Many people ask me what it was like growing up with a famous father. I tell them that I didn’t, as Dad didn’t get acclaim until after I had left home. They also ask me if I inspired him to write any of his novels. I answer, “Yes. When I went to college, he turned my bedroom into his office.” That’s how I helped his writing career.
Many people who know me as Rick and think my full name is Richard. It’s not, I’m Patrick Smith, Jr. When they get a puzzled look on their face, I tell them, “He got ‘Pat’ and I got ‘Rick.'” Pat-Rick. Get it? Back in the Dark Ages when I was born, it was quite common for the first son to be named after the father. Or so I’m told.
Dad was quite a photographer when I was a boy, and he liked to use me as a model in the photos. Below is one of my favorites. He set this shot up with me so engrossed in a magazine that I didn’t notice the dog eating my ice cream. Note the wear on the couch, the ugly chair, and the linoleum floor. We were living in old barracks at Hinds Junior College at that time. Dad didn’t make much money as the public relations director and sometimes teacher at that college, but I didn’t know that we were poor. I got my haircut for 25¢ at the barber college there, which explains a lot of my dreadful haircuts when we lived there.
Because he had broken his arm very badly when I was very young, he was never able to play sports with me, which is probably a big reason why I never took to playing sports. I ended up more interested in making music. He was able to fish though, and he and my sister Jane shared that love more than I did. Maybe it’s because he started her out so young.
However, we did bond over hunting.
It all started one Christmas when we lived in Oxford, Mississippi. I think I was about 12. When it seemed that we had opened all of the presents, Dad “suddenly” spied a long skinny one behind the tree. (He always played Santa and handed out the presents.) He pulled that package out and to my surprise, it was for me.
I opened the package to find … a beautiful Stevens 410 shotgun. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I had never asked for nor expected such a thing. In retrospect, I see that Dad was searching for something we could share as father and son. Of course, he had to go and get himself a nice 16 gauge pump shotgun, which he promptly did. And thus began several years of us hunting together.
I actually shot him once. Sort of.
He was on the opposite side of a dried up corn field when we were dove hunting and my shot hit him but didn’t injure him.
I loved that shotgun but I eventually sold it to buy a Gibson Les Paul guitar, which I also later sold to go on a spree through Europe. So in a way, you could say that Mom and Dad helped pay for that trip of a lifetime, which I also treasure.
Oh, how I wish I still owned both of them. At least I still have the memories.
I don’t have a father to send gifts to on Father’s Day anymore. I hope you do, but if not, treasure the memories.
Paul Simon said it well in his song, Bookends:
Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, A time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories; They’re all that’s left you