The Big Pirate

June is of course the month of Father’s Day, and in our family, it’s also the month of my dad’s birthday, so we get a double dose of dad celebrations.

Just so you know, my dad hung the moon.  There is not a man I admire more for his selflessness, integrity, unconditional support, humor, and loyalty than Jerry Taylor.  He is quiet and thoughtful, an avid reader, a fly fisherman, a Vietnam veteran, and a die-hard Univ. of Oklahoma Sooner.  My sister and I are fortunate to have two wonderful parents, and we couldn’t ask for better grandparents for our kids.  While our mom gave us the gift of gregariousness and boundless energy, our dad balances those gifts with his gentleness and patience.

There are plenty of memories and mental snapshots of my dad that I can assemble to paint a picture of him.  Here are a few of “Dad’s Greatest Hits” that always make me smile:

Ni hao:  My dad studied Mandarin Chinese when he was in the US Army.  After his return to civilian life in Oklahoma City, he had precious few opportunities to use his Mandarin language skills (as you might imagine).  He eagerly anticipated family dinners at the local Chinese restaurant where he could greet the servers with “Ni hao” (Hello) and tell them “xie xie” (thank you).  As a middle schooler, this was horrendously embarrassing.  You just want your parents to be “normal,” and here goes your dad attempting to speak Mandarin to restaurant employees.  I never knew if the servers appreciated his efforts or could even understand his pronunciation.  I look back now with a smile as I remember how charming my dad was—he wasn’t trying to show off, just trying to honor another culture (and perhaps provoke a groan from his daughter).

Drop/Add:  When I was in college, I was firmly on a humanities track with a double major in Art History and Spanish.  My parents are both business people, and my dad is a fairly pragmatic guy.  So, one semester, I was loading my schedule with an Art History class, 2 Spanish literature classes, and a French class.  I toyed with the idea of starting Italian, too. (Why not?!  Let’s collect ALL the Romance languages!)  I was telling my dad about these selections and heard him pause thoughtfully before responding, “Dawn Marie (my Serious Name), do you think you could take just one Accounting course?”  He offered his advice in a loving way, knowing there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell I was going to take Accounting at Duke.  I did drop the Italian course, but the closest I came to a business-related course was a dreadful Statistics class that my dad rightly predicted would “eat my lunch.”  Again, said with love.

The Big Pirate:  Fast forward to my daughter’s 5th birthday party.  We had a pirate theme, complete with eye patches, gold doubloons, and a guy making balloon parrots and swords.  My dad gamely wore an eye patch for the entire party and threw out a few “ARRRR’s” for the kids.  My dad is 6’2”, so he towered over the young scallywags.  I overheard one little girl say in a nervous, hushed tone to her mom:  “I’m afraid of the Big Pirate.”  I told my dad what I had heard.  He took off the eye patch, approached the little girl and sat down next to her with a plate of birthday cake, and spoke to her in his quiet, gentle way.  Not pirate-y at all.  Won her over for the rest of the party.

I hope these snapshots will trigger a smile and your own recollections of fun times with your dad.  If you’re fortunate to have your dad still with you, make his day by calling or visiting him this weekend.  If that’s not possible, honor your dad’s memory in your own way.  Tell him “xie xie,” or “gracias,” or “merci,” or “grazie.”

Dawn Taylor, as Executive Director of American Institute of Architects Kansas City, is responsible for organizational management and governance, sponsorship revenue, and community and industry outreach.  Before joining AIA Kansas City, Dawn spent 17 years in membership and development positions at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  In 2013, she and her business partner launched Red Dirt, a social impact company that works with local and national artists to create consumer goods, with a portion of purchases going to support causes in developing countries.

Dawn graduated with honors from Duke University with an AB in Art History and Spanish.  She serves Duke in various national alumni leadership roles, as well as serving on nonprofit boards in Kansas City.  She has volunteered at an orphanage in Kajjansi, Uganda, through a Kansas City-based NGO.  She is the mother of two teenage daughters.


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