Wednesday, October 7, 2009
During my junior year in high school, I was looking at colleges to attend after I graduated. It was the biggest choice I faced in my life up to that point. No one in my family had ever attended college and the application process was completely foreign to my family; I felt very much alone. For months I sent out letters, looked through brochures, and watched promotional videos. I had two or three notebooks filled with the pros and cons of each and every school. Offers ranged from Ivy League schools out East to major universities in California. I narrowed them down to five schools and was seriously considering either a school in Iowa or one in Tennessee. I don’t remember if I showed my final list to Dad or he looked through it one day while I was at school. But one evening he told me this.
He said, “You know, if you end up going to the Evansville, the University of Evansville, it’s close enough to home that if you get in a play or something we can come see it. It’s far enough away to be away, but close enough that if anything happened you could get home.” I hadn’t thought of that before and reconsidered Evansville as a possibility. It was ultimately the school I would attend and it was one of the best decisions of my life. All because of that one simple comment from my Dad.
That’s how it often was with Dad. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you he was a man of few words. He was scared to death of speaking in front of people. He didn’t like to talk to strangers and even if you were a close friend or family member you would be lucky to get more than a few sentences out of him at a time. He just didn’t like to talk very much. But often when he did there were either words of wisdom or some kind of joke.
The only exception to that is when Dad told stories. My Dad liked good stories. When I was younger he used to read to me or make up stories to tell. At Christmas, our family gets together and the highlight for us isn’t the presents or the food, but the stories that Dad, Uncle Bill, and the rest of the family tell about growing up and times past. Our favorite story is the one about my Uncle Bill peeing on my Dad’s head. They were at a train trestle and my uncle was on top of the trestle and had to go to the bathroom. My Dad comes walking under the trestle and lifts his hands up, surprised to see it’s raining. Then he looks up to see his brother peeing on his head. My Dad was on a bike and my Uncle was running and Uncle Bill barely beat Dad into the house. He locked himself in the bathroom until Dad’s anger subsided. Now, you might think that story is unusual, but there are all kinds of stories about my Dad that are just as entertaining: there’s the time he got chased by a wild boar, the time he and some friends tried to roll a car over at the school, the time he hit a buffalo, the time he got shot with a bullet at work, and you get the picture.
I loved my Dad. All of us did and I know he loved us. Unless he was working, he never missed one of us kid’s baseball, softball, basketball, football games or soccer matches. He came to almost all of my plays, even the musicals and he didn’t like musicals very much. I know Dad had his faults, but we all do. As the Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom: 3:23).
I am extremely grateful to Dad. He showed me what it is for a father to love his son, his children, his family, his friends. I don’t know if he ever realized it, but in doing so he also showed us all how God loves each of us.
Jesus said that, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34b-35). There can be no question of my Dad’s love for us and though he was a quiet, simple man, he lived a life that Paul commanded believers in Thessalonica to do, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody (I Thes. 4:11-12). That is how my Dad lived. He lived a quiet life. He tried to mind his own business and he did win the respect of outsiders as apparent by all the people who were here last night and today to pay their last respects. He loved us and though he didn’t speak about it much, he loved God.
As I think about my Dad, I think his greatest regret is the pain that his unexpected death has caused everyone. Dad never wanted to cause anyone or anything any pain, be it a person or animal. Dad was full of life and if he had his druthers he would have stuck around a lot longer so there wouldn’t be so much pain and sorrow for us. But as Solomon wrote, “no man knows when his hour will come,” (Eccl. 9:12a). Only God knows that.
I know that my Dad is in a better place. He’s partying with Jesus now. I also know that it is partly because of my father’s love for me, his family, his friends; that I was able to meet Jesus. And I will, therefore, see my Dad one day again.
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O’death is your sting?...But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Cor. 15:56-57). Amen.