I love you, Larry.

…is my big brother, Larry.

I lost my father early due to sickness, which included alcoholism and lymphoma, among a myriad of other illnesses that run the gamut. He technically died of a heart attack, but it remains my belief that his final cancer operation is what led to him deciding to call it quits. He’d been a smoker all his life, Lucky Strikes. After we’d moved to St. Louis, Mo., he was diagnosed with runaway cancer. He’d gone to the hospital for an operation and I wasn’t sure when he’d be home. It was a very long operation, especially at the time. Days later, I was playing one day in my room with a friend when I heard something. I looked up to see this man walking by my room. “Is that your dad?” asked my friend. I glanced up at a horror I’ll never forget. My dad’s jaw and shoulder area of one side of his body looked like it had completely sunken away. In fact, bones were gone. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. No one had warned me. My dad just reappeared after going to the hospital as someone I couldn’t recognize. It scared me to death.

But there was nothing to worry about, really. I had a backstop. Larry.

When my dad died, which I just know was really him saying he wouldn’t spend the rest of his life drinking his steak, because he could no longer chew solid food in his life. Larry stepped in. Mom had never worked a day in her life, didn’t know her financial status was in the crapper, and was totally without a plan on what would happen if she lost her man, especially where it concerned me.

Larry became my dad, even though he had his own family. He’d already begun teaching me about politics, as I learned about inspiration through watching what John F. Kennedy meant to him and America, how a president can impact people, which is how I came to study J.F.K. my entire life, including a one-woman show out of Los Angeles. Larry became my guiding compass on everything. He taught me right and wrong, but particularly the morality and purpose of living true to one’s self.

When he sat me down in front of the TV to watch the Miss America pageant one night when I was still not even a teenager, he simply said that scholarships were the only way I was getting to college. That’s why I entered them, starting with Miss Teenage America (I became Miss Friendship, believe it or not); pageants begat other opportunities to get money to fund college, with becoming Miss Missouri in the Miss America pageant assuring I’d have the cash (though I graduated early to save money).

Larry has been there at every grand moment, and there have been plenty, as well as each disaster in my life and there have been several desperately rocky times. I travel the path least taken and the road has been glorious, but never smooth, which remains the case to this day.

There isn’t a moment that goes by I don’t thank the gods for this giant of a man in my life. Of all the cruelties I have endured, having the grace of God bestow on me Larry Richard Marshall as my protector, mentor, brother soul mate and friend has been the greatest gift and saving grace that’s made the difference.

I’ve wished him a Happy Father’s Day every year as far back as I can remember. I do so again today.

I love you, Larry. Everything I am is because of you. Everything I have is because of you. Everything I am still to accomplish and become is because of you.