October 1, 2008, my life changed forever. My son, Dane, was born. I had waited a long time to become a father so this was extra special for me. That day brought a new definition to the word “love.” This little boy took that word to a whole new level. He still does 11 years later. Being a father is the greatest gift I could ever have. There are numerous challenges and self doubts but they are outweighed but the joy and love he gives in return. We have been close since the day he was born but losing his mom to cancer in 2017 has made us inseparable. I pray daily that I can be the best parent I can be. I want him to always know how much I love him and how proud of him I am.
His birth, and the years that followed, gave me a strong appreciation of what my dad must have felt when I was born. I’m sure he had the same combination of excitement and fear I had and continue to have on a daily basis. I think he did a pretty good job with me and I hope Dane feels that way about me one day too.
When I tell people who know him that I am Roger Kelly’s son, I always hear what a great guy he is. How much they loved working with him at the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge or how they have known each other since they were kids. They miss seeing him and just being around him. It makes me happy to hear the nice things they have to say. I have been told he likes to brag on his grandson just a little too! I love it. He loves his church family at Royce Baptist Church and they love him as well.
I have many fond memories of him. He is responsible for my love of things like the Tennessee Volunteers, NASCAR and dirt track racing, and fishing. We also love some of the same music like Stevie Ray Vaughn and gospel music. He loves the Chuck Wagon Gang just like my Mamaw did.
In 1976, when I was 12, dad won a pair of season tickets for the University of Tennessee Men’s Basketball games. I don’t believe we missed a single home game that year. It was the final season of the Ernie and Bernie Show (Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King) and an exciting time to be a basketball fan in Knoxville. I loved making those trips to the old Stokely Athletic Center. I remember one time they were calling for snow to begin that evening and we took a chance and went anyway. It did begin to snow during the game. Luckily we made it home before it got too bad but not without sliding into the wall of a bridge and brushing it with the front bumper of mom’s car. As you can see, I’ve never forgotten that night.
We would listen to “The Voice of The Vols,” John Ward, do play by play of the away games and many football games over the years. I can still hear his voice to this day. I remember watching the Johnny Majors show with dad too. He still loves his Tennessee Vols!
Racing was another thing our family enjoyed. I spent many Saturday nights with my mom in the stands at Atomic Speedway while my dad was in the pits helping one of his friends with his race car. Mom would always let me take a friend. I loved going to the track. They had the best racing and the best hot dogs! We all loved NASCAR too. I remember us going to the races in Atlanta, North Wilkesboro, and Daytona. We stopped at Darlington on our way to Myrtle Beach one year and visited the museum at the track. We also took a trip to Richard Petty’s museum. Dane enjoys racing now too. We just made our first trip to see some dirt track racing at Tazewell Speedway. I hope he has fond memories of it one day like I do. I’m going to take him to Bristol soon. He is already a Denny Hamlin fan.
I’ve gone fishing with my dad for as long as I can remember. We would take his Norris Craft out and spend the day on Melton HIll Lake. We would have his little silver radio and a cooler full of drinks as well as some Vienna Sausages, pork and beans, crackers and a Little Debbie snack cake or two. He had a lot of patience with me on those days. When I was younger I usually caught more trees than fish. He would stop fishing and help me get my line free from the brush. He taught me how to fly fish as well. It’s been several years since we have had the boat out but fishing off the bank at Carbide Park is just as much fun. There was no way I would have even thought about taking Dane on his first fishing trip without my dad being there. I have video and several pictures of his first catch. I’m not sure who was more proud of him, me or dad. Dane was so excited when Grandpa got him a real fishing rod one day. Now when we go he makes sure to let me know that is HIS rod that Grandpa got for him. The three of us need to take another fishing trip soon. Next week sounds good.
I remember numerous trips to see family in Florida. We even got to see Apollo 11 launch from the Kennedy Space Center when I was almost five. I have a greater appreciation of all the miles dad drove over the years. Speaking from experience, taking numerous bathroom breaks and stopping for more gas and snacks makes that long drive that much worse. I remember all of our trips to Gatlinburg and Cherokee, NC. Driving to Virginia to see our family there was always fun too.
When my mom was diagnosed with cancer about 18 years ago, my dad set an example for me by caring for mom like a husband should. He went to her appointments with her and did everything he could to help comfort her while she defeated it. He also set an example of how working hard could help you have a good life. He spent 30 years as a Pipefitter at Y-12. When the Union went on strike, he would travel wherever he could to make a living for us until the strike was over. I like to think I have his work ethic. My mom worked hard too and I had everything I ever needed growing up.
He’s been my mechanic and handyman more times than I can count. He can fix anything.
He cheered for me when I was playing football at both Oak Ridge High School and UT Chattanooga. I know he was proud of not only my athletic accomplishments but educational ones too. I can still see his smile the days I received my Bachelors and Masters degrees. I’ve seen that same smile at Dane’s school functions and his band concert.
He is a loving husband, brother, uncle, friend, grandpa, and most importantly, dad. I love you and I’m proud to be your son. Let’s make some new memories.
Happy Father’s Day,
#967Merle #Knoxville #KnoxRocks