• Ainslie Lee

My Take: My dad was a Seminole, but raised me a Gator

In 2009, my dad was a plumber by day and a closeted FSU fan by night.

Meanwhile, back at home, he had an 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son who claimed loyalty to the Florida Gators. And after growing up in the “glory days” of Florida football, his kids were slowly growing into their shoes of Gator fandom.

My brother and I’s loyalty to the Gators hails from my maternal side of the family. But with numbers stacked against him, my Seminole father was forced to keep his eyes and ears open when it came to Florida football.

I can’t tell you how many times my dad would come home from work and tell us about his run-in with a Gator fan. Sometimes that meant my dad and his customers exchanged friendly jabs, while other times my dad would come home and tell us these tall tales from The Swamp he heard while repairing a toilet.

Except one run-in with a pair of Gator alum resulted in more than just tall tales and fables.

It probably started like any other dispatch. My dad responded to a call and likely commented on a piece of Gator memorabilia that the couple had in their home.

One thing led to another, and my dad was learning that the Garner’s graduated from the University of Florida in the 1950s, where they met. They were also current season ticket holders for Florida football.

Truth be told, my dad is a pretty admirable and charming guy. He’s got quite the rapport with his customers. And his relationship with the Garner’s was no different.

Well, it was a little different.

At one point, my dad took my brother and I to meet the Garner’s in their home in The Villages. This was new -- we’d never met one of dad’s customers.

But he made it a point for us to meet the older couple after they had offered us a set of tickets to see the Gators take on the FIU Panthers on November 21.

Come game day, we met the Garner’s at a Burger King in Gainesville to retrieve the tickets, where my dad got a different kind of ticket for not wearing his seat belt before he even left the parking lot.

Photo by Samuel Lewis/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As a family, we watched Tim Tebow and the Gators march to a 62-3 victory over the Panthers. It was the only time I ever got to see Florida’s third Heisman winner in a live contest. And that alone was priceless.

But the Garners, Mrs. Garner specifically, didn’t stop there.

Six months later, for my 12th birthday, Mrs. Garner and my dad were working together on a birthday surprise.

And in just my second visit to the Garner's home, I left with my favorite piece of Gator memorabilia.

As a cross-stitch expert, Mrs. Garner had framed a Tim Tebow-themed embroidery for my birthday.

Listing Tebow’s accolades as a Gator, in addition to his famed eyeblack bible verses (as requested by my dad), the piece of art is one of two of its kind.

Rumor has it, the other is owned by Tebow himself.

But the fact that the one gifted to me is highlighted on my living room wall is no rumor at all.

And now, all that I can hope for is that a plumber will ask me about it in the future.

Life in a divided household wasn't all that bad for Ainslie. When she wasn't bantering back and forth with her dad, she, her younger brother Chase and her dad would spend a lot of their time on Lake Weir in her hometown of Weirsdale, Florida.

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