Growing up, my dad wasn’t always physically in the house due to his career – but he was never absent and seemed ubiquitous when it came to being “there” for his family. Even events as simple as bedtime stories were never missed just because of a TDY (temporary change of duty station) assignment took him out of the house for a few months. During a resent move I found cassette tapes with the titles of fairy tales and bible stories on them. I managed to listen to a few seconds of one that hadn’t fully been destroyed by years of neglect and dust. Dad’s voice: “Hey little man, here’s where you dozed off last time….” Even though I’m a thirty-year-old man, I still wanted to hear him finish reading Rapunzel. Sadly, the tape was no longer audible (as were the rest of the tapes) after that point. Nevertheless, my memory took me back to the years when dad would give each character his/her own voice. Magically, the characters would always have their same respective voices every time he read the story. (How in the world he ever kept up with all that remains a mystery…)
There, he taught me to let my imagination soar and encouraged me to unashamedly be as creative as I wanted to be. I even created characters of my own that had personalities and backstories unique to each character. One in particular was a mad German physicist named “Herr Doctor Dootelwisch.” I would walk around the house with a crazed German accent, a bathrobe as lab coat, a pair of dad’s military safety goggles and pretend to mix bubble bath and all kinds of stuff as my potions to blow up the bad kitties. (Yeah, I was allergic to cats even at that age.) My mother would shake her head and say, “Herb, something ain’t right about that boy…” To that, dad would answer, “You’re right Perl, he’s missing some gloves for lab safety……………and to complete the look!”
I once asked my dad what he wanted me to be when I grew up. I wondered if he wanted me to follow his footsteps into the electronics field or even go into the Army like he did. He answered, “You’re smart enough to be whatever you want to be. You can be a doctor, a toy storeowner, or even a mad scientist. But I want you to grow up to be a happy Herby. That would make me happy….”
Herb Sr. never once showed a judgmental bone in his body. He taught me that each person you meet gets an “A”. “You allow them to prove themselves as anything less than an ‘A’ grade person. Trust me, it won’t take an ‘F-’ grade person to show you his/her true grade. But you got to give everyone a fair shot!” Over the years dad has gone from being the strongest man I know, to the coolest guy I know, to the smartest guy I know, to the wisest guy I know. And it never changes, though now we tend to spend time enjoying jazz music together rather than reading bed time stories. I’m so blessed to have come to know him as much more than just a father – he’s also a great friend and confidant. And when all seems wrong in the world and every person I know has failed to meet the basic human expectations of decent interaction – there he is – a shining example of all things right, a beacon of hope in a sea of mucky ‘F-’ grade people. I’m sure he has his faults and I imagine that he’s had his moments of less-than-perfect behavior. But to me, he remains my constant that restores my faith in humanity and helps me abandon my distrust in Christianity.
So, here’s my belated valentine to my unsung hero – my dad, Herbert A. Agnew, Sr.
Thanks for teaching me that imagination isn’t crazy, that all people aren’t evil, and that love has no barriers and knows no boundaries.