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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day

Last night Kentster was looking at Facebook and showed me a picture my sister posted of her and my dad in 1984.  It startled me to see my dad's face on a computer screen.  He died in 1984, when I was 19.  I think of him every Father's Day, but mostly focus on Kentster and my kids as they celebrate their dads.  Today, I want to celebrate my dad.

J.E. Milford Hendricks was born on April 1, 1921 in Hickman, Kentucky, the son of Jesse Elam Hendricks and Lovie DePriest Hendricks.  He was the middle child, named after his father.  Within the first three years of his life, my dad lost his two infant brothers and his father.  From that time on, it was just him, his mother, aunts and grandmother.  He didn't have much in the way of male role models.  When he was about 5, his name was changed because an insurance company didn't accept initials only.  J.E. became James Edward, and Milford just disappeared.

Life wasn't too easy for my dad as a kid.  He used to tell stories of killing crows to eat and climbing trees in Cairo, Illinois to cut down mistletoe to sell at Christmas. (Who knows if that was true or not.)  World War II came after high school so he joined the Radio Corps and went to train in Kentucky.  He was stationed at Scofield Barracks in Honolulu, Hawaii during the war, but never saw any real action.  He liked to scare his mom by sending home pictures of himself holding little Hawaiian children.  His friends began calling him "Chink" because of the way his eyes became slits when he smiled.  It was a name that stuck with him throughout his life.

After the War, he came home and met Mary Wilbourn, a young "soda jerk".  They married right after her 18th birthday.  He was 25.  Over the next 18 years, he and mom had 5 kids and worked hard to support them all.  He loved working with kids, first at the local youth center and swimming pool and later as a probation officer.  He had a way of talking to teens, especially ones in trouble and I can remember more than one occasion when parents called my dad to come talk to their kid.

Dad taught us to respect authority and follow the rules.  He knew how important it was to be a good role model for us.  After a comment from his young children reading a milk carton that said "The family that prays together stays together," he began instruction to join the Catholic Church.  He seldom missed mass and made it a priority for all of us, but he seldom received Holy Communion because he didn't really feel worthy.  He was a "hands on" dad, a great teacher and could nag with the best of them.  He could be a bit of a "stick in the mud," especially on busy vacations and in crowds.  His favorite place was sitting in a lawn chair camping by a lake.  He valued education as a way to a better life and insisted all of us get a college degree.  We didn't know how good a dad we had until he was gone.  I still miss him.

Today I have my own kids and get to see my dad's expressions, features and mannerisms in my son CJ.  Sometimes I joke that CJ is "channeling" my dad when he says something funny, nags his sister or would rather hang close to home instead of going out.  Today I reminded CJ how much he is like the grandfather he never knew and for the first time I heard him brag to his sister, dad and grandparents how he was like my dad.  It made me smile.  I hope that some day my kids or my nieces and nephews might read this, think about their Grandpa Chink and how much he loves each one of them.  Thanks Dad.  I love you.