by Rev. Austin Miles
FATHER’S DAY 2018: While a little boy, I would actually envy friends I would visit who obviously were loved by their fathers. They HAD a father. How great that must be.
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My birth was not exactly celebrated. In fact the first words I remember as a child being said was, “We did everything but put you through a tea strainer to keep from having you.” I remember that because my mother repeated that to me when I was older.
My biological father was a handsome dude who would look in the mirror and say, “I Know I’m the type of man that appeals to women.” My mother would over hear that. My birth cramped his style. When I was two, he left us.
My mother drove with me to stay with relatives in the Midwest. That was back in the days when divorce was a worse sin than murder. When my mother and I walked by, people would whisper (“she’s divorced y’know.”). And that included when we were in church. It hurt.
I was treated badly in school over that very reason.The teachers made it clear that I was a misfit since I did not have parents. Once out on the playground, a kid started hassling me, then said, “Why you don’t even have a father!” then, making his hand a fist, slammed me in the jaw knocking me down, then walked away laughing. I simply lay there and cried. Not from the pain of the sock in the jaw, but that what he said was true. I wondered why I was even here.
My mother met some single men who wanted her but made it clear they did not want me. Wow. She would then meet a wonderful working man from a utility company where she worked. He was a plain looking man named, Harry T. Maddox who loved her and wanted me.
After they were married, he adopted me to make his fatherhood official. He was a very good man. He went to church every week, kept his word, was honest, and during all those years, there was never alcohol in the house. At last. I now had a father….yes a FATHER.
Years later I wound up in show business and for many years worked as a circus ringmaster in the finest circuses of the time. I became very well known, and at the beginning of each show the lights would dim, spotlights would hit the entrance and as the circus band played a majestic fanfare I made my entrance to resounding applause.
That meant a lot to me since I had not been met with any welcome when I made my first entrance into the world. Now I could make that entrance a couple of times a day and feel embraced by thousands of people.
Meanwhile my step dad became my real father. Before he came into our lives, there was a neighbor next door to 702 Reis Avenue in Evansville, Indiana where my mother and I lived. When I came outside he always said ‘hi’ to me from his back yard. Once I was trying to fix something on my little wagon, he said for me to bring it over to his yard. He pulled out a couple of tools and fixed the light on the front of the wagon.
That meant so much to me that I would always find something to be fixed and present myself to him in his yard. He was a father figure that I needed.
Then when I was in the fifth grade of school, in Morganfield, Kentucky, I met another man who became a substitute father figure and mentor. It was Harry Whitefield who was the Chief of Police in our little town. He was also a very fine magician who toured but had to close his show when his male assistants were all drafted to take part in World War 2.
He had a law degree, so closed his show and took the job as Chief of Police in Morganfield. To get acquainted with the town, he did a magic show at the school I attended. I was nine year old. It cost ten cents to see it, with all the proceeds going to The Red Cross.
Watching his show I knew immediately that I wanted to be a magician and went to see him backstage after his show. The stage was filled with props, he was sitting in a chair sweating and I went up to him and said, “Wow, that was a great show, and that was really worth a dime!” He would never let me forget that.
There was an immediate connection and no day was complete without me going to City Hall to meet and talk to my new friend. He taught me how to do magic and sleight of hand and showed me where magicians ordered their magic apparatus.
He was my mentor who set me on the right road of life. He was there when I did my last performance with Spike Jones and His City slickers before going into the army. Spike gave me a wonderful send off which Chief Whitefield was so grateful for. I couldn’t imagine my life without him. He was one of the most important men in my life.
So on this Special Day, my Father’s day wishes go to the memory of my wonderful step dad, Harry T. Maddox who put our family back together after my biological father bolted, along with that kind neighbor next door who paid attention to me before I had my step dad, even fixing my broken toys, and especially to Chief Harry Whitefield who kept my life on a positive path throughout my life.
To those exceptional men, I humbly extend to each of you:
A Very Happy Father’s Day.
Readers, this is a day to recognize all your fathers, and those without fathers, your step fathers, and substitute fathers. Let them know how very grateful you are for them having been an important part of your lives. More important than they could ever know.
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Rev. Austin Miles, a chaplain in Northern California is a writer and historian. He is the author of Santa’s Surprising Origins, a story that received worldwide circulation and resulted in him being cast in the 2004 Hallmark Christmas Movie titled, Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus. He played the mall Santa who magically received the gift of sign language.