I CAN NEVER EXPRESS ENOUGH GRATITUDE FOR THE PRAYERS FROM SO MANY OF YOU FOR MY DAD THIS PAST YEAR I am big believer in prayer, and I believe very strongly that your prayers for healing allowed my dad to have a fighting chance when no doctors did.  He just ran out of fight.  I wrote this for my Dad in anticipation of this dreaded day and I'm sharing it so you understand just how wonderful he was, but also the many ways he helped make me ME.  

My dad Frank M Gafford was born in Camilla, Georgia October 2nd 1941.  From humble beginnings he became a lawyer and a mediator, fathered three children and parented another when he married my step mother Julie.  That’s the easy part of my father’s life.  The man I loved and looked up to was far more complicated than that.  My dad wasn’t perfect by any means, but he had a strong sense of justice.  He raised us to always not only seek, but expect, the absolute best outcomes.  As a kid, when my sister or brother or I would bring home a report card that was all As and one B, the response was not praise for the As, it was a simple question: what happened with the B?  He got very frustrated when he perceived a lack of effort on our part.  And for that I will be forever grateful because it inspires me to this day to always try my hardest.

I spent most of my time with my Dad fishing.  Most weekends we’d make the trek to the Gulf and spend the day on the boat, catching all kinds of fish, way more than we could possibly eat.  We’d clean them all, drive back to Lake City and make stops at the houses of his poorest clients so we could bring them fish.  Some of them, poor but proud, would demand he take something in return and I’m pretty sure we were the only lawyer’s family who had government cheese in the fridge.  He taught me compassion on those days. 

As a child, I was the tomboy in the family, and I went hunting with him on a regular basis.  I was always the only little girl in a gaggle of little boys with their daddies.  When we were dove hunting, I was always told to shoot the bird “on the wing” never off the ground or off a fence line or tree branch.  I never shot my limit.  We’d get back to the truck and the little boys would ask me how many birds I shot and I’d tell them and they’d get to making fun of me for not shooting the limit like they did.  Dad would lean over close to their faces and say quietly, How many did you shoot on the wing, son?  They’d all get quiet and go away.  Even in hunting he wanted me to know to never take the easy way out just because everyone else did. 

His sense of sportsmanship is something he passed along to me, and I think of all the times he absolutely destroyed me at chess while telling me I was going to have to practice to be able to beat him.  I never did.  But as I destroy my 7 year old at Candyland I hope she learns that message from me.  Apparently she has, as she has become a ruthless player of the board game Sorry.  He gave to me my love of fishing, which I am passing down to my daughter.  I told her that the next time she and I go fishing, we’ll ask Grandaddy to corral all the fish near our hooks, and I fully expect him to do that from the great beyond. 

He also taught me to stand up for myself when I was right.  That lesson started in about the fifth grade, when again, those stupid boys were making fun of me because I told them I shot a 28 gauge shotgun.  They said there was no such thing.  I was fuming by the time I got home and Dad called Sister Anne and asked her if I could bring an empty shotgun shell to school to shut those boys up.  She said yes and I did.  To this day, I never back down from an argument when I know I’m right.  Something I’m sure he regretted during my early adult years when we didn’t see eye to eye on much. 

He was the smartest person I ever met, and would often regale me with the physics behind some contraption or another that I didn't particularly care about.  He'd explain something and follow the explanation with a "isn't that NEAT??" and he genuinely meant it.  My love of learning is a huge gift from him.  

In all honesty, after Dad and my mother split up, he wasn’t around as much as he should have been.  We went through times when we didn’t talk much.  But at some point, he seemed to learn the error of his ways and has spent the last several decades making up for lost time in his own way.  We were never a demonstrative family.  We didn’t say I love you.  Ever.  But this last year allowed us to say all the things we never said before.  It gave me the chance to show him through actions and words how much I loved him.  And once again, he demonstrated what brave and strong man he was.  You may be gone, Dad, but your spirit lives on in the gifts you’ve given me and I plan to honor you in passing along those gifts to my children and grandchildren.   Now you need to get to work on corralling those fish for us.  I love you.