My dad left my life when I was ten and died when I was 16, after literally being found lying on the street in agony from cancer. He wasn’t a good father, he failed me in just about all ways, but I still loved him. He was the only adult who treated me like a child when I was a child; all the others leaned on me or argued with me as if I were a small adult. He loved me, I know that, despite his terrible sins.

His mother and brother visited us when I was too young to remember and she sent me small gifts of books, but I never really knew them. He was the black sheep of the family, I think in part because he wasn’t able to enlist when WWII hit the US. He had some health issue. He felt so badly because his four brothers all served. So he disappeared into alcohol and southern Nevada, abandoning his first family of four children.

(My dad is the one in the middle, without a uniform or hat, Uncle Phil is on his left)

My mother had stayed with my grandparents briefly, in San Francisco, when my sister had surgery (she was born with a cleft palate). She didn’t like my grandmother; said she was a mean snob. As I grew older and more aware of our white trash status, I elevated my father’s family to royalty, who’d turned their back on us. When my father died, I was sixteen and in foster care. My sister and I traveled by bus to Boise for his funeral, dreading meeting them, so scared, but defiant in our resolve to honor our father.

I’d pictured my grandmother as a big mean-looking woman, but as I’ve written before, she was a tiny white-haired lady (hair in a bun) who sobbingly put her arms around me and told me of her love. My mother’s perception was flawed. They were good people. I met my uncles, but didn’t pay much attention to them at the time.

My life was in tatters and long story short, I ended up in Long Beach, CA, sleeping on the RS president’s couch, homeless, with LDS church social services scrambling to find me a place to live. They reached out to my uncle Phil, who agreed to give me a home. I’d met him once and never met his family. Uncle Phil was a retired Air Force colonel, living in Elko, Nevada with his wife and youngest daughter, who was my age. He flew his plane to pick me up and took me back to live there, where he lived frugally in a 3-bedroom trailer (trailers weren’t as trashy in those days) and taught flying lessons. He was planning to retire in a tiny village in the Nevada mountains where he had a home.

I believe Uncle Phil saved my life. He treated me kindly and respectfully from the start. I never heard him cuss, never saw him raise his voice or hit my aunt. He was a gentleman. I thrived in his home and felt like I was worth something for the first time in my life. He asked my cousin and me what we wanted for Christmas—she said a fancy suit like the cowgirls wore—Elko’s a cow town and she ran with that crowd. I said, not expecting anything, “all I want is to see my sisters.” I hadn’t seen them for almost a year.

Uncle Phil flew me to Vegas for three days to see them. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude I didn’t thank him for years because there were just no words. I felt like I owed him a million dollars for that truly wonderful gift. That wasn’t all he did in the time I lived with him. He talked to me! He called them father-daughter talks; he had a gentle chuckle and a kind of gravelly voice and he would seriously discuss my boyfriends and teenagery concerns. He took me with him as a tag-a-long on his flying lessons. When my husband died, he was there for me.

I stayed in touch with Uncle Phil until his death, in 2010, of old age. He had his marbles (!:)) till the end. He wrote me newsy letters and remembered me at Christmas. After my aunt died, he slowly went downhill and died with the same dignity that he’d lived all his years. Several years after he’d taken me to Vegas to see my sisters, I wrote him a heart-felt letter telling him I could never thank him enough. He kept it.

Fathers come in all shapes and sizes. This weekend, I honor my poor broken father, who I feel now is with me at all times, my good husband, whose strength gives my children and grandchildren security and safety, bishops who have loved and supported me, but mostly, that good man who took a troubled girl into his home and helped her learn about life.

Happy Men’s Day to all of you; I know many men who haven’t actually fathered children, but you are good examples and fathers in ways you probably can never imagine. God bless you!