I must here confess that I am done with grief. I rose in this very spot almost exactly two years ago to talk about my Mother. Since then it has been my privilege to care for my Dad. It has been a long goodbye, full of tender memories but also some disappointment and heartbreak. But now it’s over, and I’m done with grief.
So, today, I prefer to share some happier observations about my Father that hopefully will give us all a better appreciation for who he was.
Psalms 32:2 says this, “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” My father was such a man.
Dad was a man free from calculation. You never felt like he was ever using you as part of some grand strategy to accomplish some hidden agenda. How amazing must it have been to live a life without the misery of manipulation? To him, everyone he met was someone created in the image of God, and therefore worthy of love and respect. This explains why so many people when describing Dad use the word “gentle.” As a kid, it helped to have such an uncomplicated man as a father.
But Dad was not a modern parent in any real sense, in that he was incapable of coddling. When we kids did something stupid, (and for some of us this was quite often), he let us know about it in no uncertain terms. Dad was appallingly disinterested in the level of our “self esteem.” He figured that our self esteem would improve once we learned to do something well, or better yet, when we learned to do something well for someone else. You’ve heard of “helicopter parents?” Well, our Dad was more like a submarine parent. When he showed up we knew we were in big trouble because he always brought the torpedoes with him. He told me one time that if I wanted self esteem I should do something “estimable.” Until then, if I felt bad about myself it was because I was a knucklehead and I SHOULD feel bad about myself. But, because he never lied to us about how great we were, we learned that we could believe him. Our Dad could be depended upon to tell us the truth.
Although no one worked harder than Dad, he never had any money. The reason was that money never had him. Dad never bought in to the concept of being a consumer. He was much more into manufacturing. Anything “store-bought” was inferior so he was famous for making things himself. From putting in a huge garden every year to building things out of wood, to constructing window fans from scratch…I’m not kidding, we called her Bertha, the window fan of death. Dad consistently rejected consumerism all of his life.
Growing up as Preacher’s kids, we were all very sensitive to what Dad would say from the pulpit. It didn’t take us long to figure out how the church business worked. We kids knew who the big shots were and we were very aware of the kinds of touchy subjects that might get Dad in trouble. We kids would look in the bulletin; see that the sermon was from Malachi, and roll ours eyes at each other. This is why we all spent half of our time visibly wincing in church listening to Dad preach. Even though I knew that certain subjects were guaranteed to get him in trouble, I was always secretly proud of him for bringing them up. Dad believed that the job of a Minister of the Gospel was to bring great comfort to the afflicted and great affliction to the comfortable. He was the kind of preacher who you don’t run across very often anymore…totally and completely fearless. If you were waiting for an apology from him for exposing hypocrisy in the congregation, you were in for a long wait.
My brother-in-law, Bill Schwartz, reminded me yesterday about something Dad said to him that is a perfect illustration of Dad’s character. Several years back Bill bought a bright red van. Dad confided to Bill that he had always wanted to buy a bright red car. When Bill asked why he never did Dad said, “Well, it just wouldn’t be appropriate for a minister to be driving a red car, especially as part of a funeral procession. It would attract too much attention and no preacher should attract too much attention to himself.” This was no false humility, this was just who Dad was, a servant, not a headliner. But Dad, since I am not burdened with humility, false or otherwise, my bright red Cadillac will be leading the procession to the cemetery a little later…so get over it.
My father was not a perfect man. I didn’t always understand him, and he often didn’t understand me. He frustrated me at times, and I’m sure that I frustrated him most of the time. But despite his flaws, he remains the most gentle, loving, caring man I have ever known. He was the one truly great man of my life. He set the bar so very high for all of us who have followed, and for this reason, I will forever be in his debt.