A Wistful Father’s Day

She did not stand alone, but what stood behind her, the most potent moral force in her life, was the love of her father." – Harper Lee

I began to realize my dad might possess a few saintly qualities the long-ago day he helped retrieve my fish hook from a nearby tree for the third time and he did not raise his voice.

It was the sultry summer day he taught me to properly bait my hook after he noticed each time I cast there were two small splashes: one for the hook and another for the minnow, fortunate to be freed from its intended fate.

He didn’t make fun of me, he just patiently taught me to do better.

Perhaps my father secretly wished for a son, thinking a boy might inherently handle a rod and reel with more efficiency. But he never made either my sister or me feel inferior for being born female.

In fact, it would take more than my two hands to count the times he told me or made me feel I could do anything I wanted to do if I put my mind to it.

It became clear he believed in me when he helped load up cars or trucks countless times to help move me wherever my choices relocated me: to the Gulf Coast to teach, to Los Angeles to pursue a dream of songwriting, to Oxford for graduate school and to several places for newspaper jobs. My sister and I can concur: Our father was a master mover.

Francis Wortham Criss Jr., was the oldest of my grandmother’s four sons who, oddly, all became accountants. I often gave him a hard time by changing the family name of Wortham to Worthless. He’d just always smile and feign exasperation.

He was a pilot who met the love of his life while he was stationed at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix. She was attending Arizona State University. They married and moved south to his home state of Mississippi, settling in Grenada. He and his three brothers, for years, had an accounting firm. But Dad also served as a city councilman and later became city manager of Grenada. I imagine his calm voice and clear vision were much needed when segregated schools were integrated in my hometown.

When people talk about my dad, the two words most often used are kind and gentle. Nothing could be more true. To me, the frog story best captures his kindness. It’s also what made him my hero.

One long-ago Saturday Dad was cleaning out our garage. He was standing on a wooden chair, vacuuming a high shelf as I stood nearby.

Suddenly, a frog hopped into the garage.

“I’ll bet you wouldn’t suck up that frog in the vacuum cleaner,” I jokingly said to my dad. Clearly, the joke was lost on him.

Leaning over, vacuum hose in hand, he touched the frog and – ssllrrpp – that poor, innocent amphibian was history.

Tears and accusations came quickly.

“I cannot believe you did that,” I shouted at my father. “I was kidding.”

Rather than ignoring his upset daughter, Dad jumped from the chair, opened the vacuum, removed the bag and dumped the dusty contents on the garage floor. And there sat the frog. Stunned, motionless, covered with dirt, but still alive.

I’m not sure all fathers would have taken the time to free a frog.

My dad died December 23, suddenly and quite unexpectedly. Though he was about to be 90, he still gardened, drove his truck, did my taxes and cared for his Golden Retriever.

He also fiercely loved his two daughters and his granddaughter. And we loved him back.

This first Father’s Day without him will be mighty sad, but he left us plenty of good stories and warm memories.

We miss you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

Oxford, Mississippi | United States

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