My Dad was J-Bird. He was quite a large personality in the small town in which we lived. J-Bird was the fire chief, an ambulance driver, a county commissioner, and unwavering public servant. As one of 17 children, he learned from necessity how to provide for himself and others. (Yes, 17 children from one mom and dad!) I love my father very much and miss him daily. He lost his battle with diabetes twelve years ago today.
I credit my Dad with helping me to become the woman I am today. As we head into Father’s Day and I honor the anniversary of his passing, I would like to spend some time sharing with you the example he set for me and some of the best advice he gave to me over the years. A lot of you knew him, but for those that did not have the pleasure of meeting him please allow me to tell you about him.
Ray “J-Bird” Westbrooks grew up in a small town in a poor, very large family and as such, never had the opportunity to go to school. His time was spent working to provide for himself and family. He never told me anything first-hand about the difficulties he faced growing up. Complaining about it wasn’t his style. I saw the person he became though. He was a man with ambition and strong work ethic. He seemed to have unlimited energy and a great passion for serving others. Over the years, I have been amazed at the number of stories I’ve heard about ways that my dad helped others. Somehow, he had time for almost everyone and the willingness to help. He loved to have fun too. I have fond memories from my childhood of time spent at the softball park as he played, Sunday afternoons at the lake water skiing, and the numerous fish fries he loved to have for our large extended family or for the city employees and their families. He enjoyed fishing and sharing his catch with pretty much anyone that would eat what he cooked. His food was good, but his company was better. He was a fantastic story teller, funny, and quick-witted.
As my Dad, he was strict and ruled with an iron fist. I tested his patience many times with the strong-willed personality I inherited from him. But, he was also my safe place and my supporter. I always knew I could count on him. If work allowed, he was always there while I cheered or played softball. He would drive us to cheer camp and happily load and offload all our stuff. He had nicknames for all my friends and I think he got a kick out of our antics. My dad was always there when I needed to talk. I valued his advice and level-headed thinking more than he knew. He always shot me straight and helped me to face the world with a pragmatic view. Dad was not an educated person but was one the smartest men I’ve ever known.
J-Bird was infamous for his quotes. Truth be told, he had quite a potty mouth and I won’t share most of his sayings with you as good as they are! There are a few though that are my favorites and I reflect back to on a regular basis. These nuggets of advice have helped me more than I can articulate and continue to help me as I face struggles or obstacles in life. I can’t call my Dad anymore but I can still hear him clearly telling me the following:
“You didn’t think they’d just give it to you, did you?” My Dad asked me this so many times over the years. It was usually his way of bringing me out of a pity party because things were difficult or weren’t going my way. It was his way of reminding me that I needed to get over myself and get back to work at achieving my goals.
“Time is all you have.” This was so simple, but so profound. I tend to over commit myself and then get frazzled at what I perceive as my lack of time management skills. I’d call my Dad to give some excuse for missing a family event, not performing to my expectations, etc… and talk about how busy I was. He’d shoot back to me that time is all I have. This would trigger me to stop complaining about my busyness because I chose it. It would also help me to prioritize my commitments. At the heart of this is that we have a limited amount of time each day, each year, and in our lives. We must choose wisely how we use it. We all have time, it is the one thing we all have. What we do with it is up to us.
“It’s like a fart. The more you fan it the worse it smells.” This is seriously my favorite piece of advice from my Dad! The world is full of drama, insecurities, and competitive situations. I’ve had my share of being the target of the mean girls, the mean moms, the work cliques, and politics. I’ve also been on the other side when I’ve been urged to take sides, gossip, leave others out, or tempted to stir the proverbial pot. As I talked to my Dad about whatever was happening at the time, he’d tell me, “It’s like a fart. The more you fan it the worse it smells.” Bahahaha! Instinctively I laughed but it is so true. There are so many situations that we should just walk away from and not engage. If we do, we make the situation worse. The older I get, it is easier to take this advice.
Twelve years ago today, the last thing my Dad communicated with me was a thumbs-up. He wasn’t perfect, but he was extraordinary. He had lived a thumbs-up life. He still inspires me and motivates me. I am grateful for the example he set in persistence, how to overcome, and the importance of serving others while never losing his ability to have fun. He made me the woman I am proud to be. I still hear his voice and feel his strength. Thank you, J-Bird. Love and miss you!