Happy Birthday Dad

My Dad, Joseph Henry Cunningham, would have been 67-years-old today. That is young in my book, too young to die for sure. Dad had just retired about this time last year. I’d talked to him about throwing a BIG retirement party but he talked me out of it. That is a decision I regret. Maybe he was talking himself out of it because he really didn’t want to retire after all. His two excuses for not having the soiree:

  • People would not show up because it was a Friday night and everyone in Carlisle would be at the high school football game – the Bison were heading to the state championship most likely.
  • No one would want to spend their Sunday afternoon at his retirement party at the hall at the church.

Dad died suddenly on May 22nd. He was in Mt. View working on his cabin when he had his heart attack. I still haven’t gotten my head wrapped around the fact that he is gone. Friends who’ve lost parents tell me that I may never get my head wrapped around it.

Cocktail Hour With Dad

Cocktails and Smiles in NYC with my Dad

What I have figured out and wrapped my head around is this. The next time I want to throw a party for someone I love, I’m going to do it. If I want to talk to someone I love, I’m gonna call them. If they don’t answer, I’m going to leave a message. I’m not sending any text messages. I’m calling. My Dad and I played phone tag the week before he died. He left me the sweetest most heart felt message ever that week. Luckily, I saved it and on occasion I’ll listen to it which usually sets off a river of tears and a simultaneous smile. He just wanted to tell me how much he loved me and to call him when I had some time. I am so glad he didn’t hang up that day when I didn’t answer and went on to leave me such a keepsake of a message. I’ll forever be able to hear his voice even now that he is gone.

Usually on his birthday, Father’s Day or Christmas, I’d ask him what he’d like to have. His response was, “just some time with you.” Our last time together, just the two of us, was on March 13th. I’d flown back to Arkansas to hire an attorney after being served divorce papers the day before on the street at 7:40 in the morning after dropping Corbin off for school. Needless to say, it was not the happiest of times for me. But looking back on it now, it was probably the most time the two of us had spent together alone in a long time.

Despite the legal business at hand for me, Dad managed to help me shift my focus for a bit. He took me to his most recent construction site to show me the progress. He’d bought a small lot in a neighborhood that needed a facelift of sorts and was building a really cute house. Dad was proud of it. I was proud of him for taking the risk. If I was looking to buy a house in Lonoke, Arkansas, I would have bought it. It was that cute!

I would give anything to have some time with him today, right now. I would love to be able to sit and sip on a gin and tonic with him and just “visit” as he liked to say. I would love to take that trip to the White River in Mt. View and check out his wood working workshop. He was looking forward to spending time after his retirement in that workshop. The last time I saw him turning wood on a lathe, I was in middle school! That was a long time ago! He was making miniature duck calls then. I wished he could have found a way to work his retirement dream into his pre-retirement life. I’m pretty sure he thought he would have more that 7 months of retirement before he checked out!

For Dad’s birthday, I’m giving myself a gift since I can’t give him one. The gift is this. I’m going to spend more time with my friends and family – at least the one’s I like! I may be sad, but I haven’t totally lost my mind! And to do what I love TODAY, not next week, next month or next year. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Yes, I’ll plan for the future,  but I’m going to make sure I live each day to the fullest. That’s one hell of a gift, I think. Dad would agree, too.


Happy Birthday Dad — 11 Comments

  1. I thought I was a couple of months older than your dad, I hit 67 in September. I think Joe would love your gift.

    Wayne Smith
    Carlisle High School Class of 65

  2. Oh, DJ! What a beautiful tribute!! I love that picture of Mr. Joe. He always had kind of a devilish smile where his eyes just sparkled with thoughts of his family, friends or his latest project! We miss him a lot. I’m so glad you shared this!

  3. I went to the cemetery on Joe’s birthday without his coconut pie.I so wanted to leave a piece there for him. I took a piece last year,no longer a whole pie like I use to do, and a birthday card and a retirement card. That’s when he told me he was going to work a little while longer.I told him hurry up and retire!!! I think I talked to him for over an hour..I loved my long talks with him. I miss him so. I hope to see you soon. Love you!

  4. I was online and decided to google my two favorites cousins whom I had not seen since 1989. I was so saddened to find Joe’s obituary but brightened by your birthday tribute. Joe’s grandmother Cuma was my dad Victor’s sister. Bill and Joe and I raised ornery to a new level when we first met around age 10 or younger. I absolutely loved those guys and the fun we had. We once each came up with the dirtiest words we knew then Joe was going to tell on Bill and me. We clamped our hand on his mouth and ran from the house laughing.

    I did not see them from the time I was 16 until I stopped in Carlise when I was 45. It was as if time had not passed and we laughed and teased each other and had a great visit. Another 26 years have passed and I still think about them often. That is what led me to google them.

    Your words on his birthday touched my heart and made me so happy to have found them. Your dad made me laugh every time I ever saw him. I will forever be holding rabbit ears behind his head in his pictures in heaven.
    Gail Friend, Naples, FL and Danbury, IA

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