The dad I never knew I needed

He is a retired car racing legend in Nebraska.

He is a Vietnam veteran.

He is a cancer survivor.

He is a farmer who keeps talking about retirement but never seems to follow through.

He is a master at the grill.

He is a devoted son who made sure his mother was cared for until her death.

He is older now than when we met – which is weird because I never noticed him age.

He is extremely smitten with his wife, even though it seems they’ve been married since the beginning of time.

He enjoys a Busch Light at the end of the day.

He is the first one there when it comes time to do maintenance work at the church.

He loves to tell entertaining stories that are so incredible, funny and crazy they are unbelievable . . . yet I choose to anyway, even if it does make me look gullible.

He is the guy you call when you get stuck in the snow during a blizzard.

He is the person who will drive dozens of miles to pick you up when the motor blows on your vehicle.

He is a humble man who is also generous with his funds if someone needs help.

He is a grandfather of seven – when he looks at them, his eyes genuinely and literally sparkle with emotion.

He is the guy who leads the prayer at Christmas dinner and subsequently always makes us tear up.

He is a father of three boys who are now men – real men, thanks to him.

He’s not a hunter, but he knows where all the big bucks are because his eyes are always open and he’s very aware of everything that moves in his neck of the woods.

He is that guy who notices faint tire tracks by the gas barrels – the sneaky teenagers were always caught.

He is a believer – not only in God but the inherent decency of mankind.

He is a firm defender of those he loves and a fiercely loyal advocate for those who hold his heart strings.

He is the man who became my dad when I needed one.

The man of whom I speak is our beloved Bud – patriarch of the Wilkinson family.

As of this week, his odometer turned another year and I marveled at how much I’ve learned and benefitted from having him in my life.

I gave up on the idea of having a father when I was a teenager. After mine died, I decided that having a male figure in my life wasn’t important and I’d survive. Having a dad wasn’t necessary.

Then Bud Wilkinson walked into my life . . . and proved me wrong.

I realized that it felt good, as if I was a little girl, when this burly man put his arms around me and said, “Good to see you, Mel.”

I found some of the most enjoyable times in life were while sitting on a bucket in a shop surrounded by tools or maybe at their kitchen table, just having a conversation with him and the rest of the family.

I remember smelling his cologne, as he stood next to me for pictures on my wedding day . . . and thinking it was the trademark scent of calm as he became my father-in-law.

I discovered that no matter the problem – whether it be a flat tire, house fire, belligerent teen, community drama queen, help with trees, bats or bees, money or with his son (my honey) – Bud could always offer a solution.

I learned that sitting next to Bud in a combine, on an autumn evening, is the greatest ride on earth – better than a cruise down the Rhine, a rush down a roller coaster or a canoe trip down the Yellowstone River.

I regained belief in the power of prayer – I saw my prayers not be answered for my original dad, but they were answered when Bud was declared cancer free.

I again perceived the valuable joy that comes with passing along good news to your own personal cheerleaders – Bud and Tarri have always held that title.

I have found myself reveling in pride as I drove many times down the Eight Mile Road, marveling at the beauty of the adjacent crops Bud grew each year.

I joined him in his love of mixed nuts, homemade tomato soup, fried chicken and his homegrown corn on the cob that’s sweeter than any other I’ve ever found.

I’ve felt relief wash over me as he gives his unbiased opinions about concerns of the day – somehow, if Bud says things will be OK, they simply will be.

Because of this man, I have accomplished the understanding of what a dad is.

He’s the man who always has your back.

He’s the one who will love you unconditionally, no matter how big of a screw up you are.

He’s the guy you take for granted because he has fervently and historically been there for you.

He’s a prominent character in the story of your life, no matter your age.

For me, Bud Wilkinson is that person.

He’s the dad I never knew I needed – how thankful and blessed I am, for having learned that lesson.

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