MY DAD'S BIRTHDAY is today. My birthday present for Dr. Clifford Garland Gaddy, Sr., M.D., is a recounting of some of the best gifts he has given to me: things I have learned from watching him.
Money is not all that matters; it might not even be third or fourth. Once when I was maybe 10 years old, I was helping my dad send out medical bills because his secretary had been out sick. One bill was for over $2000. (A lot of money back then.) I said, "Oh, boy!" My dad looked at the bill, said, "He has headaches already and he can't pay this anyway." He threw the bill in the trash.
Everybody deserves the same respect regardless of their station in life. Just by listening you couldn't tell if my dad was talking to Harrison, the sharecropper who worked our farm, or to the president of American National Bank.
Big isn't measured in inches. My dad is big man in every way but height. But I will have to admit that he did enjoy meeting Muggsy Bogues in person, with my dad verifying that he was taller than an NBA basketball player.
Colorblind is good. My dad is colorblind, literally and figuratively. He can't tell a red light from a green light except one's on the top and the other's on the bottom. If my mom didn't pick out his ties for him, he would look really funny some days. But that's not the kind of colorblind I'm talking about. Dad says one of his proudest days was the first time that a black player started for our formerly all-white high school's basketball team -- even though his son, my brother Steve, was the player who lost his spot to him.
Give more than you take; leave the place in better shape than you found it. Once when our family went to Ridgecrest for a family summer camp, a friend loaned us his cabin. Our last afternoon at the camp our family did yard work around the cabin, leaving the grounds looking great, not because we had to, or even we were asked to, but because it was a good thing to do. At the time I didn't get it.
Friendships are measured not in days but in decades. My parents have friends, the Dickersons and the Cresenzos, whose close friendships they kept across seven, soon to be eight, different decades. My parents always made time to do things with their friends even when it would have been easier not to. Family vacations with two families with 11 kids are not easy but are a great way to bond.
Loving your children equally well doesn't mean treating them all the same. I am sure that my dad (and my mom) must have had favorites among their six children. But, to this day, I don't know who they are -- and that's not because they mechanically treated us the same, because they didn't.
If you are going to do something, do it right. My dad took up golf as an adult and became quite adept -- and has trophies to prove it -- which you could attribute to his love of the game. But in his youth he was a Golden Gloves state boxing champion -- though he never really liked the sport -- as you might expect of someone born to be doctor. As a physician he studied continually -- and was the best prepared practitioner of internal medicine you could imagine.
Keep your promises -- even those made in haste. My dad promised my brother he would "build a shuffle board court in our backyard" if he won that week's campwide shuffle board tournament. My dad wasn't too worried about paying off the bet since my brother had just learned to play that week. Steve beat the man who taught him to play in the finals. We had a shuffle board court in our backyard.
Love your wife. Every Thanksgiving Dad tells the story about meeting Inez. After more than sixty years of marriage, it's a love story every time he tells it.
These are hardly the only things I learned from my dad. In fact, they are just the first 10 that came into my head. Happy birthday, Dad!
Gary D. Gaddy would love to be remembered as Dr. Gaddy’s son.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday January 8, 2010.
Copyright 2010 Gary D. Gaddy