William Kirby Sheridan
was my Daddy. When they print obituaries and carve tombstones, the editors and carvers seem to think the most important information is when a person was born and died. The span of a person’s life isn’t the true measure of their importance, I think, as much as the breadth of their impact on the lives around them. Daddy died just two weeks short of his 79th birthday, on December 1, 2011. For a guy who’d had seriously high cholesterol, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease for decades, and pulmonary fibrosis for the past 10 years, that was actually pretty remarkable.
But this post isn’t about how long Bill Sheridan lived or about how he died. This is about what I wanted to say if they had let me say goodbye. Episcopal “Celebrations of Life” don’t allow for eulogies by loved ones. That’s too Baptist, I suppose. Besides, Mama wouldn’t have it.
When I was a tiny little girl, I had a new pair of overalls that were a bit too large for me. When Daddy put them on me, he spoke down into the bib, saying “Hey, Britches, where’s Angela?” The nickname stuck, later to evolve into a weapon of teasing as “Britchie Brat”. I can remember, at that age, Daddy asking me every day if I was his little girl and responding no, that I was his Big Baby, because I couldn’t stand the idea of being anything little.
He’s been behind me all my life, from the time my britches were too big for me, through all the times when I got in trouble for being too big for my britches.
Daddy was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, with a mind like a steel trap; once he learned a tidbit of knowledge he never forgot it and could recall that knowledge at a moment’s notice. He was a jack of all trades and master of many. I’ve been told I got my smarts from him, as well as my smart mouth (and my smart behind). He tanned my behind a few times for showing off that particular talent.
They always tell women that someday they will end up looking just like their mothers. I was totally fine with that as mother is a beautiful lady. Imagine my shock a few years ago when my middle aged face started to show up as Daddy, instead. Yep. Same jowls. Same lips. Same eyes. Hello Daddy, my mirror says.
Daddy was a Navy man who taught me that being on time was sacrosanct and meant getting there early. He taught me how to tie a Windsor knot when I was a Brownie Girl Scout. He taught me to tell the truth, stand by my word, and that dogs don’t lie. He taught me that cats are familiars, keep hoeing til you get to the end of the row, and keep your knives sharp. During the sailboat racing years (Terri and I always called him Captain Bligh behind his back—sorry Daddy) he taught me how to tie a bowline and to always puke over the lee rail.
Daddy taught me the ferocity of a parent’s love one day when he witnessed me nearly get hit by a car while riding my bike, and through the years showed me that a father’s love never wavers, weakens or ends, and that parents never stop worrying about their little girls.
Southern women keep calling their fathers “Daddy” long after their mothers go from being “Mommy” to Mama or Mother or Mom. When we grow up and take on our own mantle of caregiver, our mothers become our mentors and peers, but we never stop being Daddy’s little girl.
To know that I’ll never again hear my Daddy’s voice call me Princess or Britchie breaks my heart. Saying goodbye is hard, but I will always carry my Daddy’s wisdom, love and….his face. I can live with that.