Thursday, June 22, 2017

Lesson I Learned From My Father (Adapted from an article written for The Racine Insider, July 2017 edition)

Just over a month ago, I laid my father to rest as his earthly sojourn came to an end after an extended bout with early onset dementia.  As a pastor, I have officiated countless funerals, but none delivers the emotional complexity of burying one’s own parent.  All at once, I felt the responsibility of comforting family and friends who needed spiritual support, the duty of ensuring his military service as honored and the grief of having lost my first and greatest hero.  As I reflect on why my father was such a heroic presence in my life, I am reminded of the importance all fathers have in creating a healthy and stable life for their children.

When I describe my father, I usually say that “If you would take Andy Griffith from the old TV show, dip him in chocolate, and make him a married career paratrooper with me in the role of Opie, you’d have a good picture of what my father was like.”  What are those “Andy Griffith” characteristics that made my father such a memorable and impactful character who influenced so many for the good?

My father was courageous.  Leading a family takes courage, and my father had courage in abundance.  As a paratrooper and combat veteran, no one doubted my father’s courage. That courage manifested itself in a commitment to truth, a unquenchable thirst to see righteousness prevail and an inclination to put oneself between danger and those you love and desire to protect.  A good father reassures his family through daily actions of responsibility and endless “stepping up” that there is no obstacle he is not willing to confront nor is there any challenge he is not prepared to face for the benefit of his loved ones.  He exhibits physical and moral courage that not only protects, but reassures and inspires those who walk with him under the family name.

My father was wise.  Friends, colleagues and members of our broader community sought my father’s input for advice and direction.  A good father carries himself in such a manner that his life reflects sound thinking, and his normative actions expose meaningful reflection and consistent application of the wisdom he expounds.  Families need men who think well, seek to grow in wisdom and freely share what they have learned with others around them.

My father was kind and affirming.  We live in an age where the ability to insult others and “play the dozens” is highly prized and loudly praised.  My father was consistently careful in his speech, and even as a military man, he was never one given to screaming, yelling or delivering insults.  He was committed to building others up and his words were always “seasoned with grace.” Good fathers understand the power of words and their speech reflects a commitment to help and to heal.

My father was resilient.  While there are innumerable stories of mothers who have endured all sorts of heartaches and hardships for the sake of their families, even in the face of grinding hardships, fathers sometimes have a spottier record when times are tough. My father was blessed to have men in his life who “hung in there” with him as times got tough and life delivered the occasional setback that can break the will of lesser committed individuals. Surviving a difficult 1940’s and 1950’s Mississippi childhood prepared my father for tough times.  As any good father, he leaned into the tough times, providing encouragement for all our family and stirring hope within us, illuminated by his smile, his confidence and his leadership of presence.  Good fathers do not run away from challenges, they led others through them.

My reflections on my father have served as a wonderful reminder of how his modeling and mentorship proved vital in shaping me as a man.  As a father who had benefited from such an example, and sought to live up to it, I encourage other fathers to remain faithful to the task, diligent to the calling and faithful to our duty so that future generations might not just praise us, but carry on our example for years to come.

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