What do you give the man who made me feel like some man’s son?

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John Fountain with Paul J Adams III, chairman and founder, Providence St. Mel School. | Photo provided by John Fountain.

Dear Dad, I hope my note finds you well on this your 78th birthday. I can only hope the Good Lord shows such favor to grace me with the gift of longevity.

As we pondered sending you a gift, we asked, “What do you give the man who already has everything?”

I laughed. What do you get the man who has everything?

I’m stumped.


For my own birthdays, I do not cherish parties or big fusses. I do not fancy the idea of pretend-friends wining and dining at my expense and acting like they like me. I do not enjoy big crowds or the focus being on me. Do not relish being the beau of the ball.

Indeed for my forthcoming 58th birthday, I plan, if anything, to partake in a laid-back backyard celebration of grilling rituals with a few cold beers and music piping through my speakers, surrounded by a handful of family.

But enough about me. This is your birthday.

I could buy you flowers but they will soon fade. I could buy you a bouquet of edibles you would delightfully devour. Cologne or clothes or jewelry have no appeal among a man who has his own.

So what then? What?

Honestly, I don’t know. What gift do you give to a father, to the man who has made me feel like some man’s son? (All sons are not cherished.) For a man whose eyes have delighted to see me coming? Who has cheered me. Exalted. Lifted. Honored.

A man who gave me my academic wings. Who taught me to dream. Who embraced my dream, even within the walls of improbability and impossibility, and yet cheered with me, cheered for me.

The man who showed up when I had no expectation. Who was there waiting, like a good father does for his son, when I had no inclination that you had chosen to bestow upon me the love of a father that every boy, every man, longs for. The kind of love that heals paternal holes, that makes grown men whole.

The father who gave me my first kiss that said, “I adore you, son. You are me. I am you. We are one.”

You have given me the seal of paternal admiration. The manifestation of the glorious and incomparable bond between fathers and sons by which generations become legacies and by which fathers and sons create new destinies.

You are the father who taught me to dream. Who showed me how to live. Who demonstrated how I should give: without regret, with my whole heart and soul, with respect for life and for humanity, even amid a world filled with so much insanity.

The beloved father who made me feel, alas, like a beloved and favorite son.

What do I give that father for his 78th birthday?

My natural father, as you know, was born, like you, in Alabama. Upon his desertion by age 4, God indeed gave me men to stand in his stead.

But in you I found the substance of things hoped for: bloodlines rooted in red clay Alabama dirt, a heart steeped in a love for others, and a commitment to helping sons and daughters find the pathway to their dreams.

Your love, honestly, has healed my hurt of paternal abandonment. And I have found in you, Paul J. Adams III, the affirmation of me. Because of you I stand more wholly as a man.

Perhaps these words written can serve as some small gift every day of the year. I can think of nothing greater given from my heart. Happy Birthday.

Love, Your Son, JOHN

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Reach John Fountain at Author@johnwfountain.com

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