He is going to kill me for doing this, but love it at the same time. He will call me and say, “You rascal! That was fantastic. You’re such a great writer. I’m so proud of you. You’re terrific. I love you.”
Yep, that’s my daddy. Always a silver lining. Always something positive. Always a ‘happy camper’.
Today, my daddy, Manning and Marjorie’s ‘Potts’, is turning the big 8-0! As he enters this new decade, I realize just how much about life we can all learn from him. My dad’s life has been full of ups and downs, joy and sadness and A LOT of hard, hard, hard work.
Henry Clinton Manning was born July 25, 1936, in New Orleans and raised in the small town of Bogalusa, Louisiana. His mother, Dorothy, was a tough teacher and raised him with an iron fist. She did what every staunch French Catholic mother does to her first child – she sent him to the monastery in hopes he would become a priest. Daddy jokes he discovered girls his junior year (late bloomer) and transferred to Bogalusa High where his dad was principal.
My dad was not raised in a wealthy family. His parents both worked very hard to make their house a home. Santa brought him socks and the only fancy thing in their house was his mother’s family china and Francis I sterling silverware, always kept perfectly polished.
The largest home in their small paper mill town of Bogalusa belonged to the town’s orthodontist. My dad went by this house every day telling himself that he would become a dentist so he could one day give his family the finer things in life.
His determination drove him to Loyola Dental School. Dad worked his way through school as a radio DJ, spinning the latest hits of the 1950s, the decade when my mom was born.
Fast forward one marriage, one precious daughter and dental career later, dad met my mom. He was interviewing her as a dental hygienist. As the interview drew to a close, he asked if she was free on Wednesday. My mom, ever the professional, sat up straight and confidently said yes.
Expecting to hear when she should report to work, my dad replied “Great! I’ll pick you up at 7!”
My mom sat across from him dumbfounded. She was free to work not go on a date, but his suave moves left her so perplexed she agreed.[Mom might argue his slick moves began and ended on this day as evident by the year he gave her twelve salt and pepper shakers for her birthday – a true (and sad) story that he will never live down.]
Dad picked mom up at seven on the dot with an expensive bottle of wine chilling in the backseat. It was the first time my mom had wine with a real cork in it.
Their love affair was swift and exciting. My mother, much like my dad, grew up in middle class America, with a no frills upbringing. Dad taught my mom about the finer things in life that he had worked so hard to earn and appreciate. He took her around the world and taught her to use a credit card – something he deeply regrets to this day.
Mom and dad married in 1975. Shortly after, dad’s daughter from his first marriage, Lisa, came to live with them. She was 12-years old and gave them a run for their money – stealing motor homes at 14 and sneaking out with boys. Dad, ever the pacifist, left the tough love (and science projects) up to my mom, forever cementing their parenting roles.
My sister and I came along and daddy’s heart opened up even more. He was surrounded by women, my sisters and me along with my aunt, cousin and grandmother, and that was just fine by him. If you’ve ever met my dad, you know he is anything but a ‘bubba’. He is not a guy’s guy. He is a girl’s guy.
Anyone who has met my dad, has a story that goes along with their relationship (failed hunting trips, drunken phone booths, his duck ring tone that goes off in the most inopportune times, locking him in a car because he is so slow, etc.). Stories about him are usually told at his expense and he laughs along gleefully. We all have a million ‘Henry’ stories. I could write a full curriculum of Henry’s Life Lessons, but I’ll spare you the lengthy blog and highlight a few of my favorites…
Henry’s Life Lesson #1: Smile Big & Create Your Passion
I once asked my dad if he liked being a dentist since he found his profession merely based on a childhood desire to have financial stability rather than a passion.
“I do,” he said, “I believe I have an aptitude for creativity. I probably would have enjoyed being a professor, but I have found a creative outlet and passion in dentistry.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, many patients come in with teeth they have neglected for years. We have to pull teeth and rework their entire mouth. I must find creative solutions to restructure their smile. The smile is the first thing that greets someone. So many people hide their smile, ashamed of their teeth. I am able to give them the gift of a smile. Seeing someone truly smile ear to ear for the first time is worth it all.“
Henry’s Life Lesson #2: It’s Never Too Late
My dad discovered his inner-artist in the 1960s, but his art slipped away when my sister and I came along and work got busy.
Forty years after his paint dried, he dusted off his brushes and signed up for art classes again. Witnessing my dad go after what he really wanted was beyond powerful. I was in my early twenties trying to find my passion and by example my dad showed me it is never too late to discover (or rediscover) your passion. You’re never too old and it is never too late to start again.
Henry’s Life Lesson #3: Be Kind & Give Abundantly
One afternoon, my dad brought home a pre-made galvanized bucket, wrapped up with a beautiful bow. Inside the bucket were four Abita beers. I looked perplexed at my dad and asked him about it since my dad is not a beer guy. (Fun fact: my dad is known to drink half a beer, place the cap back on and put it in the fridge for the next day).
He said it was from a patient at St. Vincent de Paul. That is the other thing I didn’t tell you: on my dad’s one day off a week, he spends his day in downtown Baton Rouge at St. Vincent de Paul giving free dental care to those who need it most.
My dad began to explain the mystery beer bucket, “A St. Vincent patient came to see me a few months ago. I have had to do quite a few root canals and extractions, but his smile has really come along and he is no longer in pain.”
My dad’s eyes began to fill with tears as he continued, “This man barely has enough money to eat and yet, he went out of his way to buy this for me as a thank you.”
Being a softy like my dad, we were both in a puddle of tears crying over the beer bucket gift. That’s my dad. He gives everything he has to everyone around him, expecting nothing in return. However, through example he has taught me that when you give without expectations you get the world in return.
Henry Life Lesson #4: Be Proud of Yourself
The greatest lesson my dad taught me was to be proud of myself and my accomplishments. In November 2010, my mom and dad sat next to me in my therapist Mary’s office. It was the ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting to tell them I needed to go to treatment.
After Mary explained the work we had done in outpatient and my need for a higher level of care, my dad turned to me with tears in his eyes.”McCall, aren’t you proud of yourself? Don’t you see how far you’ve already come?”
Too ashamed to make eye contact, I looked at my hands nervously twisting in my lap. I responded ‘no,’ explaining that I should’ve never let it get this bad. I basically said the eating disorder was all my fault. I felt like such a failure at life that day.
With a warm heart and compassionate eyes he said, “Honey, you have to see all the hard work you’ve put in this far. If you need to take this next step to treatment we are behind you. But I want you to one day be proud of yourself and all the things you have done because I am SO proud of you.” Little did he realize that was going to be one of my biggest hurdles – knowing that the eating disorder was not my fault and I deserved to be proud of my recovery and everything I accomplished in life.
Henry Life Lesson #5: Every Day is a Great Day for Champagne
Probably THE most important life lesson. No matter the holiday (or lack thereof), my dad is there with a glass of champagne. Fun fact: my dad earned the nickname Dr. Top Off years ago. He is known to walk around a party, bottle in hand, topping everyone off!
There’s something awesome about bubbly and clinking glasses with those you love. It brings everyone together and brings out some pretty funny stories. More than anything it signifies celebration. My dad’s love for champagne is perfectly indicative of his love for life and his desire to celebrate and appreciate each and every day.
Of course, my dad is not perfect. He will be the first one to say so. My dad is not tough. He is not the best communicator. He is not speedy. He is terrible with technology (the Apple store knows him by name and employees run when they see him coming). He is an awful driver. He can’t do a load of laundry or start the dishwasher to save his life. He needs instructions to hang a picture on the wall. His golf game is not one to be desired. And don’t even get me started on his lack of directional sense.
What Henry lacks, he makes up for ten-thousand fold…my daddy is the kindest, most loving, tender-hearted man you will ever meet. He will go to the end of the earth for you (if he can find his way there). He is a talented artist, a keen antique hunter and the BEST dancer. He will tell you how proud he is of you to the point of nauseam. He never hangs up without saying ‘I love you’. He owns every self-help book. He cries at everything and doesn’t even try to hide his tears. He has worked his entire life – and still works. He works for my mom, the love of his life; he works for his daughters and his grandchildren. But most of all he works for the people and community he serves. His faith is strong and his heart is truly made of pure gold.
So no matter what you call my dad: Dr. Henry, Dr. Top-Off, Henrí, Dr. H, let’s raise our bubbly or juice cup to Pops and send him love, light and birthday happiness!
To my daddy,
You are our unsung hero. You are the quiet force and rock of our family. You have raised us all with love and kindness that we now pass on to our children. We now shower our children with too many ‘I love yous’ and ‘You’re terrific’ sayings. So on your big day we send every I love you and You’re terrific right back to you! We love you to the moon ‘Pottssssssss’ as Marjorie says.
You are beyond terrific, daddy! Happy 80th! Toasting to you today!