July 2008 Column Winner

Standing Tall

By Rusty Ferguson, The Cleveland American

I’ve grown accustomed to the sight of his car parked along the street next to our house. Seeing him share the oversized recliner in my den is nothing unusual. He has long been welcome to pull up a chair at our dinner table. I’ve even learned to recognize his unique cell phone ring. But to see him standing in my offi ce door on a Monday morning was, let’s say, unexpected.

I’ve known him since his birth 21 years ago. I know his family well and consider his parents dear friends. I’ve taught him in Sunday School, directed him in church programs and know that he claims Jesus Christ as his Savior. I know he’s a team player and have cheered for him on the fi eld and court. I know and respect the crowd he runs with. I know he is driven to succeed and admire his life values. And on that Monday morning, though unexpected, I knew why he was there.

In the mere seconds it took me to invite him in to the chair across from my desk, the scene I had played over and over again in my head for when such a moment actually occurred was going out of focus and the words I had rehearsed many times before were rewinding like an out of sync cassette tape jumbling out of control.

He, on the other hand, was calm, cool and collected. I thought, What’s up with that? Isn’t he the one who is suppose to be wringing his hands and fidgeting in his seat? For a brief second, I seemed to be peering upward as if to anticipate an oxygen mask dropping to my rescue to give me that all-important next breath I needed to accept the fact that the life I’ve known since becoming a dad was about to take an abrupt change in course.

With my daughter’s life in pictures literally surrounding the two of us on my office walls, shelves and desk, I found that deep breath I needed, and asked Solomon Bayouth what it was that brought him to my office.

Then, it happened. Those words. He actually said them.

It’s not that I didn’t anticipate this meeting. Libby and Sol, while lifelong friends, have been dating off and on since their upper years of high school and more “seriously” for the past couple of years. They’ll both be seniors at OU this fall, so in my usual quest to out guess any given situation, my thought was that Sol would be making such a visit around the holidays. Boy, did I call that one wrong.

He seemed to have no trouble at all to find the words to tell me that he loved my daughter with all his heart and asked for my blessing as he would like to ask for Libby’s hand in marriage. While our discourse will remain private, as it should, I managed to find the words to assure Sol that he did, indeed, have my blessing and that Deana and I were the ones who feel blessed to have our daughter loved and adored by such a fi ne young man.

As he left, I took a few minutes of quietness to reflect on what had just transpired, recalling the times of our lives as I looked at those photographs surrounding me and shook my head in amazement at just how quickly time marches on.

I’ll save the details of sharing the news with Deana for another time, let’s just say “emotional” would be a key word. We shared the news with only our closest of friends, as we had to “play normal” for the rest of the week, as the big question wasn’t being popped until the following Saturday.

Eager for the happy couple to return home, we kept an eye towards the window late Saturday afternoon. As soon as they reached the back porch I could see Libby gleaming. Truly, I do not recall seeing her beautiful face light up more than it was at that moment, rushing to greet her brothers with the big news. In no time at all, Deana was out the door to share a tender mother/daughter moment.

I watched from a safe distance, waiting my turn. Then, Libby looked my direction, our eyes locked and it was as if she couldn’t get to me fast enough. I reached to hug her, and for a moment, just a sweet brief moment, I was holding my little girl again as I felt her cling to me as she shed tears of pure joy on my shoulder. Yet, another unexpected moment, I won’t soon forget.

While next summer’s wedding will be the focus of much attention in the months ahead, those two precious, unexpected moments of last week, have reminded me of the need to get out of the routine I’ve let my days become. To break-away from monotony, and to instead anticipate the what if’s and fi nd ways to change the pace of a day. I want to look forward, seek joy and revel in unexpected smiles. Life’s just too short to live it any other way.