My dad will be 90 years old this coming January. On the off chance that he doesn’t make it that far, we are having a big birthday celebration for him in August. Of the seven children in his family, only he and his baby brother remain, and I use the phrase ‘baby brother’ loosely. He’s 86. All their older siblings have gone to heaven. (Dad is on the left; baby brother on the right.)
I’ve inherited some traits from my dad – some good, some dubious. I occasionally drive too fast, and by occasionally, I mean pretty much all the time. I know how to sneak the ice cream container from the freezer and scoop out a big bite without anybody seeing me. Occasionally, I’ll misplace my car keys, camera or wallet. I’ve perfected the art of making popcorn on top of the stove in a big pan. I love sports. Finally, I’ve come to understand that the game of golf cannot be taken too seriously. If you could see my dad’s swing, you’d understand why. Uff-da.
I also learned a lot of important things by watching my dad over the years.
I learned how to talk to people. My dad could talk to anybody, and he often would make conversation with random strangers, much to our embarrassment. “Dad,” we’d say, “you don’t even know that person!” He was genuinely interested in each person’s story. It’s one of the reasons, at least from my perspective, that all the parishioners he served during his 43 years in the public ministry loved him. Well, except for one guy, and that’s a story for another day.
I learned how to discipline with love. When dad was preaching on Sunday mornings, my little brother and I sometimes thought we could get away with shenanigans in church. We would slide far enough away from mom so she couldn’t reach us and then make paper airplanes out of the bulletins. We apparently forgot that he could see everything from his raised pulpit. One thing dad would not tolerate was being naughty in church. So, for a period of time before my brother and I caught on to this, there would be some regular meetings in his bedroom after Sunday lunch. We knew what was coming. “Boys,” he would say, “this is going to hurt me a lot more than it’s going to hurt you. I love you and I don’t want you to misbehave in church.” After a firm spanking, my brother and I would cry our eyes out. We’d sit on the side of the bed facing the wall and vow never to speak to him again. Usually within 15 minutes, we’d all be outside playing football or baseball.
I learned how to forgive. My dad had to do a lot of forgiving. When I got in trouble or did something that aggrieved him personally, he wouldn’t look the other way. He would call me on it, expect me to repent, and then he’d forgive me. Afterwards, he would never bring it up again.
If he had to list all the times he forgave me, he could fill a book that might read something like this:
Chapter 1: Birth to Age Five – The Quiet Years
Chapter 2: Grade School Years – Amanda, I Think We Might Have a Problem
Chapter 3: Middle School Years – Have You Seen That Book on The Strong-willed Child?
Chapter 4: High School Years – Where are the Military School Brochures? (This would be an exceptionally long chapter.)
Chapter 5: The College Years – He’s Finally On His Own!
When you see an action modeled year after year, you begin to understand how to practice the same behavior.
Most importantly, my dad taught me and all my brothers and sisters about the love of Jesus. We had family devotions every night after supper. When we had friends over, we secretly hoped that dad wouldn’t make the devotion too long or force the neighbor kids to sing I Pray Thee Dear Lord Jesus or The Sun Has Gone Down. He didn’t care, and I think the neighbor kids actually enjoyed singing hymns around the supper table.
It’s clear that his days on this earth are numbered, and he would tell you that’s okay. He’s ready to be reunited with my older sister who died two-and-a-half years ago and my mom who followed her a few months after that. His faith is strong; his sense of humor is intact; his leadership style remains calm but sure. The Christian example that he has set for his family and friends over the years will be his legacy.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad! And happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there!