What's That Say About Me?
Aloha Friday

The Dad I Sort Of Had


I write sometimes about my dad, but this post is about the man who was more of a Father Figure to me than he was, and it's taken me since the last posting to figure out how I wanted to write this. I thought about a compare/contrast, but that wouldn't honor this great man the way I wanted to. So instead, it's going to be all about him.

James Morton Brickley was a class act. I could stop there and that would be 'nuff said, but there's so much more I would like to say about him.

I met Jim when I was working at a Publix Supermarket in St. Pete, Florida. I was a cashier there, again. I mean, I worked my way at a Publix in Coral Gables while going to the University of Miami, so it seemed only fitting to work at yet another one while putting myself through the rigors of a Ph.D. program at the University of South Florida. And I liked it. But that's a different post.

Anyway, one day, Jim came through my line and, unbeknownst to me, observed me while he waited his turn. When he was up, he handed me his business card and said, "I need you at my law firm. You're exactly what I'm looking for. Call this number and talk to my wife - she's my office manager - and tell her I said to call about the job." I was stunned, flattered, and... well, flattered some more.

In the end, I got the job as Jim's legal secretary, along with the two lawyers who worked for (they'd say "with," but it was really "for") him. It was just the five of us, including his Office Manager wife. A small but busy law practice that Jim had started years earlier and built the way he felt a law firm should be built: by word-of-mouth, not advertising on TV or the back of phone books.

But I chatter too much. Getting further along, I worked there until I moved up to Tampa to be closer to my doctoral program, and I sadly said good-bye to Jim and the gang. We'd forged friendships, though, and when a semester had passed, he called me up and asked me to come back. Seemed he couldn't find a legal secretary as good as I had been, I said, patting myself on the back, and he would bump up my salary to pay for the commute.

So I went back to working for Jim. By that time, I had stepped down from the Ph.D. program, a heartwrenching decision I made after deciding I didn't have enough passion to spend my life on that (but again, another post for another day) and was working on my Master's degree in Science Ed. (By the by, maybe it was just that program at that school, but hello, that was a cakewalk compared to the Biology program. Easy peasy.)

After yet another semester, I decided I needed a break from school to make more money to continue the program, now that I didn't have the assistanceships and stipends I was earning in the former degree program, so I moved back to St. Pete. Jim and his wife helped me find a really decent apartment; I was financially strapped - as students are wont to be - and they fronted me the money for the security deposit, out of the goodness of their hearts.

But it didn't stop there. When my car, Bullet, got stolen, Jim was all set to loan me the money for a kickin' boat of a car (I think it was a stinkin' Lincoln, but I can't remember now, though it was nice) until Bullet suddenly turned up a month later. In the meantime, he picked me up for work himself, many times, though I could just as easily have ridden the bus.

When I got very sick suddenly at work one day, too sick to even drive myself home, Jim called up a cab, put me in it, and paid the driver not only to take me home, but to take me to the emergency room, and pick me up for work again when I was ready to return.

When my live-in boyfriend at the time threw me into a bookshelf and broke my two front teeth, and I showed up to work with a big gaping hole in my mouth, Jim took me into his office to ask what happened. He was furious with the guy. He called his own personal dentist and, while I listened, made me an appointment for later that same day and told the dentist to send him the bill. I got my teeth fixed, and Jim paid for it.

Then, one day, I met my future husband, and within weeks, we were engaged. And then we eloped. Jim was against it, but he wished me well and sent me on my way with a bonus paycheck. I moved to Panama City, FL, to live with my new husband. Before we knew it, a baby was on the way.

When Chloë was born a month prematurely on September 7th, 2001, I tried calling Jim and his wife to let them know. Or maybe Rob did; I forget, but we didn't get through and had to leave a message. Chloë was born in Pensacola, three hours from home, and she spent ten days in the NICU fighting this, that and the other serious issue while Rob and I lived in the Ronald McDonald House there to be near her. Because of that, Jim and his wife weren't able to get ahold of me.

Then bin Ladin and his cohorts struck on September 11th. Actually, I was still in the hospital, having had an emergency c-section, when we heard the news. As Rob is in the Navy, we had people crawling out of the woodwork to ask what that would mean for him career-wise, but our world was all about our sick new baby. And still, I didn't get to talk to my Father Figure, Jim, to tell him of our news.

Well, a few days later, his wife finally found us by telephone, calling the NICU to reach me. She asked about Chloë, and then she told me the awful news: While standing there, in front of the television, watching the news of the terrorist attacks, Jim suffered an acute aortic aneurysm. He died that day, that horrible day. I was in shock, hearing the news. I cried out in the NICU (a big no-no, by the way) when she told me, and I sobbed.

Jim from Kentucky, I plan to have a mint julep on Derby Day this year for you, 10½ years later. And I'll remember that day, as always, how good you were to me. And for me.

Thank you.