I sat in church one morning listening to Dr. Smith talk about the role of fathers, a subject quite appropriate for Fathers’ Day. And though I sat attentively listening, my mind kept straying back to my childhood. God blessed me with an extraordinary father, Luther Tatum Nichols, one of the greatest blessings of my life.
Like most young fathers, Daddy wanted his firstborn to be male, but I arrived instead. If he were disappointed, he hid it well. My parents genuinely loved each other but had little in common except children and a household. I became an extension of my father, the one who shared his hobbies and his beliefs, the one who truly understood him as much as one person can understand another.
It worked both ways though. He understood me, too, often knowing what I would do in a situation before I ever did it.
My height (5’11”) came directly from Daddy since Mama was a petite 5’2” to his 6’2.” I inherited his wavy hair, his broad forehead, his big feet, and his long fingers. While I am pleased to resemble him physically, I am more pleased with other aspects of his legacy to me.
Daddy instilled in me the love for the written word, both the reading and the writing of it. Every Saturday morning of my childhood, barring illness or emergency, he and I trekked off to the tiny hole-in-the wall Jeff Davis County Library. At that time, it was an oversized closet, but we hungered for books. Weekly we chose our limit of three each and left with our entertainment for another week clutched securely to our chests.
My father was not one to criticize those who disagreed with him, but as for him and his house, we went to church. We went regularly. If the doors opened, the Nichols family was there. He never sent us to church; he took us. I don’t recall his ever asking if I wanted to go. I went. He personally oversaw my religious upbringing.
More importantly, he was my role model. Slow to anger, he treated other people fairly and lived a godly life. His Bible and his knees were worn from use. In his entire lifetime, I saw him angry maybe three times, all of which were entirely justified.
With my sister and me, he was the very epitome of patience. When I was a sophomore at the University of Georgia, he sacrificed and bought me a $250 Plymouth Valiant. It was a great car but developed an occasional problem, as older cars are wont to do. One time I drove it home from Athens and parked it in the yard. When I started back to town to fetch Mama some eggs from Piggly Wiggly, I couldn’t shift into reverse.
“Don’t go out of town tonight,” Daddy told me, as I left the house with my friend. “If I have to come rescue you, I don’t want to drive to Waycross.”
My friend Brenda and I drove the car to Vidalia to see a movie, promising ourselves that we’d be careful to park it so we wouldn’t have to back out. We forgot. I had to call Daddy after all. He just laughed and drove to Vidalia.
As a rule, his policy with me involved laughter. He spent a lot of his time laughing at my escapades and rescuing me from them. When I scratched the family car—a long obvious scratch--he laughed and offered more driving lessons.
When I came home from college in my mini skirt, he said, “If I’d known you didn’t have enough money to buy the whole skirt, I’d have sent you some. Let me know next time.”
I know for a fact that I put a lot of the gray in his hair, but he loved me unconditionally. I was his beloved child. Well aware that I could and did do wrong, he willingly forgave me all my transgressions.
That morning as Dr. Smith thanked God for fathers, I whispered a hearty “Amen!” What an amazing sermon. It lasted about thirty minutes. The one my father preached for me lasted fifty-five years and shaped my whole life. For that sermon and for my father, I am eternally grateful.