Monday, February 28, 2011

Dad's Retirement Speech

Jan 6, 2011

I wrote this speech for my Dad's retirement party.  However, I was not able to attend.  But since I think it's one of my best written works I thought I would post it.  I'll take even odds if Dad cries reading this.

Hello there, my name is Adrian Ray Long, and as you’ve probably already guessed, I am the proud son of John Long.  I am very thankful to be here, and am grateful for the opportunity to speak.  For me personally, I had to be here, not only to recognize the importance of what my Dad has accomplished, but to thank so many that made it possible along the way.
In preparing this speech I watched a lot of NFL Hall of Fame induction speeches.  Upon watching them I decided that I didn’t want to have a speech like Michael Irvin where he cried through the entire hour of his speech. 
            Instead I wanted to keep this a happy occasion, like the speeches given by Gale Sayers and Terry Bradshaw.  Because you never know, this could be the happiest day of your life.  If could definitely be the happiest day of my Dad’s life.
            My Dad was born in the backwoods of West Virginia.  I can only imagine what it was like.  When I think of it I picture the novel “Where the Red Fern Grows.”  It’s where a boy grows up in a time where what is right and wrong is simpler, but the living could be very hard.  Where a boy could hunt, fish, and run all over the back hills with his beagles, help plant the garden, all the while learning everything he could in school to prepare for a world that was changing very fast.

           I am thankful for my Grandparents John M. (Ray) Long, and Betty Long.  They raised three children during tough times, and always strived to make a better life for them.  While parents are never perfect, I admire the fact that they personally worked to learn and grow to be better parents and human beings.  Truthfully, I couldn’t have asked for better Grandparents, and that’s the truth.
            Growing up my Dad always had the company of four trusted friends Red Dean, Adrian Vance, for whom I am named after, and his cousins Dennis and Darrell Skeens.  This is the point where I would normally tell an embarrassing story from his past, but even after all these years I still can’t get a story out of anyone.  The only answer I ever got was from Darrell, and he said that any story that would implicate Dad would twice over implicate himself. 
            My Dad always had goals in his life.  The first one that he set for himself in his adult life was to be his own man, to stand on his own two feet, and to serve his country with honor.  He joined the U.S. Air Force at 18, and proudly served 4 years in the service of our country, including 1 year, and 3 days in Vietnam. 
            While in the Air Force, my Dad met an amazing woman, Carolan Overacker.  It was the 60’s at that time, but I picture more like an 80’s movie.  Rob Lowe would play the young Sgt. Long assigned to Communications at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington D.C.  Demi Moore would play Sgt. Overacker, the young, wild woman from Pennsylvania with an independent streak, and a heart of gold. 
            Truly, if you picture this like an 80’s movie it makes a lot more sense.  I figured it was something like this.
            He first noticed the pretty brunette wearing her Air Force uniform and white jogging shoes.  She noticed his blue eyes, and smile in his voice when he talked.  They were perfect for each other.
Their love was intense, but could it survive so many obstacles?  First, it was the 60’s.  America had changed more in ten years than it had in the past 200.  New concepts and new opinions had changed the face of our country.  Second, navigating the Beltway.  Have you ever tried to get around Washington D.C.  It’s a complete nightmare.  Just getting from one place to another is impossible. 
            Then came the ultimate test, being transferred.  My Mom was transferred to England, while Dad went to Vietnam.  Separation is tough, but so are 122 rockets.  The North Vietnamese tried their best, but between being a crack shot, and being able to run really fast they never did manage to get Dad.
            However, it wasn’t all warfare over there.  There was also a lot of drinking and gambling.  While I don’t condone either, it was over one particular 48 hour period that something amazing happened.  While gambling over there, Dad said you usually won or lost about 5 bucks.  However, armed with only a deck of cards and a bottle of something, he destroyed, not won, but destroyed everyone, and took in $500 over a 48 hour period.  Now you have to remember that this was $500 40 years ago.  He took this money, along with what he had already saved up, and went to the Air Force BX.  It was there that he bought a humongous African blue diamond ring.  He mailed it to England (insured of course) with a note that said, “Marry me Demi Moore, err Carolan.”  Really Mom, show that rock to everyone.  You can cut glass with that thing. 
            Then came the part of his life that if they made a movie about, no one would believe.  But for the purposes of our story, imagine that young Rob Lowe playing Sgt. Long.  He’s tired, frustrated, and angry.  He’s just been told that even though he’s spent his year’s service in Vietnam, he wouldn’t be able to leave the country for another two weeks.  Since he was not an officer, and thereby not a gentleman, he ripped the superior officer’s phone out of the socket, and sent it flying out a window.  He let the officer know that he was supposed to be attending his own wedding, and that he kind of wanted to be there.
           Instead of two weeks, he was delayed by three days.  He went from Vietnam to Hawaii to California to West Virginia to Pennsylvania.  After being awake for a few days he finally got some sleep at the airport in Pennsylvania.  It was here where that my uncle James (Jimmy) Overacker was to pick my Dad up.  To hear my Uncle Jimmy tell it is very funny.  He shows up at the airport, and is looking around for a guy he’s never met.  He happens to see a guy sleeping in the corner wearing Military fatigues.  Going through his head is, “I need to find John, but do I dare wake this guy who may or may not be John?”  Well, the good news is that it was my Dad, and they hit the road.  Uncle Jimmy and my Dad drove to the county courthouse, to meet my Mom.  With her independent streak and a heart of gold, she personally typed up the marriage license.  That’s one way to get your man isn’t it?  So everyone was only one hour late to the wedding.  So with no practice, no pre-wedding preparations, my Mom and Dad were married. 
            Inheriting a family is always tricky, but Dad was always thankful for the family he inherited.  My Grandparents Rex and Joyce Overecker were very gracious in welcoming my Dad to their family.  I’d also like to thank Jimmy and Lynn Overecker, Gary and Lisa Overecker, and Margot Lloyd for being such a wonderful family to us all. 
            Then came the next phase of my Dad’s life; he was finishing up his service in the U.S. Air Force and preparing for civilian life.  He was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base when a new Military Veteran’s hospital was opening in Tampa.  My Dad worked the opening day at James A. Haley Veteran’s hospital.  It was here he was able to complete a lot of his goals.
       He had the wife.  He got the bank loan, and got the house.  Then came a very important goal and one reason to live in Florida.  He was able to get a lot of hunting and fishing in.  That’s right, freshwater, saltwater, brackish water, shallow water, river, sand flats, mud flats, deep water, deep sea, under bridges, and off the pier, there is a lot of fishing to be accomplished.  Here’s a true story, all the relatives said that Dad’s fishing days where over now that he got married.  Well, my Mom told them “No they weren’t, and that she would go with him.”  Armed with a fishing pole, fishing license and the smallest blue bikini that may or may not have been legal at the time, my Mom always went fishing with my Dad.  That’s a true story, and here’s another.  In all the years of fishing, my parents were only stopped by the marine patrol once, and that was when Mom was wearing that blue bikini.  Let’s be honest, the marine patrol only has an hour’s worth of work to do a day, and has to kill the other seven hours doing something else.  Who can blame them?
            My Dad had a lot of hunting and fishing buddies he met at the V.A.  I’d like to thank John Wease, Tom Amerson, Tony Poole, Ron the great duck caller, Tom Tackett, and great bosses Jim Carroll and Lloyd Pollard.  I’d also like to thank our neighbors down the street Mel and Ann Sharpless, their sons Mel Jr. and Mark, as well as neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Lippy, Mr. and Mrs. Larsen, Mr. and Mrs. Barker, and longtime friend of the family Claude Monse. 
            Up till now I have told you stories of what other people had told me.  I’d now like to tell you some of what I know firsthand about my Dad.  I was almost three years old when my Dad turned thirty.  Now that I’m 32, I look back and see all the responsibility he had, and how he made life so wonderful for me as a child. 

          There was adventure.  I remember him taking me to a swamp that looked like something Indiana Jones would only dare into.  Truthfully, I was only five or six, and we went fishing down the Hillsborough River.  But remember, to a kid it was an amazing adventure.  I remember Dad driving his Army type Jeep in a huge forest.  In actuality, he had a short bed Ford pickup truck that was green, but to me it was Jeep.  That huge forest was actually Croom Wildlife Management Area.  In that amazing adventure we had somewhere between 10-12 deer (all does) walk right out in front of the truck, and just stare at us for a good two minutes.  Again, I was about six, and had an orange toy ray gun. I managed to shoot every one of those deer many times over.  I was just a very young kid, but I shot a dozen deer that day. 
            He was also a humanitarian while out in nature.  We were fishing in December during a winter that was very rough on a lot of the seabirds.  A lot of the conservation groups went out and fed the pelicans to keep them alive during this particularly harsh winter.  Well, we had caught a couple of pinfish, and were having a good time out at Cockroach Bay when a pelican came up to us.  The pelican had just noticed that I had caught a fish.  Dad said something like the pelican could use the pinfish more than us, and I could give it to him if I wanted.  So we gave the pelican the pinfish, and he was happy.  So happy he flew out about 100 yards, and just hung out there.  After a few minutes a few of his friends showed up, and we had three pelicans out about a hundred yards from the boat.  Then a few more showed up.  Like about 400 more pelicans.  If you can imagine a complete circle of pelicans surrounding the boat, that’s what happened.  Every time one of us would catch a fish we would hold it up, and here they came.  If you thought a group of bats was scary, try being bombarded by 400 hungry pelicans.  They don’t play around.

         When I look back in my life, there are two days that I can clearly say were the greatest days of my life.  I never went out, and planned for them to be great.  They just were.  If you remember what I said at the beginning of this speech, this could be the greatest day of your life.  You don’t plan for it, it just happens.  Well the one day I can’t tell you about… for personal reasons, but the other day was when I was fourteen.  Dad, myself, and our friend John Wease went fishing at Tarpon Springs.  It didn’t start out as a great day.  The waves were three feet high, and I already felt like puking.  However, after an hour the water became like glass.  What made this fishing trip special was that the Spanish mackerel were passing through Tarpon Springs.  We were all doing pretty well fishing, but I was having real good luck in particular.  As the sun came up, both Dad and I kept noticing a big black shadow swimming underneath the boat.  There was one cast that I kind of screwed up, and started reeling it in.  That’s when I saw the shadow.  I just let my lure sink underneath the boat.  It was then my rod completely bent over, I set the hook, and two foot of line got dragged out.  Dad immediately yelled, “Let him take it…”  However, I had other ideas.  I turned my reel twice, and jerked as hard as I could on the rod.  It was then that a giant Spanish mackerel came flying out of the water, went ten foot high, and landed in the boat.  All of this happened in less than two seconds.  Actually, I think the fish spent more time in the air than in the water.  It got some good hang time.  Well, my Dad gave me that irritated kind of look, and said, “Well, didn’t feel like giving him much of a fighting chance did you?”  I couldn’t blame him for being irritated.  I mean, he did almost get hit with a flying Spanish mackerel.  For the record, I did get nine mackerel, many trout, and a couple of black sea bass that day.  That’s a good day.  Correction, that was the greatest day.

         There are those people who wear the t-shirts that say, proud parent.  Well, my Dad didn’t wear the shirt, because he proved it by his actions.  He never said, “Get good grades or else!”  No, he just went down to the school, and talked to the teachers and principals.  He would ask them, “Adrian needs improvement here.  What can we do, and what can he do to improve?”  He took an active role in parenting.  He also did something that only a true proud parent t-shirt wearer could do.  He attended every single one of my football games, and track meets.  He also made all the important orchestra concerts that I was in.  Think about that, that’s dedication.
            But it wasn’t all fun and games.  There was a period there from about 1990-1994 when his hair went gray.  I’m not proud to say it, but that was my fault.  It’s easy to be a proud parent when you’ve got a son who is Mr. Wonderful.  It’s not so easy to be a parent when your son is Mr. I know your Vice Principal on a first name basis, and our number is in their rolodex.  What makes my Dad a true parent is that, he never gave up on me.  He didn’t say, “Screw it, he’ll be eighteen soon, and he’s his own problem after that.”  Instead, he always helped me along, and never stopped teaching me.  On a happy note, in 1995 a lot of his hair turned blond again.  
            As I grew up, I noticed I could tell a lot about a person because of how they reacted to my Dad.  Let me explain.  If a complete stranger talked to my Dad kindly, most likely, they were a good person.  However, if someone was belligerent to my Dad, I could tell they were someone who was no good.  It’s like my Dad is the ultimate mood ring.  I can’t explain it, but it’s true. 
            Here’s yet another true story.  I was about 14, and we were walking in Home Depot.  My Dad comes up behind an older man, and says, “Hello Mr. So and So.”  The man literally snorts at my Dad and walks off disgusted.  I had never seen anyone react that way to Dad.  I was shocked to say the least.  I could only ask, “Who was that?”  Dad said, “That was one of the customers on my route.  He thinks I’m the worst mailman that ever existed.”  I could only describe the snorter with one word, miserable.  He was just miserable.  It was at that time that I could notice that you could judge the content of someone’s character by how they talked to my Dad.
            When you talk about people being smart, it’s not exactly a matter of IQ.  My Dad is smart, and it’s because of his ability to learn.  I figure a few people here have taken the Post Office Entrance Exam?  Well, Dad’s not afraid to say that he took it ten times.  Each time he learned a little bit more about taking this test.  It was in this way he was able to join the Post Office in 1985.  It was a better paying job than he had at the V.A., and it helped our family a lot.  I always thought it was great that when Dad started at the Post Office, he got to deliver his own zip code.  We lived on 15th street, and he had to drive a whole mile and a half to get to work. 

            As I’m sure you know, my Dad is a real people person.  I think that’s one reason the customers on his route like him so much.  There are so many great people that my Dad has had the opportunity to deliver mail to.  Some have passed, and some have moved away, but they all have an important place in my Dad’s everyday life.  I’d like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Davis who have given so much to not only our family, but their community.  I’d like to thank Mr. Bodycott and his partner for their help in growing plants and trees.  Also thanks to Mr. Michael Bright for his paintings, and point of view on life. 

           As my Dad has been here at the Post Office for almost 25 years, there are a lot of co-workers who have been great friends or made life a little bit easier along the way for him.
I’d like to thank our original mailman Larry Downs, a great and caring friend.
Ron Cormier, a friend to all.
The man who rocks even harder than me, Johnny Durosa.
A great supporter of single moms, Jeff Douse.
Longtime friend, Frank Widgeon.
The man with perfect hair, Ron Mongomery.
The greatest e-mailer in the world, Warren Sumlin.
Ron Biggs, always a good friend of the family.
A friend who we won’t forget Joel Brooks.
Lover of all things football and Christmas, Dennis Lumberg
Everyone’s favorite disgruntled elf, Sam Barnhart.
A fellow outdoor enthusiast Jim Neeley.
Hoo-Yah, John Greenleaf, our favorite Marine.
Even though the next two may not be popular, they have helped our family out.
John Watts, there are a number of things he did to help out our family, and for that I will be forever grateful.
Union President Lenny Perez, from whom I learned more about dirty politics in 15 minutes talking to him, than I ever learned in school, the news, or elsewhere combined.
I’d like to thank great friends Benny and Kenny.  We won’t ask if you won’t tell.
Jamo, a longtime friend, and eater of things I would rather not know about.
Robert Sanchez, who will give you hug whether you needed one or not.  A great longtime friend.

            My Dad always had goals in life.  One of the earliest goals was to get a move on with his life, and join the military.  With the below average pay, adequate housing, and job training it was a great start for my Dad.  His next goal was to get out of the military alive.  Check.  His next goal was the wife and house.  Check.  Next came hunting and fishing.  Check.  After that he wanted successful children.  I’m proud to say that my sister has fulfilled that goal for him.  He had a goal to live to 50.  When he fulfilled that, he said, “Better make it 60.”  I think his next age goal should be to beat his Grandmother Ethel who made it to 92.  He fulfilled a goal of having over 40 years of government service.  He also has over 20 years of avoiding preventable accidents.  It would have been 20 years of no accidents, but some moron took off his left hand side mirror while he was stopped at a mailbox.  He also made it a policy, not necessary a goal to have lots of friends along the way.  I think everyone here knows that’s true.  He also wanted someone to give a decent speech at his retirement party, and I hope I’ve fulfilled that goal.  Thank you, I appreciate everyone being here.  Take care.

1 comment:

  1. What a speech son! You made me so emotional, I almost had tears in my eyes. You remind me of my son. He spoke a lot about his father just like this on his retirement party in one of the Chicago venues and it was the best moment of my life. Such things bring you closer. God bless you!