An after-dinner tribute to my father, given after a wonderful birthday dinner, 27 December 2015.
70 years ago, Joseph Singleton White, Jr. was born. 70 years ago. Wow. That’s a long time. My nephew Joey, my father’s namesake, is ten. Ten. That makes my dad, like, SEVEN Joeys. Let’s think about that for a moment. Seven Joeys. (Someone help Sydney and Abel. I think they just passed out.)
70. It’s a big one! For some perspective, here’s some other septuagenarians: Tom Selleck, Steve Martin, Steve Spurrier... Cary Grant. In 1974. We laugh, but some men have been persecuted just for being 70. When Hugh Hefner was 70 he was forced to live with his ex-wife in the Playboy Mansion. Can you image? I bet it really cramped his style.
And lest we forget, John Hinckley shot President Ronald Reagan in March of 1981. Why? Reagan had just turned 70.
The year my father was born, the film version of Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray was released. In the film, a fellow named Gray prays to an Egyptian statue and winds up staying 22 years old forever...while a painting of him turns into a hideous, aging demon; the personification of Gray’s life of decadence and debauchery. Well. It is, indeed, a deep, dark family secret...but. You’ve probably noticed that my dad does look unusually young for his age... I’m sorry dad. I’m going to have to tell them... When he was 52, my dad made a similar deal with the devil. He has stayed 52 years old now for 18 years. While Hillary Clinton...
70 years is a long time. A very long time. My father has actual memories of when everything was black and white. When he was born, television...television was a new, experimental technology. World War II was just wrapping up. Elvis was thin!
Can you imagine living with actual memories from seven decades of life? Okay. Well, clearly some of you can. Still, recently my dad has been writing stories about family Christmases throughout his life. They are incredible. His ability to remember such specific details about Christmases past is astounding. He writes about specific toys and things people said and foods and smells and textures. He writes about seeing Santa as a boy...years before Santa had a white beard and fat belly. Amazing!
Many of you know my 70 year-old father from work. Others know him from church. And a few of you know him from his brief stint as ice choreographer for Donny and Marie. But all of us know about how generous my dad is. Really, truly...have you ever met a man so willing to give? And not just money or presents, but his time, his expertise and advice...cars. He has such a soft, soft heart. I don’t think any of us would be here today if Joe White hadn’t shared so much of his 70 years with us.
We met when he was 24. Or rather, I was kinda forced onto him that year. You may not know this, but he and my mother had lost an infant son...and almost lost their marriage just before I came along. So I’ve always thought it particularly generous of them that I’m even here. They were so young, terrible at being a family, kinda clueless really...like we all are when we’re in our twenties (thirties, forties?). But they kept trying, you know? They decided to keep at being The Whites. Or maybe they just got really, really drunk at a Tom and Janet’s Labor Day picnic in 1969. And here I am!
70 years before my dad was born the first college football game was played. Tufts versus Harvard in Cambridge. First college football game, 1875. That’s significant, I think. My dad is a huge college football fan. Loves an underdog. Honestly, when his favorite team won the national championship in 1999, he was a little, I don’t know... A little uncomfortable. I mean, he was happy about it, but winning it all...that’s not my dad.
Climbing, struggling, pushing...striving. That’s how my dad taught my sister and me to be. Life is about the journey, the process. And that’s why, at 70, you may notice that Joe White shows no signs of slowing down. Got too much left to do. So many people that still need his generosity of spirit, his deep, abiding friendship, his love.
See? You may be seventy, but we need you, and we love you. Matthew 18:22-like. “70 times seven.” That’s how much we need you. That’s how much we love you.
Happy birthday dad.