some text
David Cook

Ask William Russell about his dad, Larry, and he won't tell you about the Pinewood Derby races Larry organized in Hixson, or all the car shows they visited, or vacations in the Gulf.

Sure, those are sweet memories.

But for William, there's a better Father's Day story.

"When I think of what it truly means to be a dad, this is what I think about," he said.

It was a December afternoon long ago. William was just a boy. His mom was at home — not at work. She was injured and recovering from surgery.

Larry was home, too.


William, like any kid, raced into the room, full of noise and bustle. His mom scolds him. Hush. You'll wake your father.

"Seems like a pretty small detail," William recalls. "It was only much later that I had grasped what had actually happened."

Larry was napping because he was exhausted. Those three hours would be the only sleep he'd get that day.

He was working two jobs: his day job at W.W. Granger, an industrial supplier, and his second shift at an alarm company.

At the time, it took two jobs to pay the bills and put food on the table and presents under the Christmas tree.

Sure, it was tough.

But that's what fathers do.

"I learned that in one tiny lesson, a lesson that never came from my dad's mouth in a lecture, but in actions that he thought I didn't see," William said. "My job as a father is to sacrifice for my family."

This is fatherhood — the showing up, the two-jobs-three-if-needed commitment, the Pinewood love. The poet Robert Hayden called it "love's austere and lonely offices." For William, it meant realizing the real reason why his father was napping.

"It is because of him and his sacrifice that I am the man that I am today," he said.

After graduating Soddy- Daisy High in 1997, William, 37, joined the U.S. Navy and currently sails aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson as a petty officer first class.

He's the leading petty officer of the calibration library. On an aircraft carrier longer than the Empire State building is tall, with a flight deck measuring more than 3.5 acres, with some 5,000 sailors aboard, William makes sure everything — from pressure gauges to jet engine tests to radar — is accurate and precise.

"We track an inventory of over 13,000 items," he said.

And you thought your job was stressful.

This January, he's getting his land legs back, leaving the Navy to return to civilian life with his wife, Misty, and their children: Josh, Tony, Victoria, Isaiah and Nathaniel.

Just before his naval career ends, William wanted to surprise his dad.

"A Tiger Cruise," he said.

As an aircraft carrier ends its deployment and returns to base in America, family and friends can come aboard for a few days.

The Tiger Cruise was a Father's Day gift for Larry.

(Yeah, I know. I got my dad golf balls.)

"I wanted to use the Tiger Cruise as a way to show my dad how special he is to me and to see the success that I have been able to build in the Navy because of my upbringing," William said.

It was scheduled for May. Larry booked his flight, hotel and time off work.

Then, in April, the White House re-routed the Vinson, extending its stay in foreign waters and delaying its return home.

William and the U.S.S. Vinson would not be home in time for Larry's Tiger Cruise.

Larry couldn't reschedule and lost money on canceled flights and hotels.

The Tiger Cruise was canceled.

William, crushed, emailed the Times Free Press. It was a shot in the dark. But somehow, just somehow, he could still surprise his dad.

"I love my dad, and what I want to tell him is thank you," William said.

Larry, a Tiger Cruise this isn't, but hopefully, the following words from your decorated son — out at sea, sailing toward home — flow into your Father's Day heart, filling it and beyond.

"Thank you for doing what you could, when you could, the best you could," William said. "Thank you for helping to shape me into someone that wasn't just able to take care of himself but has had the opportunity to help others, to raise a family and to have every chance in life to do what I wanted."

Ask William Russell about his dad, Larry.

Then, take notes.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfree or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.