I’ve had this blog post rambling around in my head for over six months now, and today I’m finally going to write it. I’ve wrestled with this one because it’s about a person I consider family, but we’re not blood related. In fact, we don’t really see one another that often (Facebook helps, but only so much). And to be honest with you, I’m as nervous writing about this man as I was writing about my dad.
But after six months of trying to figure out an angle, trying to think of a legitmate reason to write about this person (beyond my own feelings), I finally have the perfect lede: it’s Father’s Day, and I want to celebrate one of the fathers I’ve been privileged to know.
His name is Ron Wexler. Or, if you go by his license plates, DWG CRZY or SLICK.
I know Mr. Ron because I lived across the street from him growing up. He was the crazy neighbor – had a loud motorcylcle, a sweet black Torino, and his very own Coke machine on the back porch. A University of Georgia season ticket holder, he had me convinced as a kid that the G-Day was a religious holiday much in the same way Christmas was.
I’m writing about him today not to embarrass him, or curry favor with him, but because as I’ve thought about Mr. Ron, I’ve come to understand just how influential he has been on my life. And I want to celebrate that influence this weekend, as a tribute to him.
See, Mr. Ron wasn’t the conventional father figure. I was best friends with his step-son, Pete, and every time I spent the night at their house, or just spent time over there, it was like walking into an alternate universe. Mr. Ron drank beer, so there was always some in the fridge. He had strict rules about what you could and couldn’t touch, which rooms you could and couldn’t go in. He used colorful language and metaphors that were a bit more adult in content than my parents’. And occasionally, he could get upset and scare the living crap out of you.
I type all that knowing that there are some people who will read it and immediately go into judgmental mode. It can’t be helped. Once upon a time, it bothered me too because it was so different from what I knew. I would see or hear something at Mr. Ron’s and come home and talk to my dad about it. And my dad would look at me and say, “That’s just Mr. Ron.”
That helped. I would see my dad go over there to help with a project, or to borrow a tool, or just stand in the driveway and talk, and I began to learn something valuable: how to love a person for who that person is. My dad was different from Mr. Ron, yes, but neither of them let those differences get in the way of their friendship. And I learned that, as different as Mr. Ron was to me and my family, we were different to him. I also learned that the things that made us different were often matters of personal taste; the things that brought us together, our sense of what was right and good in life, were more important.
So I learned to roll with the punches, but more importantly I learned to love Mr. Ron as much as I loved my dad.
I called him “Sir” anytime he asked me a question. I did as he said whenever he gave me an instruction. I told him how I was doing in school, shot baskets with him in the cul-de-sac, and spent a lot of time just talking about life, because his knowledge and experience of life was so fascinating. And he always gave me his time.
When I told him I was headed to the University of Georgia after high school, you’d have thought I’d told him he’d won the lottery. He was as proud as my own parents, and almost five years later, when we came home from my collegiate graduation, he did something that will stick with me the rest of my life. He’d hung, across the front of our carport, a huge sheet of butcher paper, and he’d written “No longer a pup, he’s a BULLDOG now!” in huge, black letters.
A handmade banner to welcome me home and celebrate in my accomplishment.
My parents cried. I cried. I’m pretty certain Mr. Ron didn’t, but I know he was happy for me, just as he was happy for me on the day I got married, and when each of my kids was born. I also remember him being there when my daughter died. I know his eyes were red that day.
Over the years I’ve been able to keep up with Mr. Ron, either by being part of milestones in his family’s life, or him being part of milestones in mine. I performed Pete’s wedding in his front yard, and shared the joys of his first grandchild’s birth at a baby shower in his house. Lately, we’ve seen each other at funerals more than anything else – at the funeral for his father-in-law; at the funeral for my grandfather. I guess it’s a sign that we’re both getting older.
Regardless of when we see each other, we still talk about life – whether it’s football, or golf, or cars, or parenting, or retirement, or whatever else might be on his mind. I’m still amazed at some of the stuff he says, but I’ve noticed a mellowing that gives him a very wise perspective. He and his wife, Ms. Carolyn (I’ll have to write a blog about her later – she certainly deserves one!) are still living life to the fullest, whether it’s road trips to Georgia games or spending time with their grandkids, and that life yields some wonderful observations about what it means to be human.
I drink it up when I can.
I’m going back and reading this as I type it, and I know I’m not really nailing the man down. But even if I tried, I don’t think I could; this is man who defies easy description. Just as I could never write the definitive profile of my dad, I don’t think I could for Mr. Ron, either.
But I can tell you that he’s impacted me. Taught me to look beyond the usual categories and behaviors that we often use to organize the people in our lives. Taught me that people don’t have to believe as me in order to be decent, kind, wise people. Taught me that, come heck or high water, you stay faithful – to your wife, your team, and yourself.
For those reasons and a host of others, I want to wish Mr. Ron a happy Father’s Day. And I want him to know that I love him, and – as always – wish him and Ms. Carolyn the very best.
And if you know SLICK, you wish him the same things too.