|Requiem for a Hero
February 13th, 2017
|To My Father,
James Albert Petty
How can I honor a man whose life was lived with honor, integrity, a fierce work ethic and honesty? I can't. I can only reaffirm those traits that he tried to pass on to me. He did not pass them along actively, mind you, with long talks about life and its lessons. No. Jim Petty taught by example. The only time I can remember him offering something philosophical was when he said, “You don't need a reason to do the right thing. You do it because it is the right thing.” That, I clearly remember.
This man, who lost his father when he was only 2, learned his lessons from life on the farm...and from his mother, Miss Fannie. He adored that woman...and rightly so. His older brother, Floyd, tried to keep him out of trouble...and, for the most part, succeeded. His brother was the good angel on his shoulder. The bad angel...never showed up.
Oh, he had his faults...like we all do. He sometimes was quick to temper. He was opinionated and stubborn. I love the story he would tell of when he was a teenager and he was trying to prove to everybody that his surgically repaired left knee was healthy, He did this by jumping over a fence. Only to injure his right knee...requiring another surgery.
Jim definitely had his faults, but the whole of the man was truth and decency.
He moved away from the farm in Hickman County, TN, to attend the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and a lifelong love affair with Tennessee and the Big Orange was born. If there was a UT game on, he was watching it on TV or listening on the radio. And woe be it unto the person who tried to talk to him during the game. You had better be gushing blood or missing a limb...or you weren't getting his attention during the game.
He graduated from UT with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1957 and got a job with International Harvester in Memphis. That job took him all over the country and that's where he fell in love with traveling. It was also in Memphis that he met my Mother.
I came along when he was only 27 years old, still in his youthful prime. By this time, he had taken a job at AEDC and moved us all to Manchester.
He eventually retired from AEDC in the mid-90's after over 35 years on the job.
When my Mom died in 1972, Dad became my world....and I, his. He made it look so easy, even though now I know how hard it must have been.
A little later, in 1975, he would meet Diane, marry her, and gain another son, John David. Dad loved them both so much. He and Diane have been married over 41 years. He was such a fun Dad too. He would play sports with us, take us fishing and hunting and take us on some wild vacations. Vacations brought out the engineer in him too. He would tackle vacation planning like he was designing a nuclear power plant. He would fill up a notebook with those plans. He loved Christmas too. He'd get us up at 6am and then he'd take a nap at 8. If you know him, his naps were legendary.
My friends were scared of him because he was big, strong, fierce and intimidating.
I think he liked that. Jim Petty exuded strength, inner and outer. He could build or fix anything and he was always working on projects. From re-roofing the house, to pouring concrete for our patio, to building a separate 2 car garage...he always loved to be working on something. He did a job to do it right, not just to get it done. My grandfather, who was a farmer, told me he'd never seen a harder worker than Jim Petty.
He was also the smartest man I ever knew...about all things. Sometimes he would speak “engineer speak” to me when describing something and I would often ask him to “dumb it down a little... to singer speak.”
We were a family and he was our rock. He always took care of us. We were planets and he was the sun. It was always nice to know that as I was traveling out into space, I could look back and be comforted seeing the sun back there.
He supported us in every endeavor, without judgment. If we failed...he was there. If we succeeded, he was there. Maybe that's the lesson about life and Fatherhood I'll remember him most for.....Always. Be. There.
Dad loved his family...all of them. He was most proud of all of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren...and I know he will be watching over them.
Eventually, Parkinson's would claim his body and his mind, but not his soul. That was, and has always been, God's. God has not taken him from us. God has just reclaimed him. He was only on loan to us anyhow. And I thank God for giving him to us for just a little while.
As I held his hand in the hospital a few days ago, I told him that he will always be my hero and that it was now OK for him to go...that we'll be OK. I told him I would like to be just half the man he was someday. He gave us all his best and that was more than enough.
James Albert Petty. Dad. You are the best man I have ever known. Until we meet again...and we will meet again...I love you, I'll miss you...and I am so proud to be your son.