Ironically, the person who finally got me to start researching my family history was not related to me biologically. When my step-father (who adopted me when I was 10) died in 2007 at the age of 67, I realized how much I didn’t know about him. Richard (Dick) Joy had been in my life since I was 5 when he started to date my mother. When my dad (he was always my Dad) died, I realized that there was a limited amount of time with my relatives and I needed to start capturing family history from those who remained.
Richard Joy, Jr. was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1940 to parents Richard Joy Sr. and Mary Jane Hughes. After graduating from High School, he moved to Los Angeles with friends to work as a photographer on Hot Rod Magazine. When he was drafted in 1964, he served in Germany until 1966. When he returned to the states, he was hired as a graphic artist at The Ledger a newspaper in Glendale, California. It was here that he met my mom Diana (Dee) who was working as a secretary after her recent divorce from my biological father.
After a short courtship, they married in 1969 and had my sister Raquelle in 1971. They were a beautiful couple and had much going for them, but both had difficult childhoods that didn’t serve them well under the crush of marriage and daily life in the 1970’s.
He was a kind, quiet, introverted man who had been a consistent presence in my life when other things were chaos. When my parents got a divorce when I was 13, I lived with my mother for a short time, but she was an alcoholic, so I moved in with Dad. My sister Raquelle joined us soon after. He later remarried to my stepmom Jill who had 2 daughters, Jennifer and Cayley. It was 5 women and my Dad. He took it in stride and was proud to be our father despite any mishaps we had along the way.
When my Dad finally lost his 20-year battle with lung cancer and was in the hospital on a ventilator, this is what he wrote to tell us what he wanted for his wake and what was most important to him – keeping us together as a family when he was gone.
I haven’t written about Dad during the ten years since he passed away. That part of my heart is still tender and researching his life somehow makes the fact that he is gone more real. I have a research folder for him where I put the eulogy I wrote for his wake. I think that it is still the best way to honor him now.
We are having this wake at Dad’s request with Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses, margaritas, stories and alcohol flowing. This certainly honors his Irish roots and his spirit the way he wished. It is important that we have a ritual to honor the memory of a great man. No, he wasn’t a millionaire and he didn’t create an invention, but what he did was much more difficult – to live every day with moral integrity in his actions and his words.
He didn’t speak much…you may have noticed that? We once took an 8-hour driving trip with just the two of us from L.A. to Flagstaff and we didn’t speak the entire trip. Dick Joy believed that you lead by example and only speak if you really had something important to say or if it might make someone laugh.
He taught me many important lessons, but the most important were:
- To love unconditionally and completely. Our father had 4 girls, but you may not know that only Raquelle is his birth daughter – the rest of us came to him by marriage. But he walked all of us down the aisle when we got married. When I was holding his hand this last week and telling him how lucky I was to have him as a father, he said: “No, I was the lucky one.”
- He believed that you should treat everyone equally and respectfully. We often discussed politics and he always defended the weak and those who couldn’t protect themselves. He never judged anyone by color, religion or exterior characteristics – he cared how you lived your life.
- He could be demanding and insisted that you should use the skills and benefits you were given. He believed you should work hard and pay your own way. When I was 15 and doing what most 15-year old teenagers do during the summer – watching tv, he told me “don’t you think you should get a job?” It only took one comment from him and I had 2 part-time jobs by the end of the week.
- He taught me that one should not spend energy on negative thoughts or feelings towards people or conditions. When he was diagnosed with cancer 20 years ago, he never took it as a death sentence. He loved life and his family and cancer wasn’t going to interfere. When he couldn’t play tennis anymore, he got his motorcycle and played golf. When he couldn’t fly anymore because of his need to travel with oxygen, he would drive to the places he wanted to go. He was often sick and pushed himself to do things we know were hard, but he wasn’t going to miss a moment of life while he was here.
- He taught me the appreciation of a good meal, that food tastes better fresh and when made with love. He was an excellent cook, watched cooking shows when he retired and was famous for the family runzes. Some of the most recent memories of him were in the kitchen where he taught my daughter Marissa to make runzes and when he and Raquelle made gumbo for the whole family in Puerto Penasco last October for our Mardi Gras theme day.
- He taught me about commitment and devotion. He and Jill have loved each other for 30 years, through kids, new jobs, moves, grandchildren and health issues…they have had difficult times and they still continued to play, laugh and love.
I don’t want you to think Dad was perfect, though I am pressed to find a fatal flaw. There are faults that did make him bearable to live with.
- Dad was not mechanically inclined. He once had my moped in our living from for almost a year in parts, waiting for the day when he was going to fix it.
- He didn’t like yard work; not when you could be outside playing tennis, riding his motorcycle or some other sport. Moving to Arizona with a rock garden worked out perfectly for him.
Finally, the last thing that made Dad particularly wonderful was his sense of humor. When looking through pictures the last few days, I was struck with how much fun he had and how silly he could be! He put spoons on his nose and chopsticks in his mouth to make walrus teeth. He dressed up in costumes every Halloween or for a family calendar. There is a lovely photo of him as “Baby New Year” in a diaper and just this last Halloween he was a Hell’s Angel.
So, this is Dick Joy’s real legacy to laugh and love and make each day count.
I think Dad would be happy that I was researching our family history. I wish he were here so I could tell him about everything I have found…..
P.S. Regarding Blogging – I have been posting irregularly due to my work schedule which has resulted in a lack of time, focus and energy to write. I make no promises to write 52 times in 52 weeks! But hopefully more than 12 in 12 months. Thanks for your patience.