Remembering dad on Valentine’s Day

Today being Valentine’s Day, it’s the day to share this special story that came my way, courtesy of Steubenville native Barbara Abernethy Cummings, who lives in Canfield with her husband, Michael, and two children: Jake, 15, and Gracie, 10.

Barbara is the daughter of Grace Abernethy of Steubenville and the late Tom Abernethy, who died on July 13, 2013, at the age of 83.

Many of you may remember Tom Abernethy as an iconic figure in the local radio industry, the man well known as the “Voice of the Valley.” He woke up his listeners as the morning personality on WSTV radio for more than 40 years.

The man with that smooth baritone voice and mild-mannered ways started his career at the former WSTV-AM in 1959 after he and Grace moved to Steubenville with their son, Tim. He worked in several jobs at the radio station until 1999, but was best known for hosting the “Phone Party” talk show and his morning show.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Abernethy and writing a story on him when he retired and would often cross paths with him and Grace at the Relay for Life sponsored by the Jefferson County Unit of the American Cancer Society. He was always very gracious, supportive and encouraging.

It was through Relay as well that I met Barbara, who shared with me in a recent e-mail how much she misses her dad and the many qualities that made him so very special to her.

“I miss his tender love with his bride of 62 years, Grace,” Barbara wrote. “His blue eyes, velvety voice, laugh, his ability to listen – that’s what made him such an incredible radio personality during his years on the Phone Party at WSTV,” she noted.

“The pleasant look on his face when their house would be filled with his five kids and grandkids during complete chaos. Watching dad enjoy stories told by the grandkids about their accomplishments, goals, trials, trips, games, dances and music. He was so pleased and proud,” Barbara continued.

“Most of all I miss dad’s friendship and having that great cup of coffee with him,” she said.

Now comes a very special Valentine story in Barbara’s own words that she sent to me and that I’m sharing today in this space.

Barbara had wondered in her correspondence if this story would be cause to make anyone smile.

I say “yes” a thousand times over.

Maybe cry, too.

I hope you’ll agree and enjoy it.

And have a Happy Valentine’s Day.

“When I was at a very awkward time in my life, being very unsure of myself – age 13 – my dad obviously picked up on my feelings.

“When I woke up on Valentine’s Day morning, on my bedroom mirror was a red cut-out heart from my dad. It said, ‘I love you more than you love me.’ It was something that we had always said to each other. It made me smile and gave me the sense that whatever happens that my dad loves me no matter what. He made it a point to reach out to me in a subtle but powerful way. Typical dad, a man of very few words but when he spoke, it meant something. I cherished that heart.

“The following Valentine’s Day, I remembered ‘the heart’ and put it on his mirror for him to see when he woke up at 5 a.m. to leave for his radio show at WSTV. He laughed as he had forgotten all about ‘the heart.’ I guess he didn’t realize the positive effect it had on me at the time.

“So the story goes … the next year, I found it on my mirror, and we traded it back and forth all through my high school years, documenting the date with a little note on the back. We took pride in surprising one another and that the ‘giver’ actually remembered.

“Well, off to college I went, spreading my wings and immersing myself into all that college life had to offer. That Valentine’s Day, I checked my dorm mailbox, and there was a long, legal envelope to me addressed in my dad’s handwriting. I had no idea what it was, as I had moved on to so many different things and changes in life.

“It was ‘the heart.’ I laughed out loud as dad ‘got me.’ At that point we both knew that this streak could never be broken. We would end every conversation, card or hug saying, ‘I love you more than you love me,’ – AKA ‘I.L.Y.M.T.Y.L.M.’

“‘The heart’ was sent back and forth for 30 years. I evolved from a young girl to a challenging teenager, to a college student, to a young working woman, to a wife and then a mother. All along, ‘the heart’ followed me through every stage representing dad’s consistent, unwavering love for me.

“When my dad was in the hospital over the course of a month before he passed away, we had many talks. Of course we spoke of ‘the heart’ and how we each would panic every year to try and remember who had it last.

“There were many times I sat up in bed, in a cold sweat in the middle of a night in early February, frantically trying to think if I had ‘the heart’ or not. My dad admitted doing the same.

“Thank goodness my mom kept track for the both of us. It is documented on the back that I had to overnight ‘the heart’ in the mail a few times. Only once was it late due to a terrible winter storm. I reminded dad that that one was on him.

“We calculated that ‘the heart’ has traveled roughly 1,800 miles over the course of exactly 30 years.

“My dad passed away on July 13, 2013. Ironically, I was the last one to receive the heart. I smile at the envelope addressed to me in his slightly shaky handwriting.

“This Valentine’s Day, I am lost because I don’t know what to do with ‘the heart.’ But I am certain that I want every father to know how important a positive, loving and supportive relationship is with their daughters.”

So this tribute today, Barbara notes, is in memory of her father and the message “I.L.Y.M.T.Y.L.M.”