I reckon the Good Lord knew I was going to be a pill so he found fit to weave 3 fathers into the fabric of my life. My biological father, my Uncle Ralph and my father-in-law Charles. My own father left before I had the chance to know him adult to adult - he was the parent and I was the kid and that kind of relationship has its parameters. I knew my Uncle Ralph a lot better than I did my own dad. Perhaps because he was the kind of person who would let you get to know him. He was always there when I needed him and taught me that work ethic, honesty and laughter could take you a long way in this world. It was the year after I'd married Charles Fowler's daughter that my Uncle Ralph left us. I didn't think I'd have the kind of relationship I had with Uncle Ralph with any other man. I was wrong.
From the day I stood in a towel outlet (yes, a towel outlet) in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and asked permission to marry his only child Charles has been, himself, teaching me...and teaching me and teaching me. It's what he did for a living you see. First in a classroom and then as a principal who worried a lot more about his students than any of the principals I had in grade school. I know this because I run into many of the students that walked the halls he guarded and each of them has a story about the impression he made on their life - and not just as the disciplinarian who occupied the office that haunts children's dreams. Rather, as a constant teacher always giving them the "thumbs up." He gave me the "thumbs up" in that towel outlet, but only after he'd taken the time to remind me that he wanted the best for, not just his daughter, but also for me. And if I thought marrying his daughter was the best thing for the both of us then he had my blessing..........as long as I realized that marriage was a very permanent situation. "Don't go into this thinking 'well, if it doesn't work out we can always get a divorce' because then you've already lost." I assured him this wasn't the case and that I'd never been more sure of anything in my life. He said "go ahead, then...I'm happy for you." I told him that I wasn't sure people did that sort of thing anymore, asking daddies for their daughters hands in marriage. He said "it shows that you were taught character by someone...don't ever be afraid of having CHARACTER." I took it as his approving nod to the other two souls who had served the role of father in my life - they'd done their job well.
The whole "Sir Charles" title came around as a joke. Charles went to graduate school, you see, at Auburn University, the same institution that gave Charles Barkley to the world (the original "Sir Charles") I tried many times to tell him that if the OTHER Sir Charles had played basketball for any other school he'd see him as 98% mouth like the rest of us do. Apparently, though, even the devil himself would get a pass if he'd attended Auburn. But I like calling him Sir Charles because it's one of the first things we had between me and him (I mean, you know, other than the time I put a ring on his only child's finger!) It was our first running joke and I smile anytime I get the opportunity to use it. I heard someone else calling him that one time and I thought "whoa, whoa, whoa...that's OUR thing!" I realized I was being a bit selfish, per chance. Everyone that knows him has immediate respect that would warrant calling him "Sir."
Since the day in February, 1997 when we exchanged our vows there at the Methodist Church in Stone Mountain he's gone to great lengths so that I'd never, ever forget that I'm family. There have been bad times that were beyond our control, as there always are. I was having a heart to heart discussion with him about one of these hard times and I got quite emotional, even started crying. He said "what's wrong????" I said "I don't want you to ever be disappointed that your daughter married me..." He WHIPPED off his glasses and looked me dead in the eye and said (in elevated tone) "SON! What in the world are you talking about?????? Bad things happen! I'm glad you felt like you could talk to me and I don't want you to ever, EVER be afraid to talk to me! You're mine now and I'm glad to have you!! Put those thoughts out of your head NOW." I felt at once scolded and loved and it was pretty perfect. I realized, then, I still had a daddy.
So on this occasion of another Father's Day, I'll consider myself grateful that at every important stage of my life there's been someone filling that role for me. And were he not a tee-totaling Southern Baptist (there's been occasion to celebrate holidays with my family when he asked "which one is the Methodist punch bowl and which one is the Baptist punch bowl?") I'd raise a glass to Sir Charles and thank him. But since he does refrain from consumption I'll simply give him a "thumbs up." Were his predecessors here, they'd do the same and thank him profusely for keeping this knucklehead in line.