held promise. But once or twice he hit pay dirt, and Doug and I shouted, “Geode!” The twinkling crystals exposed for the first time in the brilliant Texas sun, coupled with Dad’s surprised, “Well, look at that!” made the treasure hunt complete.
Glimpsing the Past
Daddy and Doug delved into more scientific things, which was fine with me, as I couldn’t stand science or math. The rock hunts were the farthest I would venture into anything related to science. But Daddy saved his love of nostalgia for me. We were at my grandparents’ farm in north central Texas during my teenage years when he first asked me to go with him “on a trip into Olney.” I didn’t know what he wanted to do, but I didn’t care. He asked me to do something with him, and that alone was worth a yes.
This five-mile trip to Olney was the first of several he took me on to show me all the places he had lived, from the time he was born until he was in elementary school. As Daddy slowly wound around the streets of his boyhood, he pointed to countless clapboard homes, telling numerous anecdotes. I barely breathed, hoping he’d never stop talking. I couldn’t believe my silent father was sharing so much with me. But something disturbed me. Finally I had to know. “Why did y’all move so much?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. We just did.”
My father, who held a world of knowledge inside his head, didn’t know his own story? He couldn’t tell me why his family had moved more times than I could keep track of, before he was in fourth grade?
Before I could speak, Dad slowed the car and pointed to the lumberyard, chuckling. “Now that’s where your Uncle Max and I almost burned down the whole lumberyard.” My mouth dropped as he told a hair-raising story of two wild little boys running loose in a small town, playing with matches in a lumberyard stacked full of wood. Even as a teenager, I felt indignant. Little boys should have been supervised, even in the 1930s.
“Where was Mimi?”
He shrugged. “Working at the drugstore, I guess.”
Then reality and history collided: Daddy was a little boy during the Great Depression. His parents moved from one rent house to another to keep their family safe and warm and fed. Those were desperate times. I hadn’t put those factors together. What else didn’t I know about my father’s life? Could the things I didn’t know explain Daddy’s silences?
Those trips with Dad were transformative. He shared his life with me in a way that he never had before, allowing me to glimpse his backstory. It made me feel accepted. Maybe he felt accepted too.
I felt loved.
Psalm 126:6 says, “Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” It may be hard to plant seeds of love with people we don’t understand, but God will reward our attempt to nurture relationships with our loved ones. I’m thankful that I didn’t spend my life festering in the “why can’t he be’s” but learned to enjoy Daddy for the man he was. Those memories are my songs of joy.
They are my Joy stories.
Teresa Wells is a freelance writer who lives in Rowlett, Texas.