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September 19, 2007

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I know it's not Father's Day but I can't help thinking about him anyway. He was really crazy in a wonderful sort of way. Where to start? Oh, let's talk about money. For years he directed music at our family's church. He was outstanding. He was a composer too. He once wrote a full-blown cantata about the history of this particular church, complete with songs about its founding and development. It was darn good.

He wrote for 9 months, we practiced it for full choir and orchestra for three months, and performance lasted an hour. It was smashing — and then gone. Why? He was somehow driven that way, to "throw away" his talents on small endeavors to make people happy.

He eventually became too busy to do the music anymore — he was actually a professor of history and education — and reluctantly resigned. The church hired a music director at a high salary, $45,000 a year, as I recall. He asked the deacons of the church why, if they were willing to do that, had they never offered to pay for his services. "You never asked," they said.

Yes, I can recall that he was a bit bitter about it, but would he have repeated the same if he had to do it over? Of course! He was crazy that way.

Once we were walking on some dusty trail near Fort Davis in nowhere Texas, and an old Mexican man came up to us excitedly. I figured trouble was brewing.

The old man said:

"Al Tucker? You taught me to read! Thank God for you!"

Dad was a bit embarrassed but he exchanged pleasantries. The old man kissed my father's hand, went on his way.

"When did you teach him to read?" I asked.

"Oh about three years ago. I used to come here and teach a class for adults who couldn't read."

"No pay?"

"Of course not," and he looked at me like I was crazy.

He was like that. There must have been hundreds of people like this who benefited from his charity. Why did he do it all? Heaven knows.

The thing is that he was convinced that the world was chock full of treasures that we couldn't see. We would go walking in the desert and he would pick up a stone and say that probably some Indian centuries ago used this rock in a spear. I believed him. Later I became more skeptical of these wild claims. But then I realized that Dad thinks treasures are everywhere, waiting to be found and appreciated.

This was how he was with people. He was mostly wrong of course. But he never stopped searching.

His kids were among the treasures. My brother claims that he once gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to our pet duck that was drowning in a flood. I don't recall this but I believe it.

Mostly people remember my Dad as a brilliant eccentric. I can see why. I visited his academic office once after I had long ago left home. I wanted to see his books, but all he wanted to talk about was his new bullwhip he had hanging on the wall. He took it down to show me how he could crack it. He stood in the hallway and whipped that thing around up and down the hall. His colleagues poked their heads out of their doors and then shut them again, figuring that Al was up to his usual stunts. Crazy!

He was a darn good guitarist, though he never thought so. Before he died, he attended a Christmas party I was at. It was rather dull, and he couldn't stand it. So he found a guitar in the house and began to sing and yodel cowboy Christmas songs. Wow, did that place come to life! He said later that he worried that he had embarrassed me. Nuts! I couldn't have been more proud.

He always accommodated my love for pets. I kept a hamster but after a long while, I forgot to feed him. "Gilbert" became very weak and by the time I figured out what was happening, it was probably too late. I took him to Dad, who quickly found an eyedropper and filled it with sugar water. He fed Gilbert as much as he could. Gilbert died anyway. My dad and I cried together.

I'll never be the man he was. I know that. I gave up trying long ago. But a year ago, my son came to me with a sick hamster on the verge of death. I was ready to let him go. I didn't want to do what my father did. Didn't want to instill false hope. Mostly, I didn't want to go through that painful experience again. But I did it anyway. I got an eyedropper and filled it with sugar water and fed the hamster.

To my astonishment, the hamster lived. I know for sure that Dad was smiling down from Heaven. In this small way, in the smallest way, I did something he didn't do. I know he was proud. We sons benefit so much from our fathers' love and appreciation –and how much pain we bring them in any case — even though they surely know that we can never lived up to their ideal.

On occasion I've visited the church I grew up in. No one there today remembers my Father. But they are still singing the songs he wrote.

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