This is my 50th Father’s Day and although I don’t remember several of them because I was too young to care, there is one that is vividly etched in my memory. Father’s Day 1988 – it sometimes feels like yesterday and other times seems a million miles away. However, the emotions that surround that day still pound in my chest, echo in my head, and reach deeply into my soul.
My father, Rex Raney, had a massive heart attack the day before Father’s Day in June 1988. He never regained consciousness but lived for 5 weeks in the hospital on a ventilator. I have often said that he died the night that grabbed his chest and fell to the floor in the kitchen, a few feet away from my mother. His body was alive in the hospital but he had gone without oxygen for almost 10 minutes after the heart attack. While the EMTs were able to restart his heart, they couldn’t hit reset and restart his brain functions. The days he lived in the hospital were God’s way of giving my mother time to deal with the loss of the only man she’d ever loved.
My father’s death affected me greatly, but his mentoring, his suggestions, his intellect, his humor, and his determination still influence me today. When my Dad died, to deal with it I got very active and tried to do something to keep his legacy alive. I started a Father’s Day Banquet event that helped raise money to endow a scholarship at the University of Tennessee’s College of Communications. With some help, that scholarship is now permanently endowed and is awarded annually to a deserving student – the W.F. “Rex” Raney Memorial Scholarship will live forever at my alma mater – I am very proud of that accomplishment, but more proud of the man who’s name it bears!
I gave a eulogy at my father’s funeral and part of it was about an article that I wrote for the Knoxville News-Sentinel. My father worked at the KNS for many years as a writer before going into radio and television, and he often wrote “Letters to the Editor” – the same section where the article I wrote about him appeared. I have reprinted that article below as a tribute to the man and the father he was to me and my sister and brother.
If you can talk with you father today, take the time to do it. You never know when that opportunity will end. As for me, this 50th Father’s Day is bittersweet. I have two fantastic children and I adore being their Dad. But, it hurts me deeply that they will never know the wonderful man that I grew up with – their grandfather. He would have spoiled my kids rotten – and loved them – and inspired them – and made them think about life in a different way. That’s exactly what he did for me. I love you, Dad. I miss you.
Here’s the article that was printed in July 1988 in the Knoxville News-Sentinel:
“During the past few weeks, sons and daughters scrambled to find the perfect remembrance to bestow on their fathers on Dad’s Special Day. As usual, I found myself caught up in this frenzied activity of fumbling with and losing the reason why my gift chase ever existed.
Then something happened to wake me from my arrogant, selfish and egomatic sleepwalk which I had mistakenly labeled as “gift-giving.” It allowed me to vividly see all the wonders that can occur between two caring people..
I finally understood and came to terms with how much of what I called “me” was actually learned from my father. I learned something from him almost every time I was with him.
A wonderfully twisted and tilted tree that is my sense of humor, has its roots in his jokes, plays on words, and views of life that I never would have stopped long enough to see, at least from his humorous angle.
He taught me to care – about family, loved ones, friends, people on the street, people in tough situations in the news, and most importantly, to care about yourself. “Make happy memories,” he would say. “Be happy, my son.” “Let go and let God.” “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” “You gotta stay happy.” “Always do three things – do something for yourself, something for someone else and something that needs doing.” “If you can’t solve the problem, change the problem.” My favorite and the way I try to live my life, “If you have to tell who you are, you ain’t!”
I learned by watching and seeing the fruits of his mental labors – a successful radio and TV personality; an actor in his early years; a writer of how-to books, short stories, novels, and countless articles and newscasts; a successful entrepreneur and owner of several businesses; an artist with either the canvas, pen and paper, old furniture, a room, or with just his 50-year-old manual Royal typewriter. He could take nothing and create something, not only with a function, but with a style and character that had his signature all through it.
My Father’s Day gift to my dad was simple – I realized that without him I would not be the person I have become. And that is so tragic because I didn’t come to know this until June 16 – the day before Father’s Day – when he suffered a heart attack. He lived for 38 days.
People called him Bill in his younger years. I grew up hearing him called Rex or Mr. Raney. Well, I just called him Dad and I miss him very much. Hell, I was lucky to have known him at all.”
Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads! If you’re a father, understand how much of an impact you have on your children – leave a legacy with them of positivity, caring, nurturing and unconditional love and support. They need it – and so do you!