Remembering Good Ol’ Vanilla Dad

21 Sep

by Roger White 

Like it or not, television has provided many of the touchstones of my life. It only makes sense, I suppose. So much of my youth was spent sitting on the floor, knees bent, legs splayed behind me in that pretzel position I would always mold myself into to watch my favorites. If I tried to get anywhere near that position today, I would certainly require a week in traction.

But I’m not here to bash TV. No, I had a good mix of indoor and outdoor revelry. When I wasn’t glued to Andy Griffith or Gilligan’s Island, I was usually charging to some spontaneous adventure, and always riding that sweet blue-sparkle stingray bike of mine with the steering wheel, banana seat, and miles-high sissy bar on the back.

But back to the tube. My television shows were my good friends, and the TV touchstones I note here are not by chance. Andy and Gilligan were on my must-watch list as a kid because they made me laugh, but in retrospect, I can see a little deeper. Andy Griffith looked so much like my dad—and the character Andy played on his show was so much like my dad, as well. Dad and I never spent that much time together, for two reasons: For as far back as I can reach in my mind, I always remember Dad working two jobs. Even as a child I could tell that my mom, my two sisters, and I were of paramount importance to him. We were never without, cobbling along in our middle-class life in our small-town suburb. Then, when I was 13, my parents got divorced—this was the other reason I never saw much of my dad.

Clarence Lynn White was a good man. He didn’t drink. He didn’t gamble. He didn’t fool around. The only substantive reason I ever got regarding cause for my parents’ breakup was that he was boring.

Being that I was just a kid, I can’t provide much witness to this one way or another. I do know that Dad would walk into a Baskin-Robbins 32 Flavors Ice Cream Shop and order vanilla. And I do remember that Dad’s idea of a hot night of entertainment involved his favorite recliner and the TV show Mission Impossible. He would let me stay up late one night a week to watch it with him. I never really understood the intricacies of each episode’s plot, but it was exciting and loud. And I loved it.

There are three things Dad gave me I will treasure always. He gave me my first Dallas Cowboys game. It was my dad and me, at the Cotton Bowl, November 1970. The Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers, the two NFL heavyweights of the late 1960s. We watched, standing side by side, as Bob Hayes ran down a ridiculously long pass from quarterback Craig Morton as only Bullet Bob could. I was mesmerized. Here were my heroes, right before my eyes. The Cowboys won that day, 16-3. God, how I loved it.

Dad gave me my first real unscripted adventure. The U.S. Border Patrol sent him to the remote outpost of Presidio, Texas, overlooking the muddy Rio Grande, and I spent a summer there with him. He took me down into the abandoned silver mines in the hills outside of Shafter, a ghost town about 16 miles to the north. We got hopelessly lost down in those mines, and it took us hours and hours to feel our way out. We dropped one of our flashlights—busted it—leaving us with only one, deep in the bowels of the Chinati Mountains, and we found our way back out only by periodically turning off our one light to see if we could spot daylight. It was an arduous, terrifying, fantastic ordeal. And I loved it.

And, after he retired from the Patrol, Dad gave me his ring from the U.S. Border Patrol Academy. I know how much that ring meant to him. Dad barely finished high school, yet years and years later, he changed careers midstream, left the post office, and took on the physical, mental, and emotional rigors of life in the USBP. He even learned fluent, conversational Spanish. How I love that ring.

For those wondering how Gilligan’s Island ties into all this, Dad always called me “little buddy.” “All right, little buddy, you can stay up for another fifteen minutes, but that’s it.”

Dad passed away September 23, 2010. I can’t believe he’s been gone a year now.

You’re one of the good ones, Dad—the best man I ever knew.

With love, from your little buddy.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit


5 Responses to “Remembering Good Ol’ Vanilla Dad”

  1. tinkerbelle86 September 21, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    this really touched me, thank you for sharing it

  2. Ingrid Caldwell September 21, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    What a very lovely article – I got all teary – eyed

  3. bestbathroombooks September 22, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    Nice tribute, Roger. Your father passed away on my son’s birthday–funny connection. I like the story of the mines–and you really give us a feel for the man. Keep it up!

  4. Greg Barbagallo February 20, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

    Clarence was the first Journeyman Border Patrol Agent I met when I entered on duty as a trainee in Temecula. It was my pleasure to work with and learn from him.

    • oldspouse February 21, 2013 at 7:17 am #

      Thanks so much for the comment, Greg. I never had the chance to meet anyone from the USBP who knew Dad. Your comment is greatly appreciated. I still miss him. –Roger

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