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Column: Fathers and daughters, life and death
Tammy Davis.jpg
Tammy Davis

I was taking a nap on my back porch when my daddy died. I woke up suddenly. A Sara Evans’ song was on the radio. In that moment I understood that my father was gone. My sister called to tell me what I already knew.

Lots of people have experiences like mine. They know the second their loved one passes. I do not understand how that can be, but it happens all the time.

This Father’s Day, rather than thinking about the day my daddy died, I want to think about the days he lived.

My daddy, Gene Davis, lived a big life. He had no middle gear. He was either wide open or asleep.

They say numbers don’t lie. I would love to know the numbers of my daddy’s life. I would love to know how many fish he caught. I would love to know how many pounds of vegetables came out of his garden. I would love to know how many Cokes in the little glass bottles he gave away at the cotton gin. I would love to know how many funerals and visitations he attended. I would love to know how many people he bailed out of jail. I would love to see the numbers of my father’s life.

Because he ran full throttle, we all thought Daddy would go in the middle of some sort of adventure -- on his tractor or at the gin or on his air boat in Okeechobee. None of us thought he would go out the way he did. But here’s the thing about death, we don’t get to choose.

Just a few weeks before he died, Daddy was determined to attend my niece’s wedding. His faithful helper made it happen. His speech was tricky at this point, but he looked at me and said, “Pretty.” He loved blue, and my dress had big, blue flowers. Selfishly, I hoped that would be the last time I saw him because that would have been a sweet, happy memory. But again, with death, we don’t get to choose.

At some point hospice told us Daddy was hours away from death. A week later, he was still alive. I was sharing this prediction and the reality with a friend who had known daddy for 30 years. “Here’s what they don’t know,” my friend said. “There’s tough, and then there’s Gene Davis tough.” Truer words.

The last time I saw my daddy alive, he was trying to say something, but we didn’t know what. I kept saying, “It’s OK, Daddy. It’s OK.” I tell myself he was trying to say “good-bye” or “I love you,” but I really have no idea. Death is scary, and it is peaceful all at the same time.

The whole concept of heaven is a mystery to me, but here’s what I believe. If there is a heaven, and if my father is there, this is what his heaven looks like. Gene Davis’ heaven means catching fish all day long -- no limits, no licenses, no sunscreen, no bugspray. My daddy’s heaven would not be a garden without weeds or bugs or snakes. No, my father’s heaven would have an infinite number of workers for my father to boss to make sure there were no weeds or bugs or snakes.

My daddy often seemed bigger than life to me -- more like a character in a movie than a real person. In many ways he was a mystery. Fathers can be like that to their daughters. I have questions I wished I had asked him, and I have questions I wish I could ask somebody about death. So many things that I don’t understand, but one thing I know for sure. My father would have no time for philosophical pondering. He would say: “None of that matters. Don’t waste your time on that stuff. Find an adventure. Go outside. Get busy. Do something.”

So that is what I will try to do.

I will try to honor my father -- the man who loved catching a 50-pound catfish and growing a 50-pound cabbage. I will honor him by working hard and telling good stories and living the biggest life I can every single day. I will try not to ask too many questions. I will embrace every day. I will try to make the most of every moment. I think my daddy would like that.

(Tammy Davis lives in Columbia, SC. She is thankful she grew up with a father who inspired her to live the biggest life she could imagine. She knows if he were able, he would ask for a correction: 55-pound catfish and cabbage, not 50.)