My dad would be 87 years old this month. Somehow, incredibly, he’s been gone for 35 years. He’s been my dead father longer than he was my live father, which takes my breath away.

He was, first and foremost, a gentle, patient father. He was also a Baptist deacon married to a party-loving Episcopalian. He distrusted cats. He liked to dip buttered toast into his coffee (cream and two sugars.) If he ever said a bad word about another human, I never heard it.

He was a true scholar of the Bible, reading it front to back twice.

Dad was a clever guy: He’d sit at the kitchen table during his nightly reading and provide a running commentary, like this:

“No way… That’s a scandal!... Bathsheba, GIRL!... What?!?... Herod, you’re a dog… Slay ‘em, Samson! Whoooo!”

As a result, he had four little kids clambering all over him squealing, “Tell us, Daddy! Read it out loud!” Which, of course, gave him the perfect opportunity to speak faith into us.

I can still see him holding up that heavy Bible, saying, “Kids, this is the most exciting book you’ll ever read. It has adventure, love, pride, greed, murder and redemption. Plus, pestilence and betrayal!” (Pause for breath.) “And, it doubles as an instruction manual!”

Mom made sure we got to church (St. Anne’s one Sunday, First Baptist the next), but Dad made sure we knew the Bible as a daily guidepost.

One night my oldest brother Bubba interrupted Dad’s teaching of the 10 Commandments with a question.

He looked up all wide-eyed and said, “What is adultery?”

“Umm. Let’s see. It’s when you’re married—”

Bubba: “Like you and Mom.”

Dad: “Yes. Huh. Lawd. OK, son…. ask your Sunday school teacher.” Mother, walking by, almost choked on her pina colada.

My other brother, T-Bob, inherited the family Bible and carried on the tradition of reading it to his children.

Dad was handsome, with olive skin, wavy black hair and enormous brown eyes. He was also crazy frugal, which tends to happen when your family is left penniless by the Depression.

There’s a story he never lived down—in fact, it was repeated at his funeral, to great laughter. One Sunday afternoon, Mom surveyed her pantry and refrigerator, looked at her four children and said, “Russ, I need $20 to get some groceries.”

Dad winced, lowered his newspaper and said, “But I gave you $20 last MONTH!”

He was horrified to learn a can of green beans cost 27 cents. He drove a Merita bread truck and used to proclaim, in the most doleful tones imaginable, “When bread goes to 75 cents a loaf, people will riot in the streets!”

He was an intensely private man. Case in point: One icy winter night, he locked the keys in his Ford Galaxie after picking up T-Bob from basketball practice. (I was along for the ride.)

“If I had a coat hanger….” Dad muttered. We leaned shivering against the car in the deserted parking lot. Then an acquaintance of Dad’s pulled up and rolled down the window.

“Everything all right, Russ?” he called. Dad smiled, waved and said, “Never better! Good night!”

T-Bob and I had a fit. “Dad, why didn’t you ask him for help?” we wailed.

He shrugged and said, “Eh, don’t bother people with your problems.”

We stared at him in disbelief--and then he, and we, burst out laughing.

Eventually we walked to a laundromat and got a coat hanger, and were quickly in the car, warm and toasty.

Oh, how I miss that quirky, loving, funny man.

Happy birthday in Heaven, Dad.

Julie R. Smith, who is her father’s daughter, can be reached at widdleswife@aol.com.