Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Real Men and Umbrellas

An endearing character in a 70's slapstick comedy had a recurring line that boiled down the challenges of manhood in a sngle phrase: "It's hard to be a man, Baby!" During my own growing years, my father must have felt the same way. His sentiments about the difficulties of manhood were expressed in a careful mixture of tenderness and toughness, designed to make me a caring, but tough man. One of the elements of my dad's toughening process was teaching me to deal with being wet. If it rained, we didn't stop any outdoor physical work activities. He held to the Army axiom, "If it ain't raining, we ain't training!" Besides that, I was never allowed to carry an umbrella. "You're not made out of sugar! You won't melt!" My dad would teasingly taunt. The principle that real men couldn't be stopped by water was reinforced time and time again. When I walked to school and it started to rain, I knew better than to expect a ride. "I wasn't made out of sugar. I wouldn't melt." The years passed and it kept raining. Even after I left my parent's home, through military training, missionary ventures, ministry experiences of all kinds, married life and fatherhood, it kept raining. I still wasn't made out of sugar and I still wouldn't melt.

Then came my latest visit with my father. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to see Dad for a day in North Carolina this week. We spent a day laughing and recalling times past - retelling stories of the tough and tender lessons my parents meted out and how those lessons had provided wisdom and guidance for me in all sorts of situations. My father was curious about the "full details" of many of the stories I had abbreviated over the years to keep him from worrying and to prevent him from knowing just how painful some of the events of my life had been. I shared about the loss of our daughter Samantha and just how close we had come to losing our daughter Victoria at birth. I told of almost being shot in the Philippines on a couple of occasions. I shared some of the more harrowing stories of our ministries among the poor and some of my most emotionally trying times in ministry, like the time when fellow minister absconded ministry funds and used them to corrupt a vulnerable coworker and to support an extramarital affair that almost collapsed our ministry. I shared the victories too, the funny tales and the miracles - all of which made my dad laugh with glee. Still, I could see that he continued to reflect on the tougher times I had just shared with him.

All the talking made us hungry, so dad and I went out for Chinese Cuisine. I drove us both to the nearest take out restaurant and Dad decided to wait in the car. While the order was being prepared, it began to rain - hard. Remembering our conversation, I began to chuckle. It looked like I'd have another opportunity to prove my manhood! A few minutes later, I turned to face the cashier to pay for the order. I turned to see how Dad was faring in the car and couldn't believe my eyes. Dad was shuffling along towards the door with an umbrella in his hand. He came to the door and closed the umbrella as he stepped inside. I just couldn't resist the temptation. "It's alright Dad!" I gently teased, "I'm not made out of sugar!" He smiled but I noticed tears were in his eyes. "I know," he said. "But I think you've been rained on enough." Then he handed me the umbrella. The tears were mine now. I paid for our food,and Dad and I walked to the car arm in arm under the umbrella . The was nothing more to prove, just a whole lot of love to share. A great lesson in parenting, and my dad barely said a word. Just a day in my life, with the man who gave me life - a real man who continues to teach me what manhood is all about. Until next time...


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