I wish you could have known my dad. He loved people, and you would have loved him.
He did have an unyielding side. Let me say that up front. He was old school when it came to basic things like being a contributor to the harmony and wellbeing of society and not a drain on them. To him it was about carrying your own weight and not expecting someone else to carry you. He was firm on the issue of children obeying their parents and maybe even firmer on the issue of parents loving their children. When he said that children were a gift of God, he wasn’t paying lip service – it was a core belief of his. He taught his children to give appropriate respect to those in authority and he taught us not to look away from the weak, the poor and the ‘fatherless’ when it was within our power to help them. You’ll recognize these as basic biblical mandates. My dad was a minister. He knew the mandates and he incorporated them into his life.
Some of my earliest memories of my dad are of him arguing with my mom. I must have been three or four, and it upset me terribly. I couldn’t understand how he could be so hard. I didn’t know about the male provider/protector thing that can so quickly and easily be kicked into overdrive. I didn’t understood that men and women wear differently the responsibilities of work and family and life-in-general, so differently that it often puts us at odds over even trivial matters.
The dad I remember as a small child was two men. One was the hard man described above. The other was a softer man. As I have looked back, I have come to wonder if he may have been embarrassed by his own inclination toward tenderness. It was this man who caressed my head and cheek with his rough hand and smiled down on me with genuine love, who picked me up and hugged me warmly and in that moment made me the center of his universe.
I watched my dad, what son doesn’t? I watched him interact with others, and I think I learned the meaning of humility from him. The dictionary says that humility is ‘having a modest opinion of one’s own importance’. I want to disagree. Humility is not making oneself a mat for others to tread. Humility is the ability to exercise authority over others without believing you are superior. It is the ability to be under the authority of others without believing you are inferior. Humility is having an honest appraisement of your own self-worth and the strength of character not to let others define you. Humility is the ability to live within the framework of relationships life has constructed around you without assigning yourself either too much or too little importance. I think this is in line with the example of the man from Galilee.
Over the years I witnessed the gentler side take over in my dad. Always a tender and loving man, he let those aspects of his personality hold more sway. I think he was always a little embarrassed by it. It may sound odd, but I learned tenderness from my gruff, unyielding dad.
There was a time when my dad thought he was a failure. He felt badly that he wasn’t able to give his children all the ‘things’ many of our friends had. You know what? Those ‘things’ he wasn’t able to give us are now rusting in a landfill somewhere. The gift he did give us, his unyielding love, still warms our hearts.
I love you, dad.