Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Dad (Thanks!)

            This is my first Father’s Day without my father.  For 55 years I was able to tell him “Happy Father’s Day,” either in person or on the phone.  I can’t do that today.  So, instead, I have written my thoughts.  If I could have one more hour with him, these are some of the things I would tell my father. 
            Back in 1988 Mike and the Mechanics recorded a song called “The Living Years.”  It is written from the perspective of a son expressing grief over unresolved issues in his relationship with his deceased father.  I was living in Texas at the time that the song came out.  I remember a line in the song that was particularly striking: “I wasn’t there that morning, when my father passed away.  I didn’t get to tell him, all the things I had to say.”  I remember resolving to myself that I was not going to allow that to happen in my relationship with my father.  I determined that for as long as he lived, from that point on, I would tell him my love for him and how much I appreciated what he did for me as he molded me into the man I am today.  The night that he died I recall thinking that I was so thankful that I made that decision all those years ago.  I am confident that my father died knowing that my sister and I loved him deeply and that we will always be grateful for the wonderful lessons he taught us and the wonderful legacy as a father that he left me.
            Dad, I think about you every day in some way.  Sometimes it is when I’m mowing the grass and I get an image of you on the lawn mower when I was a child.  It could be in something one of my daughters might say to me that sounds so much like something I once said to you.  Other times, it is while I’m at work and I think of a lesson you taught me about human nature or some tidbit of wisdom you imparted to me.  In subtle ways, you are still with me. 
            So, Dad, “Happy Father’s Day!”  You were the best father that anyone could possibly have asked for.  In the mysterious fortunes of the universe, I’m not sure how we were so lucky to have been given you as a father.  But, I sure am grateful.  Here are some of the reasons why I am so grateful to you and love you so much.  I will spend the rest of my days as a father trying to to be like you.  You were the master.  I’m still working on perfecting these, but I’m trying.
(1) You taught me about sacrifice.  You taught me that there are times when what I want is not the most important thing.  You taught me that the good fathers sacrifice for their children.  Good fathers sacrifice financially.  Good fathers sacrifice time that they would perhaps rather spend doing something for themselves, but instead devote that time to developing their children.  Good fathers are even willing to be embarrassed for the well-being of their children.  Let me share a quick memory of you here.  When I was a Cub Scout, we went to the local Boy Scout Camp on a Father/Son day.  One of the things they allowed us to do was to go to the skeet-shooting range.  I don’t recall shooting a shotgun that day, so it may have just been a demonstration.  But as we left, the scoutmaster gave each one of us one of the small clay pigeons that are shot on a skeet range.  I went back and showed it to you.  You took it in your hand but accidently dropped it and it broke on the ground.  I was upset but ran on ahead with my friends.  A minute or so later, I looked back and you weren’t behind us.  I asked the other fathers where you went and they said, “he walked back up the trail for a minute.”  I ran back to the skeet range and I will never forget seeing you there.  You had the next demonstration stopped and you were trying to explain to the scoutmaster why you needed another one of the clay pigeons.  You wanted to replace the one you had broken.  I will always treasure that story and your willingness to be embarrassed for me!
(2) You taught me that when you work for someone who is paying you that you need to do your very best job for that person.  It’s about “integrity” and “dependability.”  When I was a young teen I had a lawn mowing business in town.  I mowed several lawns to make my spending money.  One of the jobs I had was the yard at the bank that you managed.  Despite the fact that there was a very small amount of grass, the parking lot required a lot of trimming.  This was before gas-powered string trimmers and I would have to get down on my knees with hand clippers and clip the grass all the way around the parking lot curbing.  It was tough work, especially in the hot summer.  I recall one night you and I had a terrible argument about the fact that I had not done a good job trimming around the parking lot.  You told me, “Glenn, the bank is paying you to do a job and to do it well.  I’m responsible for the money we pay you and the job needs to be done right.”  I remember riding by the bank later that evening on my bicycle and seeing you there in the parking lot, on your hands and knees clipping the grass.  You were doing the job I was supposed to do right the first time.  The guilt from that experience made a tremendous impression on me.  I never forgot it.  I still work as hard as I can for people who employ me, a lesson that you taught.
(3) You taught me the importance of encouraging my children.  Mom was the card and letter writer in the family.  You can imagine how surprised I was to receive a letter from you one day.  I was having a very difficult time just after I moved to Texas to go to school.  The letter I received from you was written on a plain piece of typing paper in your handwriting.  It was just a few simple lines.  It said, “Glenn, just remember that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.  Love, Dad.”  I know that phrase wasn’t original with you.  I do remember that you used it frequently.  I don’t know if you got it from the Navy or from reading something somewhere.  But, it meant the world to me.  It was a very difficult time and you took a few minutes out of your day to write a note to me which let me know that even 1200 miles away you were thinking of me.  Thanks Dad!
(4) You taught me the joy of the Christian faith.  There was no doubt about your commitment to Christianity.  You didn’t wear your faith on your sleeve though.  It permeated all that you did.  It revealed itself in the way you dealt with people, the way you sang hymns, your service and commitment to the church where I grew up.  And, unlike so many church members today, you didn’t insist on your own way.  You were the solution to problems in the church, not the cause of problems.  I suppose that most of your pastors throughout your adult life would “rise up and call you blessed” because you were so faithful and always willing to help them.  And, on a personal note, I will forever remember your hymn-singing over the hum of the lawn mower.  I will also forever think of you when I hear the solo “Fill My Cup Lord,” because I can still see you singing it church.  Thanks Dad, for teaching me the joy of the Christian faith.
(5) You prepared me to be on my own.  What I mean by this is that you had just the right mix of doing things for me that I couldn’t do for myself, while challenging me to struggle and do the things that I could do.  This has served me so well in my adult years.  It may have been something as simple as slipping a $20 bill into my hand as I got into the car to return to school (with the comment, “You don’t have to spend this.  It is just in case you need it”).  Or, sometimes these lessons came through your interaction with me as I faced a project or task.  Remember the Pinewood Derby cars we whittled when I was in Cub Scouts?  You could have made the car for me.  I know there were other fathers who did.  But, you made me do it myself with your guidance.  You made me do the whittling, sanding, and painting.  In the end, although my cars never won, I always felt great pride that I made the car myself.  You gave just the right guidance to me.  I find that this is one of the hardest things to do as a father.  When do I step in and do it for my children?  When should I let them struggle on their own and even fail?  I am so quick to step in and rescue them when sometimes they need to learn lessons by failing.  You were a master at this balance and I am so grateful.
            And so, Dad, on this first Father’s Day without you, these are the things I’d tell you if I could have just one more hour with you.  Thanks for loving me.  Thanks for encouraging me.  Thanks for teaching me to throw and hit a baseball.  Thanks for coming to all my ball games and practices.  Thanks for the laughter and all the hours we sat together eating apples and laughing at Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show.  Thanks for teaching me the importance of loving my country and patriotism.  Thanks for instilling in me love of God and the importance of living my life as Christ would want me to live.  Thanks for teaching me honesty, integrity, and the importance of hard work.  Thanks for teaching me to think for myself.  But most of all, thanks for being the best Father in the world.
            I began this essay by referencing a song.  Let me end by referencing another.  In 1981 Dan Fogelberg wrote a song called “The Leader of the Band.”  This verse says it all.  Thanks Dad!  I love you and miss you.
I thank you for the music
And your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom
When it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness
And the times when you got tough
And, papa, I don't think
I said, "I love you" near enough.