The Dad I lost today wasn't a real person, not a real father like most would be familiar with, but rather a real character that I have known all of my life, even though he only existed in the realm of fantasy. He was a living legend, a person who over the course of a lifetime became famous and someone who every baby boomer came to know simply as Sheriff Andy Taylor. Andy Taylor of Mayberry. Andy Griffith, the beloved man who breathed life into that character and made Sheriff Andy Taylor flesh and blood has passed from our midst today and I truly feel l as if I have lost a father.
For me it's more than the passing of a celebrity. It's as if I have lost someone that has always existed in my life in one form or another. Sheriff Andy Taylor has always been there for me when I had needed him, he has always been there as a part of my life's experiences and now he is gone. As far back as I can remember there was always a Mayberry and an Andy Taylor and a man who had the answers to life's most compelling questions. He existed in that simple black and white fantasy world where he lived in a perfect little town with a perfect family and perfect friends. Mayberry was our town, or at least most of us wished it were. Simple times and simple problems and Sheriff Taylor always knew the right way of making everything right in the end.
In October 1960 when the Andy Griffith show first aired, I was eight years old. Over the next few years I remember watching the show and thinking to myself how lucky Opie was and what a great dad Sheriff Taylor was and would be. Opie was an only child of a single father being raised by his dad and his Aunt Bea, while I was an only child of a single father being raised by my dad and my grandmother. The only difference between Opie and me was the difference between the world of make believe and the world of reality. Opie had a great life I was sure. I got to watch it every week and marvel at how great it was.
I can sit now and watch those episodes forever and I have watched many of them countless times. Any time I wanted to escape from my life and my problems, I could always find comfort in Mayberry with Andy and Barney and Aunt Bea and the host of others who I knew like family. All of the characters that passed across the eight seasons of the show are etched in my mind as if they were my real friends or family members. From Otis the Drunk, to the Darling family, to Ernest T. Bass "the one what threw rocks," I remember them all and I still love to visit with them and return to that time in my youth when their world seemed to be the perfect world.
We all grow old and one day we each must pass on from this life. I lost my real father over thirty years ago and now I have lost someone who filled in as a father for my real father many times when my real dad was on the road and away from home. There was always something comforting about Andy Taylor and the man who played him on the screen.
Andy Griffith and Andy Taylor taught a lot of those of my generation life lessons that stuck and stayed true all of our lives. About twenty odd years ago, a Christian ministry was established based upon the life's lessons taught each week on the Andy Griffith show and brought into our living rooms by Sheriff Andy and the residents of Mayberry. In Mayberry, even the bad guys saw the error of their ways in the end and they were forced to bend to and admire the folksy reasoning of a man who was a lot more than some simple country lawman.
I will miss Andy Griffith, along with more than a few million others who grew up with him and grew to love him over the years. But my fondest memories will always be of Sheriff Andy Taylor. Either in my mind's eye or on my screen, (compliments of DVD), Andy and Barney and Opie will always be there with me. That is the beauty of film, people never grow old and they never go away. Whenever I need an escape from my present world I can return to a time of my youth when I thought the perfect dad (if I was ever to have to choose another one,) would be Opie's dad.
I know Ron Howard's heart must also be breaking over this loss today along with millions of fans. I can't help but think that there were those rejoicing as ol' Andy crossed over into the Mayberry of Heaven a little after 7 AM this morning. They were all there today to greet him. Barney, Aunt Bea, Otis and Ernest T. Bass, Floyd the barber, Briscoe Darling and Helen Crump. Lordy how they must all be rejoicing as they sit back and listen to their old friend pick a few strings on his guitar for his friends and the heavens.
I will miss you Andy.