Daddy would have been a hundred years old next week, if he hadn’t been called out of the game right before the end of the third quarter. That’s kind of where I peg dying suddenly at age 59.
Using a football analogy for Daddy is a bit odd, considering he wasn’t a particular fan of the sport. Or of baseball or basketball. He liked wrestling, which he knew was fake, but he watched it anyway. He would take me to the Sportatorium in Dallas occasionally and the Mayfair Building in Tyler more frequently to see the wrestling matches when he could, Mother sometimes going and sometimes not depending on whether she had the patience to deal with the often raucous masses.
He was what used to be called a “family man,” and when he married Mother after his unsuccessful first marriage, he got one ready-made. Mother came with Linda, a 13-year-old daughter whose father had been killed in World War II before she was born, and Mommie, my grandmother who had lived with Mother ever since Linda arrived.
Daddy didn’t hunt or fish. He didn’t play tennis, and as for golf, he thought it was for men “who couldn’t chase anything other than a little white ball that can’t run away.” What he liked to do was punch holes in the ground.
When I went to his office the day after his funeral, a large map of the state of Texas, with pushpins indicating the current location of the various rigs, was on the wall. The map was pockmarked with holes, particularly around East Texas, but with more singular ones as far-flung to the south as Beaumont and west to Sweetwater and north toward the Panhandle past Wichita Falls. Daddy had drilled wells in Oklahoma, too, and in Louisiana, where he was born.
When I was a child, Daddy would sometimes get a call and have to go to a location after dinner. If there was no school or church the next day, he would take me with him for company. The radio would be set to his favorite country music station, and we’d listen to Porter Wagoner, Loretta Lynn and Buck Owens while I would look over and through the mostly pine trees searching for the derrick. Soon we would drive up to it, rising from the ground in the dark, bedecked in electric light bulbs looking like a giant Texas-style Christmas tree. We would go up to the dog house in our hard hats, mine being noticeably downsized to fit my head.
Daddy just loved drilling oil wells. It was just who he was. Over his lifetime, he held virtually every job in the field of actual drilling, from roughneck to drilling contractor. So that is what he shared with me. Not throwing a ball or shooting a target or casting a fly. He took me on the rigs, and I’m happy to be a Texan who has actually been on a drill floor.
He would show me his ledgers, and he kept meticulous records of how each of the rigs was doing. Daddy logged daily statistics, summed them weekly and averaged them out. He knew how many feet deep each rig was making per day, the cost per foot and whether it was on time and under budget. Daddy tracked the toolpushers and the drillers, knowing which ones were most and least productive and who fell in the middle. When years later, I first learned how to use an Excel spreadsheet, I thought, “Dear Lord, how Daddy would have loved this!”
One of his toolpushers told me that day I saw the map, “You know your daddy knew more about drilling oil wells than anybody I ever knew. More than anybody around here, for sure. Maybe in the whole state of Texas.” I never doubted it.
He loved Texas but never claimed to be a Texan. Daddy just said he got to Texas as soon as he could. He was a self-described coonass, a term I believe is not appreciated by many, but there it is. He could do a Cajun accent like no other, telling a story about two roughnecks getting into a fight on a drilling rig, one of them shinnying up the derrick to get away from a raging Cajun. Standing below, the Cajun shouted up to his adversary, “Unclimb that derrick! Unclimb that derrick! You unclimb that derrick and I give you some SATisfy my ass.”
Daddy taught me about cars, but not about carburetors or anything like that. He took me with him to buy one when I was too young to even drive one so he could show me how to negotiate the best deal, and how pulling out a wad of cash at the end could make it just a little bit sweeter.
When Mother asked me once about blaming either of them for my being gay, I dismissed the notion out of hand. “Oh, for goodness sake, Mother. You can’t really think that I would have been straight if Daddy had just bought me a fishing pole or a shotgun, can you?”
Daddy never tried to make me be something I wasn’t. He taught me to stand up for what’s right even if no one else stands with you. He taught me to pay my taxes without complaining because it was the cost of being an American. He told me that he was the only man in the world that would ever owe me anything, and that was because he was the one who made the decision to bring me into this world in the first place. It was his job to do whatever he could for me. And Daddy did his job.
It is fair to say that Daddy took care of me until the day he died over forty years ago. It is also fair to say that Daddy, until the day I die, will continue to do so.
Some daddies don’t, but some daddies do.