My Greatest Honor

It is always nice to receive an honor recognizing achievements. For some, the honor might pertain to education, ala making the Honor Roll or Honor Society. For some, they may receive an honor recognizing their excellent work skills. For others, it could be for serving our country. While I have received a few of these types of honor, for me, they are not even close to being my greatest honor. Let me explain.

He was born on a Monday morning, after trying so hard to come on Sunday. Our doctor, Keith, who was a good friend, resorted to creative measures to coax him into this world. When he came, boy, he came with a bang!

 And just like that, his personality began forming.

I had one of those big clunky camcorders, thinking I would record this momentous occasion. Overcome with emotion, I started shaking and tears of excitement began flowing so freely, I fogged the camera lens. It was not a pretty picture. But it did nothing to put a damper on this beautiful moment.

Hunter Grant Collins had entered this world. Mine was about to change.

Twenty-three months later, our second son also came on a Monday morning. He came with a little more ease. My camera experience was better, but not much. The emotions flowing were equal to the first. When handed to me, the observant one looked at my operating room hat like, “Dad, why are you wearing that stupid hat?” And just like that, his personality began forming.

Elliott Ross Collins had entered this world, ready to join forces with his big brother.

They were destined to be best friends.

After waiting almost eleven years, I was determined to be a good dad. Perhaps destiny was on my side. Either way, this just felt right!

Both boys said dada before mama, something I felt a little bad about for mom, but not really. Dada was music to my ears.

As the boys grew, I grew better as a dad and a person. There are no dad manuals, you know.

We watched Barney, Aladdin, Lion King, Jungle book and Big Rock Candy Mountain videos. Over and over and over! I loved it!

We read books together at bedtime.

“Read it again, daddy.”

I read it again. I’m so glad I did!

We learned Sunday School songs together. Our favorite was This Little Light of Mine, accompanied with the finishing touches of blowing the finger and saying “doe, doe,” when it came time to tell Satan he could not blow it out.

Together, we learned to crawl. We ran into things in our walkers. We graduated to walking, both at the early age of nine months.

We ate cookies together. And drank juice.

Before I knew it, we were on tricycles. One Christmas, Santa brought them a red, battery powered jeep, a color destined to stay with them. They drove that jeep into the ground!

“Keep your eyes on where you are going. Don’t get distracted,” I told them, to little avail.

“Daddy, can we play catch?” were words I heard every day when I got home from work. I played catch. I’m so glad I did. I loved it!

We played thousands of one-on-one football games, where I was the quarterback and we drew up plays in the dirt, with the other one playing defense.

Soon, I experienced the joy of seeing those smiling eyes when I gave them that final push and they soloed on their bikes.

“Look at me, daddy. I’m doing it,” they said, ever so proud of themselves.

“Keep your eyes on the road!” I said, as they looked at me grinning from ear to ear.

We had a grand time at both Disney and Sea Worlds.

“Man, this is the life,” said Hunter after visiting SeaWorld.

“Man, this is the life,” I said to myself, thanking God for giving them to me, as they continued to bring happiness to my already over-blessed life.

We designed and built a killer tree house together. They put a thousand nails in that mansion in the sky. I didn’t care. Every boy in the neighborhood played in that treehouse…including me.

We went to church together where many times I was their teacher.

Next came T-ball, Upward basketball and before I knew it, school sports. Of course, I loved every step of the way.

I taught them how to shoot a bb gun and witnessed both boys kill their first bird. Soon they moved up to a pellet gun, then 22 and you get the picture.

We graduated to toys for bigger boys when we got dirt bikes and four-wheelers. All three of us drove through and got stuck in, I believe, every water hole in southeast Arkansas. We laughed at each other whenever we busted our bu… on the trails. Especially when it was mine that got busted!

They wore costumes and passed out candy at Christmas time in my stores. We even got to make a commercial together.

It broke my heart and made me proud the first time I lost to them in one-on-one basketball and when that baseball brought such a sting to my hand, I could no longer play catch. My boys were growing up.

We played golf together and I watched with amazement as they began to outdrive dad consistently.

I watched with incredible pride and equal apprehension when they both drove away that first night in their very own red truck, purchased with their hard-earned money. Dad taught them to work. Matching red trucks were the fruit of their labors. They made me proud.

“Keep your eyes on the road,” I yelled at them as they drove off, knowing the first female in sight would make this simple task impossible.

We went camping a million times. Nine hundred, ninety-nine times it rained. It did not matter if we were in the biggest drought in history, anytime me and the boys went camping, it rained. We became good at it though and started learning the lesson of overcoming obstacles when it inevitably poured.

We went skiing in Steamboat, where they took snowboard lessons and I took ski lessons at the ripe ole age of fifty. They were snowboarding the blacks on the second day while I was still on the bunny slopes. A four year old fellow bunny-sloper tugged on my ski jacket and said, “Hey misthah, How old are thu?”

I never mastered the ski slopes quite the way they did. It didn’t matter. We had a blast anyway.

We pushed the limits of exploration to the max when we decided to take scuba lessons. Dad was an athlete, but a swimmer? Not so much. He decided to test his moxi and push himself to face his greatest fear of water. He did this just to be with his boys.

We all received our scuba certification. The boys were better than their dad. It didn’t matter. They always had each other’s back. They charted dozens of dives together. For divers out there, you know in the diving world, you always dive with a buddy. Neither boy would admit it, but they never wanted to be their dads buddy because I sucked. Yes, I sucked. By that, I mean, I sucked oxygen at a rate twice that of a normal human being. This meant if you were my buddy, your diving time was cut in half. It didn’t matter. We made many memories together seeing various fish, eagle rays and even a shark in those adventurous waters.

Of all the hundreds of activities shared with my boys, none comes close to the joy I have when we go fishing together. You see, when we fish, I also become a little boy. I always go back to the wonderful experiences I had with my fantastic dad, while fishing.

It didn’t matter if we were fishing for bream on the banks of our family pond, fishing for crappie in a jon boat in Lake Chicot, or deep-sea fishing for mahi-mahi in the Caribbean, I never had a bad experience with them while fishing.

I remember vividly teaching them to bait their hooks and cast their Zebco rod and reel rigs, sometimes camouflaged as Barney or Lion King.  The method was always the same. Be patient while watching your bobber. Once the bobber goes under the water, set the hook, and pull out your prized fish. Sometimes we were successful. Sometimes; not so much. But every time, we had a blast!

“Dad let’s go fly fishing this Monday. Its Labor Day and we are both off.  Can you go?” they ask.

“Wild horses and a deadly disease could not keep me from going fishing with you two,” I say to myself.

“Sure, I’d love to go,” I actually say.

“Dad, can you help me tie this fishing knot?

 “Ain’t no mountain high enough, to keep me from helping you,” I say to myself.

“Sure,” I actually say.

“Dad, can you come by the house and help me put up a ceiling fan when we finish fishing?”

For me, by far, the greatest honor of my life….

Being called….

Dada. Daddy. Dad.

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