Deadbeat dad, absentee father, emotionally distant parent. Some folks can describe their father with those adjectives. Thank God, my father doesn’t fit that mold. For James Cleveland Gist Jr, his mantra is, “family first”. As a child, I always knew who to ask for an expensive toy or an unnecessary piece of clothing. I’d make a beeline to good ole dad. And his answer was predictable: “Just tell me what you want and I’ll get it for you, Roz”. He loved spoiling his three children and giving in to our every whim.
My dad will celebrate his 93rd birthday in September and he has a lot to be proud of. He’s the oldest of 10 children, he served in World War II and used the GI bill (an educational subsidy for military veterans) to earn a masters degree from Columbia University in the 1940s. He taught at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA for more than 40 years and wrote a earth science textbook, which he taught from in the 1990s.
Jimmy (as my mother calls him) is a gentleman with a great sense of humor and a phenomenal capacity to teach tough subjects (like chemistry and physics) and explain them in a way that any college student could grasp. He brought science alive for his students by showing them how it is everywhere and part of everything we do. He even got me to learn about geology as a child, by buying me a toy rock collection. He lured his students in with his friendly personality and got them to understand physics–a subject most college kids try to avoid.
Even today, you never see my dad without a book in his hand and a smile on his face. Before there was a Weather Channel on television, he was fascinated by tornadoes, hurricanes and the power of nature. Thanks to my mom (pictured with my dad at their 60th wedding anniversary in 2010) I have an appreciation for the arts (music, drama, dance, etc.). And I have to thank my dad for making me fall in love with books that tell great stories. He introduced me to poetry and the art of storytelling.
To say my dad has the gift of gab is an understatement. He loves to talk–non-stop–and paint memorable verbal portaits of people, places and things. When he rears back in his chair and starts teaching, you’re going to hear a long, life lesson. Daddy never gives you the short explanation or a quick story. When he starts talking, you’ll be there for a while. I have learned to relax and enjoy this master talker work his magic.
On Father’s Day, Daddy, I want to thank you for being a great role model of how to live a life filled with gratitude, compassion, patience and empathy! Thank God (and mom), you’re my dad! Happy Father’s Day!