Learning by example: ‘That’s what dads are for’

Writer Bill King’s father wasn’t talkative, but his kindness and actions said a lot
Three generations of Bill King: William D. King (right) shared his first name with his son and grandson. 
(Courtesy of the King family)

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Three generations of Bill King: William D. King (right) shared his first name with his son and grandson. (Courtesy of the King family)

When I think of my father, I think of the man who taught me to climb a tree, and who got up early every Sunday to drive me on my newspaper delivery route.

I think of the man who camped out with me in a backyard clubhouse that he built for me when I was 6 … sat up late with me to watch Apollo 8′s Christmas Eve broadcast from the moon … put me through college … gave me and my son our first name … was the best man at my wedding ... and was his grandchildren’s beloved Papa.

In other words, I think of the man who taught me everything I know about being a father.

As a baby, writer Bill King is held by his namesake father. (Courtesy of the King family)

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Putting the Pop in pop culture

Mom might have provided my creative genes, but Pop introduced me to pop culture, whether it was telling me the story of the previous night’s episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” (when I was too young to stay up that late) or reading to me at bedtime — a chapter a night of “Alice in Wonderland,” as well as Superman comic books.

Pop also took me to quite a few Disney movies, including the time I was stood up by some neighbors who were going to see “Kidnapped.” Dad got home late from a meeting, but turned right around and took me to the final showing of the movie, because he couldn’t bear to see me disappointed.

And it was my father who bought my first Beatles record, which he picked up on the way home from work, without even being asked to do so.

William D. King is seen shortly before he entered the U.S. Army during World War II. (Courtesy of the King family)

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A love of Bulldogs runs deep

I owe my lifetime devotion to the Georgia Bulldogs to my father, too. Born in a rural railroad hamlet, he was raised in a family of farmers and millers during the Depression, and he went to a small business college in Athens, rather than the University of Georgia.

Still, he loved the Bulldogs, sent three sons to UGA, attended games most of his life, and was a member of the local booster club.

A favorite story is how my father ended up on the sideline as a “recruit” when the Bulldogs met Alabama at Atlanta’s Grant Field during Georgia’s 1942 national championship season.

Dad, who was 19, had traveled to Atlanta with a friend. They didn’t have tickets, but they hung around outside the stadium, and one of the UGA coaches gave them sideline passes. “We’ll call you high school prospects,” he said.

Staff Sgt. William D. King visited Versailles when he was stationed in Paris during World War II. (Courtesy of the King family)

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Three and a half months later, Pop was in the U.S. Army, and wound up serving in the U.K. and France during World War II. It was while stationed in a small town in Wales, in the run-up to D-Day, that he met the young woman he’d marry.

After the war, Mom came to Georgia, and my parents eventually settled in Athens, where Dad went to work for C&S Bank.

They raised three boys and, of course, Pop took my brothers and me to our first football games at Sanford Stadium. I once asked my brother Tim what his favorite Bulldog memory was, and he replied: “Going to football games with Pop.”

The same goes for my son, the third-generation Bill King, who sat with his grandfather after games, while his uncles and I went to get the car. After one game, he remembers, “Papa and I hung out, and that was the only time he ever told war stories. … He went on at length about his experiences in Europe.”

Admired around Athens

It says a lot about Pop that his grandkids and daughters-in-law adored him, as did his many friends.

“Papa” King is seen with three of his grandchildren: (from left) Bill, Missy and Jennifer. (Courtesy of the King family)

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At a high school reunion, a classmate of mine once said of my father: “Hell, everybody in town knows Bill King Sr.,” and that pretty much was true. Through the bank and his community work, Pop touched a lot of people’s lives.

He wasn’t a big talker; he was a doer.

He also had an innate sense of right and wrong. When I was 15, my parents sold my boyhood home in Athens, so we could move across town. Mom was planning on moving some loose flagstones in the backyard to our new house. However, Pop insisted that the stones stay at the old house, because they were in place when the buyer agreed to purchase it.

My father might have been quiet, but he was willing to stand up for his boys when necessary. After one of those occasions, I thanked him, and he shrugged and smiled, saying, “That’s what dads are for.”

While he certainly wasn’t loquacious, Pop had a sharp wit. After I was an adult, we were attending a wedding reception, and my father leaned over as a garishly dressed man passed in front of us. “Let me give you a piece of advice,” Pop said. “Don’t ever buy a plaid suit.”

Retired banker William D. King reads to his granddaughter Olivia, just as he had read to her father. (Courtesy of the King family)

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Another big part of my father’s life was golf. He played it every weekend, and one of my brother Jonathan’s favorite memories is Pop teaching him the game.

I spent a few years caddying for Pop, and I didn’t really enjoy golf itself, but I loved getting to see my father interact with his regular foursome, who included businessmen and college professors. Again, Dad was the quiet one who, at the right moment, would crack everyone up with a well-timed quip.

As he was preparing to retire, Pop told me he wasn’t sure he could play golf five days a week. Turns out, he could.

But he did much more than that. He continued working on behalf of underprivileged kids and faithfully participating in the Optimist Club’s fundraising endeavors.

He was the driving force behind the local club’s youth golf tournament, and he took his namesake grandson along to see the local team compete for state championships. As young Bill recalled, a photographer was preparing to take a picture of the Athens team at the last tournament they attended, and “one of the golfers stopped him and motioned to Pop. He said, ‘Mr. King, this is all because of you. We would be honored if you’d join us.’ Pop’s eyes lit up and he smiled big and wide for the camera.”

“He never asked for attention, never asked to be thanked,” my son said. “He was already so proud of those golfers. But the simple gesture made all his hard work, all his quiet, relentless effort worthwhile.”

William D. King loved gardening, and his grandson Bill liked to accompany him. (Courtesy of the King family)

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Gardening and grandkids

Retirement gave Pop more time for another of his passions, gardening. His grandson recalls him telling of how, “during the war, he convinced an elderly Welsh villager in Grandma’s hometown to let him work in her garden, as he missed it so much from his rural upbringing. In retirement, his garden was a labor of love, where he tenderly cared for vegetables each and every year and spent many happy hours.”

Besides his plants, he also tended to his grandkids, who loved accompanying him to his garden, located on a vacant lot behind a neighbor’s house.

And, at night, Pop would watch his beloved Braves play on TV. As my son noted, the timeless, quiet nature of the game fit my dad well.

My daughter Olivia remembers “he always could tell me the Braves’ score, even when he slept through it. He said he watched with his eyes closed.”

Olivia also recalls her grandfather making her peanut butter toast for breakfast when she visited.

My niece Jennifer has fond memories of her grandfather’s retirement years, sitting at the desk in the den and pretending she was his bank secretary, “answering” an engraved phone receiver (which wasn’t connected) that he’d been given at the bank. “There’s no telling how many feet of adding machine tape we wasted over the years,” she said. “He always played along, though.”

William D. King and granddaughter Olivia enjoy a bluegrass gospel concert at his assisted living home. (Courtesy of the King family)

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Papa, as his grandkids called him, was “a great friend and companion to us,” my son said, never hesitating to obey the demands of his grandchildren to wear a silly hat, “which he dutifully would put on, at our behest, along with a goofy grin.”

Bill said the grandkids “learned so much from him about what it is to be kind, thoughtful, and loving. I’ve found that, when I followed his example, I have seemingly always ended up on the right path.”

A shining role model

Looking back on my father’s long life, I cherish so many memories of time spent with him, whether it was making a pinhole camera for school; sanding and painting a Pinewood Derby racing car for Cub Scouts; or stopping by a convenience store run by one of his customers, to get a soft drink. I also loved going with him to the soda fountain at Hodgson’s Pharmacy in the Five Points shopping district of Athens, where we’d get nickel Cokes or ice cream cones.

Decades later, he took his grandkids to that soda fountain, too. That’s one of my niece Missy’s favorite memories. “I sure do miss him and Grandma,” she said recently, “and wish my boys could have met them both.”

My wife, Leslie, remembers how her father-in-law “was so respectful of your mother. The way he acted toward her acknowledged her talents and abilities and insight, and a trust in them.”

His last three years had to have been tough for my father, as he’d lost the love of his life when Mom died, and he had to leave the home they’d made together when he moved into an assisted living place. The light in Pop’s eyes dimmed a bit in those last years, but it would brighten when we visited him every Sunday. One of my favorite photos is of him sitting with my daughter, singing along to a bluegrass gospel band that was entertaining the residents.

During a stay at a physical rehabilitation center after Dad had been hospitalized with heart trouble, my son remembers sitting with his grandfather and “a nurse came by and asked him who I was. When she learned we shared the same name, she asked him what he thought about that, to which he responded, it was the highest honor.”

“Of course,” young Bill said, “really, the honor was all mine, as I couldn’t imagine a better namesake for myself or my father … a better example of what it is to be a good man … a better role model.”

After Pop passed away at 89 in 2012, my son delivered a moving eulogy at Athens’ First Baptist Church. I particularly like this bit: “I read somewhere once that a life well lived is like a sermon, with each day teaching a lesson to others on how to live their own lives. I like to think Pop’s life was more hymn than sermon. For one thing, Pop wasn’t much for talking your ear off. But his life was so immersed in music and the hymns of his faith. And, to understand his lessons, sometimes you had to listen closely for that sweet sound and more often ... simply watch and see.”

My father provided a shining example for his sons and grandchildren of how to live a good life and raise a family. The best we can hope for is to try and emulate him.

Check out more stories of Bill King’s father at billkingquickcuts.wordpress.com. He can be reached at junkyardblawg@gmail.com.