Fathers are making a difference, one way or another

This was originally published as a newspaper column on January 28, 2013, in the Athens (Texas) Daily Review.

Maybe you caught the story this week in our paper regarding the death of Tony Douglas.

If you live in Athens, know anything about Texas country music or like fresh produce sold with a smile, you’ve probably heard of him. I had the pleasure — and I truly mean pleasure — of writing Mr. Douglas’ front-page obituary on Wednesday.

Over my career, I’ve grown fond of writing about those who have died. Truthfully, it’s one of the harder things we do as journalists, picking up the phone or meeting in person to ask questions of a family member or friend who is no doubt working through the early stages of grief.

And when that task is done, we find ourselves with the near-impossible task of trying to boil down an entire life into a few hundred words.

I’ve not had a harder time doing the latter than I did with Mr. Douglas. Fitting his storied country music career into a small box would have been tough enough. But then I talked to his family, and I know now that even when I finish this piece, I’ll have still not done justice to who Tony Douglas was as the father, husband and spiritual leader of his household.

I met with Mr. Douglas’ three children on Wednesday afternoon. Over a span of about 30 minutes, they took turns telling stories about their father. They laughed, and at other times, sat quietly, holding back tears.

I shared just a few of those recollections in our Thursday edition. I won’t circle all the way back and rehash all that information now, but from the mouths of his own children, he was a tough disciplinarian who didn’t bend when it came to issues of character or integrity — his own, or that of those in his circle.

That steadfast character was dwarfed only by the love and selfless commitment he had for his kids and for Mim, his wife of nearly 64 years. As has been well-chronicled, he passed on a contract offer with the Grand Ole Opry because he didn’t want to move his family to Nashville. Some have said that decision hurt his chances at becoming a much bigger country music star.

As I listened to Douglas’ now-grown children tell their stories, I couldn’t help but think about how rare a thing they possess. It was something I never had growing up, having never met my biological father.

In September 2011, I learned the man who I had always thought was my father (who lives in California), in fact, wasn’t. I got the paternity test results back on a Friday night in Bullard, Texas, as I sat in a press box and waited to cover the Athens Hornets football game.

I’ll never forget how numb I felt that night. Truth be told, I’m still a little numb. Maybe the fact that I can’t even remember if I’ve ever written about this proves it.

Needless to say, some things leave a lasting impression. You can move on, get over it or be bitter about it, but that’s just the way life is sometimes.

Having given up the notion of ever finding my real father, I’ve coped through my faith in God and the gift that He’s given me — namely, an opportunity to be the father to my two children that I never had.

You see, I’m a big “legacy” guy. I believe broken homes give rise to more broken homes. Children who are abused often become parents who abuse. Sons who see their fathers walk away often become fathers who don’t stay.

Such legacies are hard to shake. They stick to generation after generation like napalm — never killing, but burning painful holes through the layers of a family and leaving scars in their wake.

Legacies are why parents who earn college degrees are more likely to have children who earn college degrees. They’re also why the same last names appear in the police reports for decades.

I can only hope and pray my fatherless legacy dies with me, and that my son, and his son, and his son, will know nothing different than men who fight for what they believe in and for the ones they love.

Then maybe when I’m gone, my kids will sit around and talk about how their dad was tough, but how he loved like nobody they’ve known before or since. I hope the laughter and tears that accompany those stories form the foundation of a new legacy.

A legacy like the one Tony Douglas left behind Tuesday.

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