This weekend we pause to pay tribute to our fathers. We remember them through the lens of our childhood and all the years after that. The lens may color those memories in all shades and colors because none of our dads were perfect. They were first of all men, born with a blend of each of their parents, seasoned with the family life they experienced, and mixed with their own skills, gifts, personalities, and interests.
Depending on how those things were stirred and combined throughout their lifetime, they became the dad we knew. We may have idealized them or berated them for the ways they disappointed us, wounded us, or abandoned us. We may never have even known them except through the stories and eyes of someone else.
Nevertheless, they became one who influenced our own selves and who we are today, whether good, bad, or somewhere in between.
My own father was born as the youngest of six children, one of only two boys. His older brother could have been his father since he was nineteen years older than he. In many ways, he became a model for my dad because his dad, my grandfather, died when my dad was only five years old. He was so young that he didn’t have any real memories of his dad.
He grew up on the farm where the family lived with a keen awareness of how hard his older brother, four older sisters, and mother had to work. He grew up with those values and that kind of work ethic. He also grew up with a considerable appetite for learning and education as well as a commitment to the Lord.
At age thirteen, something happened that changed the direction of his life forever. His older brother fell from the barn roof one day and was killed. With this tragedy came two very difficult things. My dad was needed at home to step into the role of his older brother to handle the farm and he would need to leave school and his love of formal education behind.
Since the farm he grew up on (as did I) was adjacent to farms of his uncles, they stepped in to help mentor him in the things he needed to learn for the survival of the farm and his family. His sharp mind and courageous heart soon became a hallmark of his character. Not only did his own family and extended family respect him, everyone in the community did as well.
His social life centered around his church and “the Grange”. I have more than a few memories of the stories he told about them and how he met my mother and postponed marriage until he could stop using his beloved team of horses to help him farm and purchase a tractor.
Even though loss had marked his life early, he never showed anger or embitterment. His gentle voice and quiet ways gave glimpses of the heart shaped by the Lord’s love for him who became the only father he would ever really know.
That heavenly Father would stand with him through the death of his first child a day after his birth. He would be there when his second son was born with several handicaps and disabilities. He would walk with him through job loss and the shame that clung to him as a result of never being able to finish high school.
Yet all these things he suffered forged his character and values that went deep into the soil worked up and fertilized by the Word he read daily. They created the unwavering commitment for me to be educated and go to college even when there was no evidence of the financial provision to do so.
His life was marked by his focus on his faith. His legacy is remembered as one of great integrity and considerable faith.
He was not a perfect man, but the One whom he trusted early in life paved the way for this fatherless boy. This One understood more than any of us can comprehend the meaning of the word “sacrifice”.
This Father’s Day I will remember his humor, the stories of an era long gone, the beauty of his singing voice as I stood beside him in church, and how he loved my mother. I will also remember the shape and feel of his hand when I held it and sought to memorize it as he lay dying more than twenty-seven years ago.
It has been said that a true hero cannot be measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart.
The strength of my father’s heart grew throughout his lifetime as the Lord he loved continued to put more and more of Himself into him. That will also always remind me of the sacrifice of the Father who is perfect and walks with and strengthens my own heart each day by sacrificing his own son for my sake.
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son.”
John 3:16 (MSG)