— Bill Cosby
(b. July 12, 1937)
In the sometimes amusing world of in-laws, what’s good for the goose is equally as fitting for the gander. And that’s why today’s topic is my father-in-law.
After all, it’s Father’s Day. And he’s a father ... of four in fact. His eldest daughter has been my soul mate since 1977. Actually, it’s been since ’75 if you count our initial meeting in the college newspaper office, our first date and plenty of young-love adventures thereafter for the next couple of years.
A month ago, I dedicated a Mother’s Day tribute to my mother-in-law. Hers was a well-deserved accolade. Today I do the same for her longtime husband of 58 years. His is a well-deserved ... well, his is an accolade.
Of course, I jest. He’s a good guy. Although I can’t say I’ve looked upon him as a father figure (because I had my own who did OK by me), I have always enjoyed his genuine friendship; at least, for the years that he has liked me. This apparently wasn’t always the case as I was to learn some time ago. We’ll get into that on another day.
For most of our 35 years together life has been more like a comedy, but not on the same level as Archie Bunker and Meathead. It has been much worse.
Granted, he doesn’t share Archie’s views on the world. And he has never flung the term “Meathead” in my direction; at least, not to my face. Nor has he referred to his eldest daughter — my wife — as “Little Girl.” But the man has spouted more than a few gems in our time together, much to the entertainment of those in the same room.
His is a rare humor with homespun intellect and blue-collar philosophies. The product of a small West Tennessee town named Bradford who has spent most of his life in neighboring Greenfield, his working career included jobs as service station attendant back when the position still existed, grocery store clerk and laundry route driver, among a few others.
His name is Billy Wade Swindell, a mid-70s man of simple pleasures and unsophisticated means who still enjoys a good laugh in his golden years. His favorite TV shows are reruns of “Hogan’s Heroes.” He loves crossword puzzles and even manages to finish a few, but stumbles on words longer than seven letters. His idea of a good nap comes late in the first quarter of any televised football game, the second inning of any televised baseball game and the pregame dialogue of any televised basketball game. He lives for New Year’s Day bowls and thrives on the sandwiches in between.
He favors microwave popcorn as a mid-afternoon snack and his favorite breakfast is anything but dry cereal.
“Bill,” as I call him, likes nothing more than a good steak and baked potato at a restaurant and a hot bowl of homemade potato soup in midwinter.
He wears caps always, chews on toothpicks sometimes, and roots for the Chicago Cubs in the heat of summer and the Tennessee Titans in the cold of winter. He rarely watches hockey, doesn’t understand soccer and hates tennis “... because all they know how to say is ‘love this’ or ‘love that!’”
Bill relishes sitting on his screened-in back porch with an early morning cup of coffee while watching fish jump from his neighbor’s pond in the lower 40.
He likes Sunday afternoon drives on country roads under autumn skies, hand-cranked ice cream and cold, lumpy buttermilk. My beloved father-in-law is the first human I ever witnessed spreading peanut butter on hot cornbread. He assured me on this day others do it though I’ve still not seen it for myself.
My good friend from The Greatest Generation reads the newspaper, but never a book. He loves talking on the phone, enjoys the occasional company of a good friend and fellow retiree named David “Rooster” Knox, and almost six decades into their marriage he still gives his wife — my endearing mother-in-law — an affectionate pat on the rump and lets nary a day pass her by without professing his continued, and unconditional, love.
In our time together as father- and son-in-law, we have rolled in laughter at collapsing tents while camping in the cold Ozark Mountains; held our hurting sides over the hilarity of joint vacations in paradises like Orlando, Las Vegas and even the cloud-high Ghost Town in the Sky of Maggie Valley; and once we even co-baked a microwave cake that shrunk to the size of a chocolate chip cookie before we could apply knife, fork and frosting.
In the vast kingdom of In-Law City, Billy Wade Swindell in my mind reigns as cream of a noble crop.
This grand old world needs more like him. He’s a common man with an uncommon way of making others feel good about themselves and the life that surrounds them.
Happy Father’s Day, Bill.
Sometime before our final sunset, maybe we can plan another road trip and perhaps even try our hands at one last microwave cake. Even if it shrinks, our hearts will swell in the trying.
Enjoy your special day, my friend. May you live to love many more.