“The Mystery of my Father,” column for June 3, 2014

My dad was a mystery. I knew things about him, but they were like pieces of a puzzle I could never fit together as a whole. I knew the blue of his eyes, how they shined when he looked at me. The scar on his shoulder, a “souvenir” from the war. The way he smoothed my hair with his big calloused hand. And the blessed fact that he never said anything bad about my mother.

I liked all those things about him. I counted on them to stay the same and they did. I counted on him for other things, too. The stories he told me. The books he read to me. The bait he wasted for fish I never caught.

My parents divorced when I was 2. I lived with my mother some 40 miles away. But I often spent time with my dad on his parents’ farm in the mountains of North Carolina.

You don’t need a lot of time, he said, if you make the best of what you’ve got. And we did.

He sent child support to my mother each month, but he was good for all sorts of things _ a coat for winter, shoes for Easter, trips to the dentist and such. He’d slip me a little “spending money” and say with a wink, “Don’t spend it all in one place.”

First it was a nickel. Then a whole dollar. Five or even 10 for my birthday. Finally, when I was in college on a scholarship, I’d get a couple of twenties in the mail with a note: “Don’t spend it all in one place.”

My favorite of all the stories he told was about a magical place called California. He’d spent time there as a soldier before shipping out to Germany. After the war, he had big plans to move to L.A., get a good paying job and go to college on the GI Bill. My mother wouldn’t hear of it. He talked about it for years. Finally, she told him he could go, but he would never see my sister or me again.

So he quit dreaming, stayed on the farm, changed shifts every week at the mill, and made the best of what we had.

I’ll never forget the look on his face _ a beautiful irony of happiness and heartbreak _ the day I told him, after college, I was moving to California.

His eyes welled up and he looked away. Then he took out his wallet, gave me all he had, and started to say, but I said it for him: “I know, Daddy. Don’t spend it all in one place.”

We had a big laugh at that.

A year later, he came out to California to walk me down the aisle at my wedding. Three years later, he came back for the birth of my first child. He promised to come back again soon.

But then, he suffered a stroke. When I flew back to see him in the VA hospital, he couldn’t walk or move his arm or speak. He just looked at me and cried.

They said he would never leave the hospital. But after seven years of physical therapy, he proved them all wrong.

He came back to California once after that, limping badly, with his arm in a sling, a slur in his speech and a big lopsided grin on his face. He didn’t stay long, but we made the best of it.

Years later, the night he ended his life, he also ended my hopes of ever truly knowing who he was. The note he left said he thought he had cancer and did not want to go back into the hospital. And that was that.

My dad will always be a mystery. I could fill a book with all I don’t know about him. What I do know is this: He liked to fish and hunt and drive with the windows down. He fought the Nazis and my mother and survived them both. He gave up his dream of a better life to be a better father. He made the best of what we had.

And there is one more shining piece of the puzzle that, for me, fills a thousand gaps: I know my father loved me.

That’s my “spending money.” I keep it in my pocket. It’s there whenever I need it.

And I will never spend it all in one place.


  1. Love, love, love and more love is what I got from this article. It reminded me of my step-father who I miss very much. I called him, “Daddy” and he was truly my father in my heart. He loved me unconditionally and gave what he had to me. And he had twinkling blue eyes and a heart as big as Texas. He took me fishing ( I never caught a thing), he taught me how to swim and he made me laugh all the time. Thank you for your story of your father and the love he gave you. It made me cry. God Bless…

  2. Poncho Pena says

    A beautiful and touching column, Ms. Randall. As I commented recently to friends, when we bury our dreams, nobody sends flowers. Well, here you have placed a beautiful bouquet commemorating your father’s sacrifices.

    I would hazard to say, however, that you have solved the puzzle, because what was on the surface was also the substance that filled your father’s heart: Love.

  3. Kate Sciacca says

    What a blessing it was to read this piece. One thing I have learned is this – fathers love for their daughters is THE MOST IMPORTANT GIFT they can give those precious girls. It determines how the daughter feels about herself. It determines the kind of man she will marry… It really does determine the kind of life she will have. Your dad did a great job 🙂

    I was blessed to have a dad who loved his four daughters and who stuck with our mom while she battled alcoholism and depression. He too had a stroke and “changed” – but still there was that love shining through. All of his daughters married good men and have been blessed by his love. Better than anything… The greatest gift…. A father’s love. Thanks for reminding me 🙂

  4. Sandra Markham says

    I understand the love for a father and your desire to solve the mystery of your father. If you read your own words, I think you’ll see that there’s not mystery to your father. You describe him so beautifully; in your own words you tell us the kind of a man he was and all he did for you. You had the opportunity to know him, and there are many people who wish they knew about their fathers, the things you know about yours. Just enjoy the memories of him.

    • Sharon, I just wanted to tell you how much I loved your story about your Dad, it pulled at my heartstrings, such a loving story of a father and a daughter. I too had a father that I loved very much and lost seven years ago at the age of 93, but you never stop missing them no matter how much time passes. Thank you so much for sharing. God Speed! Frances

  5. Nathalee Rubin says

    My husband read your column The man I new, but really didn’t while we were on a trip Thursday in Kansas City for a baseball game. He said I want to read something to you and he cried almost all the way thru it. He said I hope our daughters feel this way about me and said he wanted to read this at church. Well, he has been practicing so that he can get thru it without breaking down. What a beautiful tribute to your Father. He loved you very much.

    Nathalee and John Rubin
    Grove, OK

  6. Sharon, this column brought tears to my eyes as well as many memories of my own Dad. I too never fully understood him or why he was taken from me so early in life. I did know one thing for sure- he loved me and I held onto that fact all my life. I hope my daughters can have that feeling of how much I love them. Thank you, Sharon.

  7. Yvonne Urquhart says

    What a beautiful tribute to your father. So many times they are forgotten when there is a break up.
    Very appropriate for the upcoming Fathers Day holiday.
    Great article.

  8. No doubt about it. Your father would be extremely proud of you, Sharon. He probably has a huge smile and tears in his eyes after reading this. He’s not alone.



  9. alicemariefromtennessee says

    Rosasharon, my dear. Thank you for introducing your father to me today, June 3, 2014 which just happens to be my 93rd birthday.

    I am happy to tell you that I have fallen love with him already and I know I’m not the only one. I must tell you why. It’s not because he had bright blew eyes like mine. He was truly a most generous, loving father. He knew, I’m sure, that he would be the one to bring peace to a troubled marriage and to his young children. They would be safe with his parents while he worked hard to share his money with his children. He surely was the sacrificial lamb in his determination to give his children the father you revere to this day. Your sharing has seemed Biblical to me.”Blessed are the Peace Makers they shall see God”. You do know your father because you are sharing his legacy and……”You will never “spend it all in one place.”

    • Sharon Randall says

      Thank you and God bless you and happy birthday to you, dear Alice Marie from Tennessee!
      With great affection,

  10. Oh my God !! never read a lovely story about any father who loved his daughter like most precious gift of God and gave unconditional love . Money he earned shared with loved one’s not only that but did not forget to attend special occasion . I can imagine how much you could do more if raised with both parents . God bless you Sharon what a lovely article . I hope it would reach to many parents who fight for nothing and leave children all alone with one parent to grow and wait for visit for another once a week .

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