I’ve written many articles on this site over the years, but I think this one is the hardest. How can you do justice to a deceased parent with a blog post? What about the detractors who will say it is a cynical ploy for sympathy? How real is too real, given the inclinations of the internet, which I well know? These are all real concerns, yet, I am writing the article anyway.
In reality, there is no way to do justice to my father, Ronald Eugene Ralph, with a mere blog posting. He gave me so much of who I am today. My love of politics, history, classic cinema and television, comedy, wrestling, my mannerisms, many of my sayings…they all trace back to him. I love him and I will always miss him. No words can bring him back or fully encapsulate what he has meant in my life.
Still, I think it worthwhile to try.
As for the detractors. well, they will go after anything I do. Say I didn’t write this article, or put out the tweets last night about his death, or mention it on my show. Then, months later, it came out that my Father had died. They would criticize me for not mentioning it and tell the world I didn’t love him. You literally cannot please people like that, so why even try? And, frankly, I still consider myself a writer, even if I don’t write nearly as much as I used to. Part of being a writer is putting yourself out there. Not everyone chose the path I did, but everyone knows pain, everyone knows struggle, and everyone knows happiness, however small.
I’ve written about almost every single triumph and tragedy in my life over the last 5 years. I see no reason to stop now.
How real is too real? Well, there is definitely a line, at least in this space. I think I could write a compelling full-length book about my Father and the relationship I had with him. He was a complex man, to be sure. One thing I never doubted, though, was his love for me. He and my Mother divorced when I was around 12. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows throughout the course of my childhood. One thing she never did, however, was train me to hate him, keep me from him, or encourage me to distance myself. Quite the contrary. They loved each other in spite of the demise of their marriage. To be honest with you, I think my Mom has been just as affected by this whole thing as I have, if not more so.
I’m getting off track. This post isn’t about all those ancillary concerns. It’s about my Daddy. Or, as I called him in later years, my Pops. I actually picked that up off Sanford and Son, which we used to watch together. At a certain age, I started to get self-conscious about calling him Daddy, the same as I was about calling my Mamma, uh, Mamma. I use Mother and Pops now, but growing up, I called them Mamma and Daddy. I kind of feel bad about the switch up in moments like these, but I think most of you can understand how it is. At a certain age, some terms become “uncool.” It seems silly now, but at the time, it did not.
As I mentioned at the top, my Father’s name was Ronald Ralph, but I don’t think I ever heard anyone call him that. He was universally Ronnie, except to me, since, well, I was his son and I don’t call my parents by their actual names. I think most people are with me on that. I had a couple friends who did and it always seemed a bit off, although at least one of them did it for comedy purposes. Anyway, I could sit here and write ten pages on how he influenced me, but I guess I will try to keep it to a reasonable length.
John Ford, W.C. Fields, Jim Rockford, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Jerry Lawler, Redd Foxx…all of them came to me through my Daddy. I remember being a kid and wondering how he could sit there and watch the news or old black and white movies. Until the age of 10 or so, I had a strong distaste for any programming that wasn’t in color, or just “new.” I used to razz both of my parents for watching classic films. I figured it must be shit if the producers couldn’t even be bothered to use color. It also seemed sort of otherworldly, for some reason.
As I got older, I realized that I had been an idiot. Some of my fondest memories of my Dad involve us watching many of the seminal works I turned my nose up to as a child. His encyclopedic knowledge of the Golden Age of Hollywood is still something I marvel at. It wasn’t just that, though. I can honestly say that he was one of the smartest people I ever knew in my life. He knew about history, he knew about politics, he knew about science…yet he never had a college degree. If he had tried for it, I have zero doubt he could have been a professor or something of that nature. I think he would have been a good one, now that I consider it.
What did he actually do for a living? Growing up, he worked construction with my grandfather. He once owned a liquor store. At one point, he was a licensed realtor. In the later years, he was a tanker-truck driver. I’m not sure one could find a more varied list of occupations. I sort of envy it, because it sounds like a lot of fun. Obviously, it wasn’t all copacetic, or else he would have stuck with one throughout. But just experiencing all that, the stories you gain alone…it sounded amazing.
I feel like I’m meandering a bit, but I can’t help myself. It’s sort of hard to put his influence into words. He wasn’t perfect by any means, and I’m not either. So, I don’t want this to come across as some sort of hagiography. When I sit and take stock of my life, however, I have to say that a lot of it came from him. For instance, I wanted a dog growing up, as most boys do. I did have one, but it lived outside outside at my grandparents’ house, for various reasons. But I wanted one to live with me and be able to come inside. One day, I came home from school and he told me to go check the bathroom. I did, and saw a small black labrador puppy peeking over the side of the tub.
The dog was so small that it couldn’t get over the 18 inch barrier. Sadie, as she came to be known for 15 years, had decided to lay down underneath the tire of my brother’s school bus that morning. My Dad caught it out of the corner of his eye and stopped the driver from killing her, and eventually, she became our dog. This may sound weird to those of you who don’t have pets, but that dog ended up being one of the best things that I’ve ever had in this life. I actually just now remembered to mention that while I was writing this memorial. I would give anything to have one more weekend with that dog.
I can say the same about Pops. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but I loved him and he loved me. I remember something he told me. It was during some histrionics I was having about a friend of mine. I can’t even recall the particulars of that now, to be honest. He said, “When it comes down to the nut-cutting, all you will have is your family. Me, your Mother, your grandparents. At the end of the day, we will always be here and they won’t.” He was right, to a certain extent. Always is the operative term. They were always there, while they were here, alive. But no one lives forever. One of the hardest things about him dying is the idea that my entire childhood, my entire frame of reference, is also slipping away, day by day.
It still lives on, though. In me, in my mind, in the shared memories from those who were also there. I guess the most heartbreaking part is that for some of this stuff, no one else was there except him, myself, my brother (who has severe cerebral palsy), and my mother. My grandparents were there too, but they’re gone. What do you do when it all goes away? I guess all we can do is cherish the moments we had, share the memories that are worth sharing, and look towards building our own legacy.
I know that’s what he would have wanted. I could share many other stories, add more detail to a life that you certainly know nothing about besides what I’ve told you here. No, I will leave it with this: I miss you, Daddy, and I always will. I hope someday we will meet again. I love you, and I’m sad that I can’t tell that to you in person any longer. If you are able to see Granny and Papaw, tell them that I love and miss them too. Oh, and don’t eat all the Pancho’s Dip. I’ll be there soon…but hopefully not too soon.
I want to thank all the many people who have reached out to me in the wake of this. It has been quite touching and I don’t think I could ever convey how much it has meant to me. Folks you know, those you don’t, they all chimed in…it’s meant a lot and I will always appreciate it. The memorial service will most likely be held during the week of April 15th. Some people have asked about where they can send flowers, etc., but I don’t have the details setup up as of this moment. If you want to make a donation in lieu of flowers, go ahead and make it in my father’s name to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. No, I am not kidding. Even with all that happened to me the last time I tried to raise money for them, it’s still my favorite charity.