Sunday, June 15, 2014

52 Ancestors #24: A Tribute to My Father

Ancestor Name: Charles Theodore Jennings

Today is Father's Day in the U.S. So I am writing about my Dad. He and Mom gave my brothers and me an idyllic childhood and we are very lucky we can still share our lives with them.

My favorite photo of Dad on his boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay. 
You can tell from the wake, he is going his favorite speed: Fast

Dad's name is Charles Theodore Jennings; he was born in East St Louis, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St Louis in 1931. His parents were Marvin Edward and Alice (Muir) Jennings. His father was a clerk for the railroad and my Dad was their youngest son. They moved to Washington, DC in 1941 when my grandfather took a job with the federal government. A year later, they bought a home in Arlington, Virginia.

My grandmother says Dad was quite a hell-raiser in his youth. He drank beer, got into bar brawls and raced cars. Grandma used to tell stories about Dad's wild side and he was none too happy about it. As a rebuttal he would tell a story about when he did something good. Once my brother told him, "Dad, that story is a repeat. Grandma is still telling new ones!" 

Dad racing his sprint car sometime in the 1950s

My Mother's parents didn't like him and didn't go to their wedding, though they changed their mind about Dad after seeing the way he treated their daughter and his children.

Mom and Dad at their wedding

Dad worked out of our house, which was unusual in the 1960s, but great for his children. He was always home when we came home from school. He was the coach of every team sport my brothers and I played until I decided to try soccer at the age of 17. He told me he didn't know anything about soccer. Even though he didn't coach, he attended every practice and every game.

Dad graduating from Columbia Technical Institute as
class valedictorian

When I was in high school he and I attended every varsity football and basketball game, home or away, and later we branched out to wrestling matches. He asked once if anyone was asking me out on dates and was appalled when I replied, "Yes, but I turn them down so we can go together."

Once the big man on campus asked me out on a date and stood me up.  Dad took his very sad daughter out for ice cream and told me how to handle him if he ever called again. And BMOC did call again and I handled him just like Dad explained. It felt great. I was pleasant, never acted like being stood up bothered me, and turned him down every time he asked me out in the future.

I almost married my high school sweetheart but was conflicted. I went to Dad for advice. He said, "I think he'd make a good husband to you, be a good father to your children, but will he be a good provider for your family?" I thought long and hard about that and decided I'd out grown my high school flame. And I thank the heavens for that every day.

Our family after we "acquired" my first sister-in-law

After I started working, he continued to give the perfect advice at the perfect time. "When you make a mistake," he told me, "don't wait for someone else to mention it; own it and own the solution." As children, we never heard Dad brag about us, but would hear about it from other people. It made us all proud.

Dad is 82 years old now and still with us and for that our family is very blessed.  He's had major cerebral hemorrhages during the last 10 years that have begun to affect his mind and he can no longer speak much. But even when life has gotten hard, Dad still maintains his happy-go-lucky, sunny outlook on life. He's still teaching me important things.

The manner in which Dad has lived his entire life has made it so easy to love and cherish him and want to do anything for him to make him happy. He was the genealogist in our family for years. He and Mom would often take research field trips to look for old family records. My gift to him, and to myself, is taking that research over so it doesn't die. We talk about what I've discovered every time I visit and I hope he loves every minute of our genealogy discussions.

Dad clowning around

I am the luckiest daughter in the world.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

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