Monday, June 15, 2009

I could tell you that I’ve been working on this book, “Turning Into Dad” for 7 or 8 years. Truth is, I’ve been working on it since the day my father passed away. And beyond that, I suppose, I’ve been observing and collecting these thoughts and observations for my entire life.

As Father’s Day approaches, I hope you’ll take some time this week to reflect on your father, the man he is (if he is still around) or the man he was (if he’s passed). Reflect on his better self and his faults. Thank God for the good things he gave you and thank the Father for the flaws that you recognize and vow to abandon as you live out your life.

Be grateful.

I share this excerpt from the book that I finally finished just a short time ago. I’ve made it available in soft cover form or as an audio book on



From the Chapter entitled ….

“The Phone Call”

The phone call came a few days before Labor Day in 1996. There were no
warnings, and no premonitions gave me any idea that this wasn’t going to be a
normal day. Those kinds of calls come from out of the blue. They simply intrude,
blowing their way into the normal routines we follow and stopping us cold. Things
that seemed so important five minutes ago are quickly moved to the back of the stove.
Sometimes, you have to turn the stove off for a while.

I had a concert to play on Saturday of that Labor Day weekend and decided
to drive up to see my folks the day after. While we were all concerned, my father
insisted that it wasn’t urgent and there was no need for me to come right away. The
call was a typical “The doctors have found something they’re concerned about
but it’s probably nothing” kind of call.

On the way to Wisner, I drove a little slower than normal, thinking
the longer it took me to get home, the better the chance that bad news would just
pack up and leave. With some degree of dread, and with a fear that only shows its face in the unknown, I rode through the east Texas piney woods to the town where
I had spent my entire life prior to going off to college, the years where I began to
notice I was being molded into a man who was part me, but part him and part his
father before him.

On the way, I had an uneasy feeling I wasn’t being told the whole story. But
that was my father’s way: Save the really hard stuff for face to face. Some things
were not meant to be discussed over the phone. When I pulled into the driveway, I
knew I was about to experience a defining moment in my life.

I had pulled into that driveway hundreds, maybe thousands of times. Along the
way, there were some significant markers and memories as I moved toward becoming an adult. I remember the time I parked the car after my first solo trip around town - probably to buy groceries or something since new teenage drivers are always more than willing to
run errands for their moms. Or it might have just been a ride. In a town of 1500
people, going riding was near the top of a teenage driver’s cool-things-to-do list.
For me, it was about as edgy and adventurous as I would get for most of my teenage
years. Thank God. I was spared a lot of heartache and guilt by walking pretty close to the center of the line my parents had drawn for my brother and me.

We would ride from one end of town to the other - about a five-minute trip if
you hit the light just right. Yes, I said light, ‘cause there was just the one. You could
turn a five-minute drive into a half hour if you stopped and hung out at the Texaco
station on the south side of town.

But as you can probably imagine, the senior Mr. Watson was not a big fan of
of his sons hanging out, though it was a harmless, small-town activity that made us feel like men. Don’t ask me why. It wasn’t like we were sitting on the hoods of hotrods
or anything. We weren’t huddled up with packs of cigarettes rolled up in our t-shirt
sleeves. We didn’t tell off-color stories or try and sully the reputations of the girls in town. And these weren’t show cars with chrome pipes like you saw on Happy Days in the parking lot at Arnold’s Drive-In. They more resembled the late sixties version of Howard Cunningham’s Desoto - real chick magnets.

The car fate assigned to me during those first months with a license was my
mom’s Buick Electra 225. Look about thirty feet in front of where you are right
now and imagine a car stretching from you to that point - it was that big or at least
seemed like it. If it got real lucky and wanted to lean toward something a little more sporty, I drove Dad’s Buick La Sabre. Cool. I really can’t put my finger on why driving is such a primal pleasure for me. Even now, I’d rather get behind the wheel and drive to visit the kids in Nashville than drive to the airport and catch a plane. The road trip from Houston to
Nashville by car is about sixteen hours. It’s less than a two-hour flight. Go figure.

It’s called “windshield time” by guys who pound the road selling and making
calls on clients. I just like it. And I’d rather take the back roads than the interstate
highways. You see more color and more of the character of the country that way.
You meet some real nice people and can find some killer restaurants and dives that you’d never see on the interstate. Look for the full parking lot and take a chance.

It’s just one of those simple pleasures that reminds me of the early lessons and
examples lay down by my dad. I don’t really know how old I was when this started but I can see it, feel it and remember the excitement and the anticipation like it was yesterday. Nothing, at the age of nine or ten, got me so excited as dad saying “Boys, let’s go for a drive.” He would take my brother and me to the high-school track and let us drive the car. For cryin’ out loud, I was nine! I can’t tell you how much fun it was.

The track we drove around was nothing fancy. It was just a simple quarter-
mile oval that rimmed the football field. There was no fence to keep us out of the
school property, and it never occurred to me that the coaches might not have been
too crazy about our road trips around their sacred turf. The track was covered with
black cinders of some sort that crunched under the weight of the tires. There we’d
go - around and around at a lightning pace of oh, what, ten or fifteen miles per
hour? We took turns at the wheel.

I’d watched my dad drive for years and was spellbound at his expertise. I guess
it was one of the first things I used to worry about: that I would never learn when
to turn the wheel inches to the left and right at just the right moment. I guess I’ve
always been sort of a worrier. Even driving in what looked like a straight line, my
dad would be nudging the wheel back and forth dozens of times a minute.

“How will I ever figure out that move?” I asked myself. It never occurred to me
that he was just making small corrections to keep the car on a straight path.

It seems like a great bit of wisdom to me now. Making lots of small corrections saves you from having to make major ones - whatever the road you’re on or whatever you’re doing. That’ll preach, as they say.

The Long Way Home

I took one step away
I thought, “Hey, what’s the harm?
Still feel the heat from here
Still see the light
Still feel the warm
What’s another step or two
That wouldn’t be so wrong would it?”
Then when I looked for truth
My eye for truth was gone

In a desperation mercy plea
A spell of wisdom just came over me

I took the long way home
Back to what I believe
I took the long way home
You were waiting there for me
You were always faithful even when
My faith was not so strong
It’s been a long way home

You know I never intended to
Get off the track so far
The lights that turned my head
They’re looking so bizarre
It takes so little time
For me to be deceived
But just a simple truth
Can bring me to my knees

There are some stones
Better left unturned
There are some bridges never crossed
Still better off burned
I took the long way home
Back to what I believe
I took the long way home
You were waiting there for me
You were always faithful even when
My faith was not so strong
It’s been a long way home

Words and music by Wayne Watson
ASCAP Material Music 1997

My brother, Mike, always got first crack at the wheel. Being the first-
born had its perks. Early on, when my turn finally came, and don’t think I wasn’t
counting how many laps my big brother got before I took the driver’s seat, I had to sit in
Dad’s lap. He, of course, worked the mysterious pedals down in the dark recesses of
the floorboard while I worked the wheel. This was the coolest thing I’d ever done.
To be in control of the steel behemoth from Detroit was a real rush for a nine year old.

As time passed, I graduated from Dad’s lap to sitting on top of phone books or pillows,
and eventually, added the working of the brake and accelerator to my repertoire.

The most memorable moment on those Sunday afternoon trips around
the track was the time my brother was in the driver’s seat with Dad in the front
passenger seat - me in the back. Dad was looking to his right out the passenger
side, watching nothing in particular, when my brother caught my eye in the rearview
mirror. Giving me the hey-watch-this look, he took his hand off the wheel for a
split second.

Without ever turning his head, my Dad spoke in the low, emotionless tone that
was so familiar.

“None of that monkey business.”

Enough said. Lesson over.

We’d suspected that Dad had eyes in the back of his head and now we were sure.
Fact is, he probably just saw the reflection of the ill-timed stunt in the window.
Mike and I still laugh about that drive. Dad didn’t over-react and go all
dramatic on us. His few, carefully chosen words got the message across loud and clear.

There were times when I barely made it home inside curfew, although
Charles Watson seldom, if ever, used the word “curfew” - you just knew when to be off the mean streets of Wisner.

I had turned into that driveway on weekends, home from college with bags of laundry, hair too long that tested my father’s tolerance, weekends when I arrived with a monstrous hunger for Mom’s Sunday-after-church roast beef and rice and gravy. A little later, there were those early trips home with the first grandchildren in the family - trips that
brought such joy to my mom and dad.

This day, as I walked toward the side door of my parents’ house, I walked with more than a little bit of fear.


Mocha with Linda said...

I featured your song and book here.

It was perfect for what I wanted to convey! Love the many songs about being a dad, but there just aren't many about dads.

Blessings to you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your precious memories. It always amazes me how a memory can take you back to a specific moment in time and you are remember the feelings sights and smells as if you were still that age or at that place or special moment and time had stood still.
My dad passed away at his home five years ago without any warning.My dad was a fine Christiam man who loved to laugh and was very knowlegable about so many subjects.He was a proud Baylor man and took us to homcoming every year until we vowed to go there one day.We always went on trips to historical places and had adventures on the way. He was never sick and had a very full active life of friends,
family,grandkids,church and the choir. Dad was still working at 74 doing something he loved -- substitute teaching high school.(After he retired from the business world, he went back to working with high school kids it reminded him of the days he worked as youth director for several churches while he was at collge and seminary.) It kept him sharp and all the kids at the school he went to everyday loved him.
He called me that day not feeling good and I told him that I would bring some food out to him .He asked if my husband and the girls could come too .He was disappointed that they were on a father daughter camp out "cause he wanted to see them one more time". I let that comment pass at the time but later realized he knew something he wasn't telling me. He told me he loved me and how proud he was of me and of my family just like he always did and I told him the same but it was different this time.
On the way to his house,I was listening to Christin radio and I heard some really great songs and one song that I thought might be really good to sing at a funeral so I jotted it down in my note book that I keep to remember songs that I could sing for various events . I felt this awesome peace as I was driving...God was preparing me for what was to come.I passed many billboards along the way but the only one that caught my eye was one about a casket company run by christian people who have lowered the price of caskets. I was very odd but it was helpful for later.
When I got to my dad's house no one answered. I went around back and knocked on windows and doors but no answer. I thought that my sister might have brought him to her house. I called but no one answered at her house. Bells and alarms were starting to go off in my head but I remained calm. It was as if God would not let me think about breaking in that day even though I left my key for his house at home. I finally got in touch with my sister and they came back with me to dad' house with the key. My brother -in- law called the paramedics before we got there and they asked that my sister and I stay out of the house just in case. My dad had a heart attack and went to heaven tht day.

You know what? He never wanted to be feble or dependent on others to take care of him. God knew that and honored his wishes. One of dad's boyhood friends from Georgia came to preach at his funeral. He had lot of great stories to tell about their 60 plus years of friendship. So many people came or sent cards saying how my dad had touched their lives. What a great legacy.
I still think about someone or something that I want ask my dad about and I have to remind myself that he's gone. My dad lived in Sugarland and we live in the Houston area. On Saturday mornings, he would drop by my house and say" I was in the neighborhood and I just wanted to say Hi". We would laugh and he would bring my daughters french fries to which I would fake protest and then give in and then they would all cheer. My girls reminded me of it on Father's Day as we passed Veteren's Cemetary where he is buried.
I'll always have those great memories of love and laughter and how much my dad depended on God and how God honored those prayers . I hope I am passing on those qualiies to my girls. Happy Father's Day Wayne! You most certainly are passing a great legacy to your family and many others. God Bless you.