OK, this is a day late. My dad would not have minded. I don't think he gave days like this much thought. He liked Christmas and Thanksgiving, and Independence Day was a great time, but stuff like Father's Day or Arbor Day, etc. didn't rank very high.
He has been gone for 15 years now. He died at the age of 54, due to several serious health issues. In many ways, it seems like just yesterday that I was able to pick up the phone and call him. In fact, I did that for a couple of years after his passing - nothing like being 3/4 of the way through the phone number when realizing that he isn't on the other end.
It has been long enough that I think I have a healthy perspective on it all now. Not that I have it all figured out, but I am no longer overwhelmed with emotion, but it hasn't been so long that I have forgotten too much.
So here is what my dad taught me (well, a few of the things that the taught me):
1. Be tough. Dad didn't subscribe to the modern "sensitive man" junk. If there was no blood (and I mean LOTS of blood) or a fever over 103, then you were not hurt nor sick. Get up, go to school, be a man. Tough it out. One of dad's favorite lines, and I heard this a bazillion times (only a slight exaggeration), was: "I have had worse places on my lip and never quit whistling." The funny thing was that he was being honest. He was pretty wild as a young fellow, and got in some scary scrapes. He told me about a few of them. I wouldn't have messed with him, when he was young.
2. Love your family. Yeah, my dad was pretty tough, but he also loved his family. He did things that made him uncomfortable, because WE wanted to do it. I have a younger brother (3 years younger) and my dad, from my 5th grade year, through my brother's senior year of HS, missed exactly ONE event in which we participated. He missed one of my brother's football games, when my brother was in junior high. Of course, the reason he missed it was because the game had been rescheduled to a time when it conflicted with MY game. So dad went to mine, and mom went to my brother's. Dad wasn't a hugger or touchy-feely, but he consistently showed us he loved us with his actions.
3. Love God. My dad was almost illiterate until he was in his late 20s. He was a slacker in school (his own admission) and had fallen through the cracks before dropping out to join the army at 17. But when he was about 28 or so (right after I was born), he decided he wanted to be a minister. He also knew he needed to go to school to do so. He couldn't read nor write better than about a 3rd grade level. So he went to seminary anyway and just worked hard. He didn't graduate with honors, but he did graduate and began a successful ministry that lasted the rest of his life. Everything he did from then was rooted in his love of God. He worked as hard at serving God as he did at learning to read and write to pass his courses.
4. Love people. This past week, my brother and I posted Dad's picture on facebook and did the yearly "I sure miss dad" posts. Every time we do that, the comments come flooding in. People that we have not seen for years post comments, saying how much dad meant to them. His funeral was barely contained in a building designed to hold over 600 people. My dad made a difference in many lives. The impact is still being felt, as evidenced by the continuing comments.
5. Pray. I admit that I wasn't the greatest "Christian" as a young man. In fact, I was at best, a "Christian" in name only. Maybe not that much, to be honest. But my dad never quit praying for me. He didn't tell me that. Other's did. I later heard of the heartbreak that he felt because of my life's choices. His response was to give it to God. Guess what? It worked. I am grateful that dad had the chance to see me "turn it around." I had just finished my first year of seminary when he died. I am convinced that it was his dogged devotion to prayer for me that kept me from going too far in the other direction and eventually coming back to God.
6. Enjoy life. My dad knew how to laugh. He knew how to enjoy himself. Honestly, he was probably the funniest guy I have ever known, though he didn't always show that side to us. He was our dad, and that was serious business for him. But he did tell a great story, and when we were in groups, he could be the life of the party. My mental images of him are full of smiles.
7. Die with dignity. This one is pretty hard to say... but Dad had worst places on his lip....
My dad had a rough last few years. There was little dignity in being early to mid-50s and no longer able to care for yourself. He needed help in the bathroom, taking showers, eating, etc. I admit that he didn't smile as often in those last years. He talked less. But he didn't frown or complain. He endured. I don't think he was ready for awhile, though his body was failing on him. He lived long enough to see me in seminary, both of his boys married, and his first grandchild born (my niece). He spent those last years in pain, but still serving. I saw him roll to the front of the church in his wheel chair, raise himself up, leaning on a table, and preach his sermons. He never whined that life had treated him unfairly. He just continued to live the best life he could, being as godly as he knew how to be. I hope to avoid the health issues, but if I can die with the dignity that my dad did, I will be happy in the end.
So.... 15 years... Shoot. I miss you as much today as I did the day you died. I look forward to a reunion someday (but not too soon). I love you dad.