Remembering my Daddy
On Dec. 12, 2007, I wrote my first column about my father. Every column has a context, and that one came on the day of his death 40 years prior on Dec. 12, 1967.
I had forgotten I had written that column until I happened upon it recently as I looked through the archives for something fitting to write on another important date — my daddy’s 90th birthday, Jan. 25, 2020.
Due to his leaving us at Christmas, that time of the year has always included a sigh to go with the cheer. Despite the occasional sigh, we are glad for such dates because they serve as a good reminder for us not to forget those loved ones when we gather around the table cold but warm Christmas days. I always think of my daddy – as you do your own loved ones, I know – and remember how he impacted my life up until I was 11 years old — and I remember, too, how he has impacted my life since.
He was a simple man, my dad, as far as this world goes, as simple as his name — his friends just called him “Dut,” a fitting tag for a big name like Clifford Timothy Bowen, Sr.
Perhaps it was the suddenness of his death, or it was a young boy’s mind not knowing how to process what life brought that wintry day, but for 30 years after Daddy died, I did not talk or write much about him.
But today I tell his story proudly — not because he had a pretty life but because I think he did the best he could with what he had. That was one of the valuable lessons he left behind.
He fought drug addiction for some years. He was run over by a wagon as a boy, and the injuries plagued him with stomach trouble for the rest of his life. Eventually, he became addicted to the meds doctors prescribed for the pain, and it became an addiction from which he could never break free. When he began to suffer again, Mama would have to take him to the mental hospital in Milledgeville, and he would be away from us for months until he was well enough to come home. If he came home too soon, things were not good for long.
I find it fitting that the history of Milledgeville records that the city was incorporated on Dec. 12, 1804 — Dec. 12, the date daddy died. Even as a boy, I noticed that a good bit of Daddy dying each time he had to visit that city.
I mostly remember Daddy when he was winning his battle. One of my fondest memories is somewhere around 1965 after Grandma and Preacher Miller were in a severe car accident. On Sunday mornings, Daddy and I would walk together down several hills to my grandparents’ house on Truitt Avenue, and Daddy would tend to my granddad’s broken hip and injuries.
There was magic in his hands as he worked to get Preacher Miller to walk — and to preach — again. Daddy was a master at nursing people. He had that special talent. As I walked with him during those sunlit mornings, I walked beside a great man.
Not long ago, my sister Jean reminded me of something else. She said that Daddy also had a special way with kids.
“That’s where you got your talent with kids,” Jean said.
It made me proud to know he left me that. It was one of those big gifts that served me well all my life.
I’ve never lamented growing up most of my life without my daddy. It was just a part of life. He left before I was old enough really to understand what all it meant to have a father, so I never understood what I missed. I’m sorry now that he didn’t get to take me fishing or teach me to work on a car or sit me down and teach me what he knew about life.
He did take me coon hunting a few times, but, of course, I fell into the creek. We had that coon treed, too, and I backed up and backed up trying to get a glimpse of it. Next thing I knew, I had run out of real estate, and daddy and Uncle Bobby were pulling me out of the freezing creek. Mama pretty much put an end to my coon-hunting career after that.
Daddy had as many talents as anybody I know. Besides hunting and nursing the sick and teasing kids, he made the best Brunswick stew around. Any of the Georgia folks who knew him will tell you that. Unfortunately, except for the teasing the kids part, he didn’t pass most of those talents down to me.
But he did pass something along to me that he probably never knew. He taught me to see the good in people, just as I see the good in him every time I think of him. He taught me to put folks up in the top file drawer, not down on the bottom.
Oh, I always sigh a little around Christmas as a part of me remembers the emptiness of Christmas of 1967. I am glad, though, that I have to pause to think of him on those special dates. I’m glad to remember the day Daddy was born — Jan. 25 — and I am satisfied to remember the day he died — Dec.12th. These anniversaries give me a good reason to share with my friends down South of this one special, and talented gentleman that friends called Dut.
I get to look back at a good man and call him “daddy” during those dates, something I didn’t get to do for nearly long enough as a boy.