Father’s Day 2017

June 17, 2017

My Dad was my hero.

He wasn’t perfect. I thought he was, when I was young, as most kids probably do. But, as the years passed I began to see chinks in the armor and feet that were made of clay. He was, after all, human. But he was my human hero.

He had my back. He reveled in my successes, celebrating and magnifying each accomplishment, sometimes to the point of making me feel a bit self-conscious.

He grieved my failures, hurting for me and with me. And, while never making excuses for me or blaming others for foibles that were of my own making, he never made me feel worse than I already did.

He taught me so much. His words, his deeds, and his own successes and failures still teach me today.

He wasn’t perfect, but he was my father, and I knew how important that was to him.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. And thank you.


Bubba is Still There

July 28, 2016

Last week, I joined Will’s Boy Scout troop for a few days of summer camp at Raven Knob Scout Reservation near Mount Airy, North Carolina. I always look forward to these outings, primarily because they are an opportunity to spend treasured time with Will, but also because I am committed to giving back to the Scouting organization that has given so much to me over the years.

I was particularly looking forward to visiting Raven Knob with Will because our visit would mark the second and third generation of Wagoners being campers there. Raven Knob had been the camp of my father, his brothers, and cousin (Eagle Scouts all) when they were Boy Scouts in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

That was a long time ago. But, I’m a sentimental guy, and I liked the idea of continuing the legacy. And, despite the passage of time, I hoped against hope that I might be able to find physical confirmation of the fact that Will’s and my visit to Raven Knob would constitute something of a “coming home” – and so, upon arrival, I began my search for Uncle Bubba’s water fountain.

Oh, how I wanted to get a photo of Will and me at that fountain. I steeled myself for it not being there. My uncle Bill had looked for it on Google Earth, and saw that a waterfront shelter now stood in its place. “Time marches on,” he said. Still, I hoped. Sure, it had been over 50 years, and no one there remembered, but would they really have gotten rid of it?

They hadn’t. The fountain, though moved from its original location, was still there, right in the center of things at the waterfront, just as I had always imagined Bubba to be. Though there were few left who still had first-hand memories of the reason for that fountain, they hadn’t forgotten.

Fountain at waterfront

Back story: On an August night in 1957, my 16 year old uncle Carroll “Bubba” Wagoner was the driver of a car carrying four friends down a mountain road. Going too fast, he missed a curve at the bottom, and slammed into a truck. Bubba was killed instantly, and two of his friends died shortly thereafter.

A couple of years later, a granite water fountain was erected in Bubba’s memory at the Raven Knob waterfront. Here’s a photo of my grandparents, their grief still raw, at the dedication:Fountain at dedication

 

I never met Bubba; I was Bubba's plaqueBubba Wagonerborn six years after that hot August night when he and two friends became a tragic example of just how fragile and fleeting life can be. In addition to carrying his name, though, I have always felt that I knew him. Family ties and stories run strong in my clan. I know that he got the nickname “Bubba” because his 3-year old big brother (my Dad) mispronounced “brother” as “bubba”. I know that he was precocious and mischievous, and always in the thick of things. I know that he loved Scouting. I know that, with my middle name of Carroll, I have a lot to live up to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the photo of the 2nd and 3rd generation Wagoners at the fountain:

Fountain with Will 1

My family is deeply grateful to those at Raven Knob Scout Reservation for ensuring that, despite the passage of time, Bubba is still there. I’m especially grateful to Camp Historian Ken Badgett, and Camp Director Keith Bobbitt, for their graciousness and for their interest in knowing more about Bubba’s story.


Retiring the Colors

July 10, 2015

When applied to the Confederate battle flag, the “heritage not hate” slogan all too often seems to be spouted out of only one side of a Southern drawler’s mouth, while the other side, given the proper audience and circumstance, may be saying something altogether different. That said, there is some truth to the notion of a Southern regional pride that, to me at least, is as inescapable as the humidity of a summer south of the Mason-Dixon.

When I was a boy, I had a Confederate battle flag tacked up on the wall of my bedroom. I don’t recall when or where I got it. It was likely a gift shop souvenir from one of the many Civil War battlefield site tours that my Dad took our family on after we moved to Virginia in the late ’60’s. All I remember is that the flag was a constant presence on my wall as I passed through boyhood, into my teen years, and then on to college.*

Some of you who are reading this are likely aghast at my flag revelation. “I thought I knew him! How could he be one of … them? How could he have displayed that symbol of treason, and prejudice, and hate?”

The thing is, I did no such thing. Though they looked the same, the flag that I had tacked on my wall was not the same as the flag of the KKK, George Wallace, and Dylann Roof. It was, indeed, a symbol of heritage – a nod to the place from whence my people came. Just as my grandmother’s United Daughters of the Confederacy membership certificate was prominently displayed in a frame on her wall, my Confederate battle flag held a prized spot on mine. Not unlike my grandmother, I bought into the Lost Cause narrative to a certain extent. I displayed the flag because it conjured up ineffable notions of duty, loyalty, chivalry, tradition, and family – with perhaps a bit of adolescent rebellion thrown in for good measure. Slavery, prejudice, and oppression didn’t enter into my thinking. In later years I did come to wrestle with the knowledge that the awful institution of slavery had existed under that flag. But, I knew as well that the Stars and Stripes had flown over the United States’ mistreatment of Native Americans in the 19th century, and of Japanese Americans during World War II, and nobody was suggesting getting rid of Old Glory.

In fact, few seemed to be suggesting getting rid of the Confederate battle flag, either. It was everywhere when I was growing up – bedroom walls, keychains, t-shirts, beach towels, bumperstickers. It was even on prime time TV, on the roof of the General Lee on “The Dukes of Hazzard” – and nobody ever called Bo and Luke Duke racists!

That has all changed, however. No amount of Southern hospitality and gentility can overcome the fact that the bad guys have won this battle. And no, I’m not talking about Sherman’s army and its scorched-earth campaigns, or opportunistic Yankee carpetbaggers. I’m talking about hate-filled racists like Dylann Roof. I’m talking about white supremacists of all stripes, whether they are driven by mental illness or plain and simple ignorance. Just as Hitler co-opted the sacred religious symbol of the swastika for his Third Reich, Roof and his ilk have co-opted the Confederate battle flag for their own vile purposes. It has no business flying on government property, and I congratulate South Carolina for taking it down.

As for the rest of us, it rightfully comes down to an individual decision. Those who advocate making it illegal to display the Confederate battle flag are off-base and need to read the 1st Amendment. No, we are all free to fly the flag – or not – as our conscience dictates.

And, it’s important to remember that anyone who chooses to fly it, or wear it, or sport it on a car bumper, may not mean any harm by doing so. But, it’s important to recognize as well that the choice to do so is probably causing harm, intended or not.
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*The flag stayed on my wall until one night when some of my fraternity brothers snuck into my room, cut it into 4 pieces, then re-tacked the pieces to the wall, together with a note questioning my patriotism, fraternal allegiance, and probably my manhood as well. My midwestern roommate was probably relieved, though I think he was still a bit unnerved by the Blue Oyster Cult and Jim Morrison posters that remained unscathed.

The Right Thing to Do

January 26, 2014

It was one of the great privileges of my life to be able to speak at my father’s funeral.  As tomorrow will mark one year since the day that Dad left this earth and moved on to his next adventure, I believe it is fitting to publish the eulogy in this space.  Here it is – this time, without tears – but with every bit of the same emotion as when I spoke the words.

EULOGY FOR JENNINGS L. WAGONER, JR.

January 30, 2013

It’s only been in the past few years that I have really recognized how much of my life I have subconsciously patterned after my Dad’s.  As those who know me well will attest, I don’t always have a gift for recognizing the obvious.

Dad went to Wake Forest, and Wake Forest remained near and dear to him.  Despite having grown up in the shadow of Mr. Jefferson’s University, I also went to Wake Forest.  There was no pressure involved – it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Like Dad, I was active in fraternity life while in college.  I didn’t pledge the same one – but I wasn’t trying to be different.  I sought out the house where I felt the best fit.  It was no coincidence that my Sigma Chi of the early 1980’s happened to be the house that best mirrored Dad’s Kappa Sigs of the late 1950’s.

Dad was a thinker, and a reader, and a writer.  He taught me how to write by way of liberal application of red ink to any rough draft that I would show him.  The corrections were sometimes difficult to take – but they always helped.  In like manner, my kids and many of my work colleagues know that if they ask for me to edit a draft – I will edit the draft.

Dad was a worker.  As a professor, his was not a 9-to-5 job.  He didn’t clock out when he came home.  I am sure that he spent many more hours working at home in his study than he did in the classroom or in his office in Ruffner Hall. While our career paths went in different directions – Dad was in education and I have been in law and business – our habits are much the same.  He taught me that work is not the most important thing – but it is an important thing – and it can’t be done well in the space of an 8 hour day.

Dad was a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Eagle Scout, and Scout leader.  I was a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Eagle Scout, and am a Scout leader.

Dad loved high adventure – while he enjoyed all sorts of outdoor activities, he was drawn to those that involve personal challenge and a gut check – things that get the blood pumping and adrenaline racing.  And, he particularly enjoyed making these experiences available to others.

He shared with me the challenge of climbing up a rock face, and the thrill of rappelling back down. I well remember how excited I was when my wife Jennifer finally let her determination – and my coaxing – overcome her fear, and took that first backward step off the top of the cliff at Raven’s Roost.

Together with some adventurous Sunday School  classmates, some of whom are here today – Dad took on the world-class rapids of the Gauley River in West Virginia. A year or so later, he invited me to join that group on a Gauley raft.  In the years since, I have organized many Gauley trips of my own.

I could go on with the parallels. I want to be clear that I was never trying to be Dad – I could never come close – but I was, sometimes consciously and more often subconsciously – trying to be like him.  Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes I didn’t.

When I pass, I cannot imagine having that event producing anything close to the same outpouring of love and admiration that you and so many others have expressed.  So many people have said wonderful things about the impact that Dad had on their lives.  Dad’s literal shoes were a size 9 ½, but his figurative shoes were immense.  Much too big to try to fill.

It has only been in the past few years that I have realized that he didn’t see it that way.  My failures – and I’ve had some doozies – were not disappointments or embarrassments for Dad.  He hurt with me.  I was always humbled by him, but he never humbled me.

And he reveled in my successes.

As with most parents, Dad gave me many material things over the years.  But, his encouragement, his pride, his affirmation, and his love were the most precious gifts that he could offer – and he showered me with them.  Those are gifts that I can never repay – I can only hope that I can pay them forward with my own kids.

As with so many other things that I’ve done in following Dad’s lead, that just seems like the right thing to do.


Lessons Learned the Hard Way

December 31, 2013

As I look ahead to 2014, I realize that I have spent too much of 2013 focusing on what I have lost, and not enough on what I have learned.  While I may be tempted to add “and good riddance to 2013” after shouting “Happy New Year” tonight, the past year has taught me some powerful lessons.  While they were hard lessons to learn, I am grateful for them.  Here are a few:

There is never enough time with those we love.  My Dad died in January.  He had inoperable cancer, and we knew what the end result would be.  We tried to savor the time that we had together before he passed.  It wasn’t enough.  I realize, though, that no quantity of additional days, weeks, months, or years would have been.

Time passes quickly.  In my mind, I often feel that I am about the age of my eldest daughter.  When I do, I’m ignoring three intervening decades.  I’m not sure where they went, but I know that I can’t get them back.  In another 30 years, I’ll be 80.  I have a lot of living to do between now and then.

Nothing should be taken for granted.  A few months ago, I walked into my boss’s office for my mid-year review, armed with the confidence that came from knowing that I had already surpassed my year-end revenue goals.  I walked out with a letter from HR explaining that my position had been eliminated.  Things don’t have to make sense for them to be real.

We are more than our work.  The extent to which the layoff knocked the wind out of me has made it clear that what we do for a living should only be a part of who we are.  Defining oneself in terms of something that can so easily be taken away is not a recipe for happiness.

Things may not be what they appear.  Imagine the most “together”, confident, successful, popular person you can.  Then imagine him deciding that his family would be better off without him, and ending his life.  I received word of that happening to a friend a few days before Christmas.  Regardless of appearances, we are all fighting a battle of some sort.

Hard lessons, but important lessons.

Be good to each other, and to yourself.


Sweet Caroline

October 29, 2013

Sweet Caroline


Firstborn

August 26, 2013

Firstborn