Merlene Davis: Take time this Father's Day and change a child's life

Thomas Leslie Davis, who joined the U.S. Army thinking his name was Leslie Thomas Davis, was one of the smartest men I have ever known.

And that's not just because he was my father.

The man worked hard all day, brought all his money home to his stay-at-home wife, ate the supper she prepared, read the newspaper, and then dashed out to his second job cleaning an office building.

On weekends, he headed to the basement or to a neighbor's house to fix something.

He was ambidextrous, forced by teachers to use his right hand in school. He was also a slender man — a characteristic none of his children inherited — who seldom sat down to rest.

And still not one of my siblings would ever say the man was too busy for us. He not only provided for us, he also played with us. And when we got to spend time with him, those minutes and hours were cherished.

I wanted to write about him because today is Father's Day and because so many children these days think men like my father are relegated to TV characters.

Today, my father would have fallen into one of those statistics that experts say pave the way to failure.

His mother and father were young by today's standards, but probably not at the turn of the last century. My father was born a day after his mother turned 18. His father was 19 or 20. My father was their only child and, during what appears to have been a short marriage, they lived with her parents in Owensboro.

Ten years later, the census doesn't record my grandfather living in the same household with my father and his mother. Both still lived with her parents, and she is listed as single and using her maiden name. My father was listed as grandson.

We don't know what happened because grown-ups didn't discuss those things when young ears were nearby. I learned much of what I've told you by scanning, a free Web site.

Somewhere along the way, Les Tom, as he was called by his older friends, became quite adept at math. I could give him long lines of numbers with various math applications and he solved the problems quickly.

I guess my brother, who became an electronics engineer, inherited that gift. I didn't.

Still, my father was never more than a blue-collar worker. He and my mother married shortly after high school and he started a life of labor. Early in his marriage, he was a truck driver. But later his day job was at a granary in Owensboro and later, after the granary closed, at the city's housing authority as a maintenance man. He could fix anything. All the time, he cleaned offices at night.

I mention all that to point out that my father was constantly on the move, working, helping or fixing things. He remodeled our kitchen, built our garage, and built a pigeon coop for the pigeons my brother trained.

And yet, on weekends and for about an hour in between his day and night jobs, my father belonged to his children. Sort of.

If there were ever a magnet for children, it was my father. My sister said she never liked that because she didn't want to share him.

During the winter months, he sat in the basement with my brother creating small engines for model airplanes that would take flight in the spring. Or they would work on a car to race in the Soap Box Derby. At the shoulder of my father, my brother became an engineer.

In the spring, the buzz of an airplane motor, remotely directed by my father or brother, drew children from throughout the neighborhood, black and white, to our back yard. Mr. Davis had come out to play.

If the planes were down, the croquet set was out. If croquet wasn't on the agenda, badminton was. Whatever the game, my father never let us win. We had to beat him fair and square. And the joy those victories brought when we finally accomplished that feat after years of trying was immeasurable.

His smile was just as wide as ours. He enjoyed his children.

But none of the fun was allowed if we had homework. Year after year he sat reading his newspaper as his children read books or other assignments. If the newspaper was particularly thick, we would read the book twice in one sitting.

He took learning seriously. In junior high school, I earned a D in typing. When he asked me why, I said the teacher didn't like me. My father turned to me and said, "That teacher has a job. You're going to need one."

That's all he said. It was my first and only D.

My father didn't have a lot of time to spend with his children and yet he left an indelible impact on each of us.

I told a co-worker recently that I'm resigned to being alone this time of year and to having honey-do lists left undone because my husband is out with kids, coaching T-ball or mentoring.

But if my husband brings the same amount of joy to those children as my father did for us and all the neighborhood kids, I will hold my tongue.

There just might be a young impressionable child who will see something positive to cling to, despite the circumstances surrounding his or her home life.

Men, on this Father's Day in particular, take time to be someone's father.