The other day a friend from our former church in Arizona posted this on Facebook: “Name one thing that you learned from your father.” As I regularly don’t follow directions, I wrote two things, but they were woefully inadequate. Then Saturday’s mail brought a beautiful note, accompanied by a gift to help repair some more of our broken furniture. Since most of that furniture had belonged to my parents, I was not surprised that the note was in honor of Dad’s birthday on March 5th. I cried when I read the card and saw the check – tears of thanksgiving for the help wrapped up in memories of the best father I could have had.
My Dad’s father died in May of 1957; my Mom’s father died in June of 1957. Within six weeks our parents lost both of their fathers. As they did most years, they had already rented a house for a week in July of ‘57 at Lakeside, Ohio, on Lake Erie. It was a Methodist community but every summer there was a Lutheran week. There were speakers and events, swimming nearby at East Harbor, and lots of fun for the kids. Our cousins would go as well, and it was always a wonderful time. July of ‘57 was a healing time for my parents. Time to relax and get away and be with cousins. As my birth in April of 1958 would suggest, I happily surmise that I was part of that healing process.
My grandfathers never knew that a little one was forecast. I always wanted my Dad to live to see my children – as I was the baby after three boys, he knew all his other grandchildren – but I hoped and prayed he would live to see mine. My Dad lived a few months past his 78th birthday. As my parents lived in Ohio and I lived in South Carolina, I am forever grateful that God granted my Dad the gift of seeing my only daughter, not once but five times during the last year of his life. He loved seeing all of his grandchildren, and that included his littlest. My Dad’s doc wanted him to keep track of his blood pressure for a while, and my Mom always noted that it was better when little Katie was around. Dad wrote a letter to my husband and me urging us to keep up the good work! He humorously noted how well we had done producing our first child and urged us to continue to produce many more amazing children. Although we would have loved such a family, it was not to be.
Grief is weird – it changes over time but it doesn’t go away. When you love someone, they stay in your thoughts. Tuesday, March 5th, would have been my Dad’s 103rd birthday. Rarely does a day go by that I don’t think of my mom & dad and their incredible love for each other. I learned a gazillion things from my Dad – most importantly that his love for our mom came before his love for anyone else including his children. He taught me that you could be a better parent if you nurture your marriage and keep that love strong. He loved going on adventures with my mom, and they often took off for a weekend in the hills of Ohio — or perhaps to Amish country. Did I mention he had a weakness for pie?
Dad was a lover of critters and particularly birds and developed a daily routine of feeding them, eventually feeding the squirrels as well, so that they would leave the bird feed alone. I can remember the thousands of little bird footprints in the snow in our back yard around the bird feeder. He was an avid reader of books, a collector of antiques and particularly antique tools, he loved working in the basement workshop and routinely inciting our mom to riot when he forgot to change out of his business suit & tie before going to the basement to work on a little project.
When I was a little girl, he and mom sometimes took turns packing me off to bed, and when he was in charge, he always used the time to talk with me about my day and teach me the ten commandments and pray with me before I went off to sleep. He also taught me how to tie and fly a kite, how to use a wood lathe, how to pick appropriate hardware for a repair job or to hang a picture, and the joy of having theological or political discussions. He loved to read and would regularly demonstrate how to read a book or the evening paper stretched out on the living room couch with our cat Otto on his chest. He was also willing to have cat company while eating his breakfast. He loved to work in the garden and fostered in me a love of roses, of the first flower of each year – the crocus that would come up through the snow, of wildflowers like bleeding heart, jack-in-the-pulpit, bloodroot, trillium, and of how to pick lily-of-the-valley to take to my Mom. I still love the smell of the lily-of-the-valley and adore the sight of big bunches of roses in vases in the house. I am so glad that my husband Ron loves to garden and is working on clearing beds to plant in our new back yard.
Our Dad was a lawyer, and occasionally he would have to take papers to someone’s house to sign. When that someone was a widow or single woman, my mom would usually go with him. On a couple of occasions, when my mom was otherwise occupied, he would ask me to ride along with him. I did this a few times over the years – a little person whose quiet little presence was a help to put others at ease.
A staunch Lutheran, Dad had back surgery at one point for excruciating pain which was caused by a pinched nerve. One of his clients told him that her whole African Methodist Episcopal Zion congregation was praying for his recovery. At the mortuary, after he died, a black lady introduced herself to us and said that her common-law husband had left her years before and she was without means to keep her house. She told us that our Dad, who was her lawyer, had paid her mortgage for some months until she could find a better job allowing her to keep her home. We were blown away – we had no idea that had happened.
Not everyone is blessed with a man of character as a father. I was blessed doubly because my Dad was also something of a character. I had such fun with my Dad who was the best Dad this girl could have had. He left me with thousands of good memories including his love of picnics; childhood bike rides often followed by a visit to the local Root Beer stand; a vacation (just the two of us) in Europe following a job I had in Switzerland interrupting my college years.
While traveling in Switzerland and Germany, my Dad and I had time to talk about issues of truth telling, sin, and unburdening yourself by burdening someone else. Heavy stuff. I wrote about that here:
He was an all-around good guy who died about a month short of what would have been our parents’ 53rd wedding anniversary. I have written about my parents quite a few times, but here are three:
In honor of what would have been his 103rd birthday I give thanks for this amazing man. Deo Gracias.