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My father and me mowing the lawn in 1983
A few days ago, when I shared my recipe for the Lemon Lavender Gin Fizz, I mentioned that it was my father’s 70th birthday. I am sort of blown away by this milestone. I suppose part of my feelings of awe around it have to do with my dad being so youthful and energetic and fun. He just doesn’t seem like what “70” always sounded like to me. But this is also just the way milestone birthdays work, right? They are an excuse to lift up your head, look around and think, “Holy shit…where did the time go?” 

And: How did we get here? How did it happen that my dad is 70? If my dad is 70, this probably means I am supposed to be a real grown up by now? 

Anyway, this weekend we threw Dad a big ole party because he probably deserved it. And when I say “we” I mean that my step-mother, MaryNell, did most of the work and then graciously shared the credit. I did very little other than show up with a pretty amazing cake.

Speaking of cake…the ever amazing Leah of Leah’s Cakery really came through for us. She made a beautiful cake inspired by what is, arguably, his first love, the Model A Ford. Especially, this roadster pickup: 

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My father is a really well-loved person…and tons of people turned out to help celebrate him. It was really wonderful.

I have often struggled to write about my parents (all four of them) because I know them in ways that can be hard to put into words. I always feel as though my words just fall short of who they are. But, for my father’s party, I decided that I really wanted to say a few words. I am not a huge fan of public speaking, although I have gotten better at faking it over the years, and I considered chickening out at the last minute…but I knew that I would be sorry if I didn’t speak for him.

So I did it. And I am really happy I did. 

I thought I would share those words here, in honor of my father, Old Wild Bill:

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As you all might imagine, having Bill Brown as a father was pretty much always an adventure.

Anyone who has ever spent time with him knows that he has this miraculous ability to make just about anything fun: whether it was convincing me to help him on trips to the dump by driving way too fast over the hills on Wilbur Avenue, or making me co-pilot on long car rides, or taking me to job sites and giving me the important job of dragging a magnet to pick up errant nails and then treating me to swim in the river to clean up.

Whatever it was…Dad knew how to make fun from it.

It is one of the characteristics many people admire about my father.

What many of you may not know—since no one here other than my sister Kristin has had the pleasure being Bill Brown’s grumpy tweenage daughter…there is a darker side to his ability to make fun from any situation.

It is what happens when you grumpily refuse to play along with him.

I will not regale you with stories of the very many ways my father saw fit to torment me when I won’t hold his hand in public, or laugh at his jokes, or conspire with him on sneaking into some roped off area at, I don’t know, for example, the Hancock Shaker Village with my then boyfriend.

But let it suffice to say that there were many times in my childhood (and adulthood) that my father would, when I would not cooperate in fun, do things like make loud farting sounds in our small local grocery store and, knowing we had just caught a glimpse of one of my classmates, loudly proclaim, “Oh Hillary Brown, that is disgusting!”

But on a serious note, I suppose that some people are less aware also of the very serious side my father can have. My dad took the idea of raising girls very seriously.

I know that he wanted me to grow up to be a strong and independent woman. He wanted me to know how to change the oil in my car, how to hang sheetrock, how to not to panic when there was an emergency. How to shoot a decent foul shot…to never miss a layup.

You know, all the most important things in life…

He wanted me to know how to be tough.

There were times I felt as if I was being raised by a basketball coach. Like when I was little and managed to skin my knee yet again—usually on the uneven walkway to our front door—I’d put my knee on display for him, and he would assess, give me a pat and say, “Walk it off, Hillee.”

…Definitely not what I wanted to hear.

But all of those many “walk it offs”—and there were many of them—taught me something that has been absolutely essential in life, especially life since my daughter was born. He showed me how not to get side-tracked by pain or disappointment. How to keep pushing through difficult things. I’ve mumbled “walk it off” to myself many times over the years (usually with a few other, more colorful words mixed in)…I mumbled it when I got ripped apart in an architecture critique, when my computer crashed taking part of my graduate work with it, when I had to be on my feet and discharged from the hospital just a few hours after my daughter Esmé was born.

All of those times, and many more, I could hear my dad telling me, “walk it off.”

It was, and is, a gift that he gave me…one that I gratefully accept—even if it was a real pain in the ass when I was a little kid.

You see, what I have come to understand is that my dad is a person who can never be lost in this world…Because of who he is and what he can do.

Wherever dad goes he meets people, he connects with people, he makes them laugh. And, as evidenced by the very many people here tonight, he doesn’t ever leave a good friend behind.

It is still astounding to me how Dad finds a way to build things, beautiful and absurd things, with his own hands. He manages to fix things without the proper tools. He understands how things work, how they grow, how they come together.

And a person like this can never be lost….a person like this always finds a way—and, often, an elegant (if somewhat absurd) way.

I think this is the thing that I most admire about my father.

My dad was, of course, the first man I ever loved. I have loved him since before I drew my first breath…when he would wake me up in the mornings before he could see me or hold me, I knew his voice. We knew each other.

We know each other still.

And even if he is a fart noise producing, dirty punch line telling, walk it off demanding pain in my ass…I cannot imagine a person who I would want to know more than my dad.

We are all lucky to know him.

To Old Wild Bill.


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