I’m writing this on the evening of Father’s Day and I’ve been remembering my own father, who passed nearly five years ago. Remembering him is cause for profound gratitude for the kind of man he was, and the ways he gave himself to shape the man I would be. Whether I’ve lived up to that or not, I’ll leave to others to judge. All I can say is that while he was never famous, he is truly great in my eyes, a member of “the greatest generation” not only by association but by character. These are some of the things he taught me:
- Any work is worth doing well, if for no other reason than you know whether or not you’ve done your best.
- He taught me to assume responsibility to earn my own spending money. When I was ten he fronted me the money for a lawn mower to cut lawns. He helped me sign up for a paper route, and got up early on winter Sunday mornings to help stuff and deliver the Sunday papers.
- He treated people with dignity, no matter who they were. I saw him treat hourly employees and company presidents and people of all races the same way.
- I grew up in the Vietnam era. Dad taught me that military service could be honorable and something to be proud of. The military salute he was given at his burial was a fitting closure of his life.
- Perhaps because he never finished college, he valued education and encouraged all of us to excellence. He took our grade cards seriously and responded to teachers’ comments and talked to us about them.
- He communicated how proud he was of whatever achievements I made in school. Years later, he gave me a file he had collected of these various recognitions. He tracked my career and he gave me the wonderful gift of never having to wonder about his approval of my work, or wife, or anything else.
- He taught me what love and faithfulness means in marriage. I watched him holding my mother’s hand as she passed, loving her to her last earthly moment before death parted them after nearly 69 years of marriage. Perhaps it is no coincidence that between us, my siblings and I have celebrated 123 wedding anniversaries of our own. Mom and dad taught us well.
- Because of dad, I never struggled with the idea of God as Father. When I was little, we took walks in the park together and I loved the time where he taught me about different trees, birds, and plants and where I could ask him anything. It is what I think of when I think of “walking with God” or what we call prayer.
- I work among academics and it is easy to intellectualize and “complexify” almost anything, including matters of faith. Dad often brought me back to earth with what I call his “watchword” which summarized for him what it meant to live as a Christian:
Read and pray;
Trust and obey;
Live God’s way.
My son and I had an interesting conversation today. I happened to use the word “adult” as a verb in a sentence, as some in his generation do. He rebuked me for that. He said adult isn’t something you act like, it is something you are. I think that would have made my dad proud (actually it made me quite glad that he felt this way). Whether it was military service, separation from family, scrambling to make ends meet, dealing with health emergencies, and more, my father just kept showing up, just kept being responsible. In a word, he was an adult. And so much more. He was a father.