Dear Pop

  The funny thing about growing up is that, at some point you declare that you won’t be like your dad. You want to blaze your own trail and create your own identity. But inevitably, somewhere along the way you realize that you are totally becoming your dad . . . and it’s the best thing that could ever happen to you.


   To be clear, my father was (and is) a fantastic dad. He has grown the business his father started through hard work and sheer determination. Although he worked six, sometimes seven days a week while I was growing up he is there in all of my most cherished memories. The kind of memories that are so vivid, you feel like you can reach out an touch them.

                I remember the annual showing of dad’s favorite classics “The Wizard of Oz” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”. For the uninitiated, before cable TV became the norm and LONG before Netflix, channels like NBC would air classic movies. The idea that you didn’t have to go to Blockbuster to rent them, that they were just on your TV was a cause for excitement. Anyway, when these classics were scheduled it meant a special movie night at the Hufford house where dad would make breakfast for dinner and we would all pile in front of the TV in mounds of pillows and blankets. Dad would shout out his favorite lines from “It’s a Wonderful Life” like “I wish I had a million dollars . . . HOT DOG!” and bellow out “If I only had a brain” from “The Wizard of Oz”.


                I remember every year my dad would coach my little league teams. And when I was struggling at the plate, he took me in the back yard and tossed me these tiny whiffle balls for practice. “If you can hit these, the baseball will look like a watermelon coming at you" he said. A few practices later I was knocking the cover off the ball. The only downside was that I still had to hit last in the order because dad never wanted to show favoritism to the other players. Which I know now was my dad’s way of teaching me integrity and humility.


                I remember he would be at every football game I played in high school. He took up photography and became the president of the booster club in order to gain access to the sidelines during the games. I was an undersized linebacker and tight end in those days, but dad wouldn’t let my size be an excuse. Every morning before games, he would write a message on our white board in the kitchen: “Remember son, it ain’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog”. And when I was training to play football the summer before my freshman year of college, my dad was there to time my sprints and encourage me every step along the way.


                I remember him teaching me to fish for blue gill at the farm outside Hermann, rainbow trout at Jude Ranch and small mouth on the Buffalo river. I remember his token dad jokes; like when I was sick he loved to ask “Does your face hurt?” And before I could respond he’d add “Cuz it’s killing me!” (a perfect example of something l hated at the time, but can’t wait to unleash on own kids someday). I remember dad driving 16 hours through the night to get us all to Hilton Head Island. And barely needing a nap the next day to keep up. An incredible feat of endurance I still haven’t accomplished.


                I remember telling my mom I wish I was more like dad and I wasn’t such an emotional, cry baby at times. And then a few days later I found a note under my door from my dad telling me it was ok to cry sometimes and listing all the times he’d cried in the last 20 years. Starting with 1980 when the doctor told him he a had a healthy baby boy, to the final day he was timing my hundred-yard sprints the week before I left for my first week of practice at John Carroll University. Before the tenth sprint he told me “One more time and you’re off to college.” It was a typically hot and humid afternoon in August, so at the time I thought it was just sweat in his eyes.


                Today I’m happily married with three children of my own and I have the pleasure of working with my dad every day. We have a unique ability to work together and (mostly) agree on our business strategy. I get the honor of filling in at the store so he can take some more time off with my mom and his grand kids. In the quiet, early hours before the store opens, I get to talk to talk with my dad about being a husband and a father. I have a new found respect for everything he did for me and my siblings growing up. And while I know I will never entirely fill his shoes or be the same kind of dad he was; I couldn’t be luckier to have him as my guide. So now when people say “you sound just like your dad”, I couldn’t think of a finer compliment.

Happy Father’s Day Pop