The first man I ever loved was William Reese Guillebeau. He was brilliant, funny, eccentric, and sometimes a little crazy, but he was always Daddy. He enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 years old, and from that point on, he was moving up. Later he became an Air Traffic Controller and worked his way up to Chief of a large Automated Flight Service Station. He met my mother in Brunswick, Georgia, where his brother was her next door neighbor. They married when he was 22 and she was 16. When we were young, he was the typical father of that era, working while Mom took care of the household. We were expected to behave, work hard, and succeed, and he did not take transgressions lightly. We all pushed his buttons regularly, though, sometimes elevating the game to a professional level. When I was a very young girl, I was sitting at the dinner table singing a song. Daddy told me that singing at the table was inappropriate and to stop. I’ve been told that I didn’t miss a note as I stood up beside the table and continued my song. While Mom was probably trying not to laugh, I’m pretty sure Dad’s head was about to come off. Although he was a stern disciplinarian, there was never a time when we felt unloved, and he definitely kept us on the straight and narrow. He and Mom always treated us like we could do anything, so I just assumed we could. The foundation they laid has always served me well, and I am very thankful to have been born to such amazing people. Daddy was exceptionally smart and could solve any problem, but as we turned into adults and stepped out into our own lives, it took him a while to switch gears. That caused some friction early on, but eventually he adapted to the new role where advice, conversation, and a good joke were appreciated. Daddy could fix anything, but not always in the way you would expect. (He once had a Volkswagen with a bad starter switch. Instead of fixing that one, he attached a new switch to the dash and wired it. Problem solved until it went bad, and he repeated the process. I tried to borrow the car once, and I had to go back into the house to ask him how to turn it on.). He had an amazing memory, and would tell stories of his childhood, family, work, and us when we were young; phone calls could literally last for hours. Sadly, we lost him in April in a tragic accident, which makes this Father’s Day very hard. I’m spending today remembering the good times we had. He was almost 80, but it wasn’t enough time. (Please, please, please learn about carbon monoxide detectors, then make sure your parents and children have them in their homes if needed.) He blessed us with strength and independence, and I am truly grateful.
Flash forward to the 80s. My parents had long been divorced and my Mom walks into a piano bar where Lauren (Larry) D. Winslette happens to be having a beer. He asked her out. She turned him down. She made it clear that she was NOT INTERESTED. I guess it’s true that persistence can wear down the best of us, because that guy kept returning to the same bar and asking her out. She kept turning him down until finally, she gave in! That was the start of something wonderful. On one of my visits home, I had my first opportunity to meet him. Mom was all nervous about his arrival, probably because she knew my sisters and I would give him the third degree. (What fun is it if you can’t turn the tables, huh?!) She was the picture of elegance…silky burgundy dress, gold chain belt, strappy sandals, matching bag, fox coat. Why do I remember the outfit? Because the doorbell rang and in walks a cowboy…boots, creased jeans, big belt buckle, western shirt. What a contrast. No way that was going to last. Well, they have been together since, and we couldn’t imagine our life without him. Larry has always been sweet, kind, and a LOT of fun to be around. He could have kept his distance and just been married to Mom, but he chose to jump in with both feet. That’s what a good Bonus Dad does. I think I have had more laughing-to-the-point-of-tears moments with him than anyone else besides MW (Mr. Wonderful). We travel together and every Thanksgiving is at their home. Larry blessed this family with love and laughter, and I am truly grateful.
In 1993 MW and I finally got our act together and married. I say that because my entire family had been planning a wedding in their heads for years. (Hmmmm…maybe we were just manipulated into this thing???!!!) That ceremony gave me two more Dads. I met Buddy Gilbert at our high school graduation. He was a ground school instructor for Saudia Airlines back then, so he wasn’t around much. He seemed like a nice guy, though. When we finally became relatives, I had the chance to get to know him better. I was impressed right out of the gate when he and Sandy came to visit with the kids and me while MW was deployed. That really made us feel special. It didn’t hurt that we shared a love of aviation, either. Buddy was a Green Beret and served in Vietnam. Now totally get that picture out of your head. Replace it with a tall, gregarious hulk of a teddy bear (who may or may not be able to take your head off with his bare hands, but let’s not focus on that). He has a laid-back, easy-going personality, and even when he is not actually smiling, he always looks happy. He flew commercially until the mandatory retirement age, once serving as the Chief Pilot at Alaska Airlines. Not quite ready to throw in the towel, he continued working to train pilots in simulators for many more years. Now that he has finally retired, he is doing some traveling (he just sent us a picture at the cliffs in England) and getting the Porsche he has been working on for YEARS finished. He blessed me with acceptance and love.
Last, but certainly not least is my other father-in-law, Arthur L. Jones III. Art died in 2011 just shy of his 75th birthday after a bout with cancer. It was not only a sad day for us, but also for half of Huntsville, Alabama, it seemed. Even the young man from the funeral home burst into tears when he realized who had passed. He was well loved, for sure. By the time we met, he had already taken early retirement from Redstone Arsenal where he was an electrical engineer working on the Dragon anti-tank missile project. We went to visit them in his beloved Sautee, Georgia. Shortly after arriving in town, we headed over to the Edelweiss restaurant for some German food. Just after we were served, he reached over with his fork and snagged something off of my plate saying “I have to try that” as he did. I was a little taken aback. What do you say? I think I just nodded assent and went back to the conversation. In time I would realize that moves like that were just true, comfortable Art. Just like saying “I don’t know why you want to do it that way” when he didn’t agree with your method. He didn’t like shoes so much that, when we went out, he took them in the car and put them on just before he had to walk in. He believed that duct tape and JB Weld could solve almost all problems. Whenever I think of Art and it is often, I remember his quirks and his heart, and it always makes me happy. He had a smile that would light up a room. That, love, and his bear hugs are the blessings he left me with.
These four men with very different personalities have added their part to the recipe of who I am today. They’ve taught me, guided me, advised me, loved me, accepted me, and made my life richer. So today I would like to thank them all for their contribution. They will all forever have a spot in my heart. I truly hit the jackpot.
Happy Father’s Day! See you on the road.
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