published Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Foster: Happy birthday, Dad


by J. Todd Foster

I'm not sure I agree that time heals all wounds, but it does seem to make them a little less raw. I'm able to face this date on the calendar a little more easily this year than I faced it last year and the years before.

The man who raised me as his blood son would have celebrated his 78th birthday today had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma not taken him from my family in September 2002. To make matters worse, dad died 30 days before the birth of my first child: He lived through two of our miscarriages and then died just before Tyler Aydin Foster's arrival.

God lent dad to my family and me for a little more than 30 years. I met him in 1971 on his first date with my mother.

If the quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then the quickest to a single mother's heart is through her two young sons. Dad insisted that my brother, Jeff, and I go on that first date -- to see the Disney movie "Million Dollar Duck."

He won mom over immediately, and they married the next year. My family got to experience life from the middle-class side of the fence, and I got to see life outside of my hometown of Tullahoma, Tenn.

Dad, after spending four years in the Air Force, worked as a civilian at Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma and in the Air Force Reserve. From the ages of 12 to 14, I would accompany him for two weeks each summer for reserve duty in Little Rock, Ark.

It was in Little Rock on that first trip that he taught me the game of golf (I shot a 100 before the end of that first two weeks), watched my first R movie (Bruce Lee's "Fists of Fury") and ate guacamole (hated it then, love it now).

I can't recall a single time dad raised his voice at me -- save for the time I ran over his good toolbox. He moderated after I reminded him that he was the one who left it in the driveway behind a teenager's car.

He was generous and thoughtful. When I injured my big toe and was bedridden a couple of days, it was dad who trudged up and down the steps to deliver three meals a day. On the second day, he asked, "How'd you hurt your toe, anyway?"

When I said, "Kicking Jeff," I was left to fend for myself. (I always was too honest for my own good.)

Dad grew up on Signal Mountain and graduated from Baylor School and the

University of the South at Sewanee. He instilled in me the knowledge that a higher education wasn't just a pipe dream. The day I graduated from college, he was so proud you'd have thought I won the Nobel Peace Prize.

A drier and quicker sense of humor has never existed. Right before he died, dad and I were watching an episode of "CSI." The antagonist was a transvestite, and I thought I would catch dad off his game.

"Dad, what would you have done if I'd ever become a transvestite?" His answer was short, sweet and immediate: "I'd have bought you a dress."

There's not a day that I don't think about Milton B. Rice Jr. But I think this year, on this day, I can keep my eyes dry.

J. Todd Foster is executive editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The costume he wore in last week's column mug photo was an eye-patchless pirate, not an elf, as some have speculated. Not that there's anything wrong with being an elf. You can reach him at jtfoster@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6472.

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