Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reflecting on Dad

Dad died two days ago. The funeral is tomorrow, and we are supposed to meet with the pastor later today to tell stories so he can get a feel about what to say.

Dad’s obituary told a little bit about the things Dad accomplished, but it only hinted at who he was.

Life may, at times, be complicated, but Dad didn’t see it that way. To him, life was fairly black and white. Life could be distilled down to a series of choices. And when the choices required action, then it was simple: You simply did what was right. It did not matter what anyone thought. It did not matter whether or not it was hard, convenient, or politically expedient. You just did what was right because it was right.

I often thought Dad and John Wayne were a lot alike – only Dad was real. He was generally quiet, but unafraid to speak his mind when necessary. One of my favorite quotes was when he said, “I’m not afraid of what I say, only what people say I say.”

He was a sailor in the Navy, so he knew how to curse (and sometimes did – for effect). But he taught his kids that profanity was only for people who aren’t smart enough to think of something better to say.

Like John Wayne, Dad was not someone you wanted to mess with. When he was in the Navy teaching judo, he used to begin the class by finding the biggest and toughest guy there, then throw him across the room. Bad people were correct to fear him, but we felt safe knowing he was around.

Dad had an incredibly disciplined, analytical mind. Like no one else I have known, he was able to cut to the heart of a matter without becoming emotionally involved. It was one of the traits that made him such a strong business leader. On the other hand, the emotion occasionally leaked out. I saw him cry twice – once when he got the news that his father had passed away, and again when one of the dogs died.

His love was buried deep, but no one ever doubted that it was there. He didn’t say “I love you.” Those were just words. Instead, he showed his love by providing for his family, always asking if everyone was okay, and always making sure he was doing everything he knew how to do to take care of not only his family, but his friends and coworkers, too.

Like many from Dad’s generation, he didn’t talk much about his faith. Yet he never missed church – even if the rest of us wanted to sleep in or were not in the mood to go. My brothers and I used to spend every weekend on our sailboat on Lake Meredith. Dad would sail on Saturday, drive home so he could attend church, then drive back on Sunday to pick us up.

He read the Bible and even studied it, but he didn’t talk about it much. He did not preach the Gospel. He just lived it out, helping others whenever he saw the need.

Dad could not understand liberals. He thought it was crazy for the government to take care of people. “Why,” he would ask, “do we need the government to take care of the poor? Which one of us is going to let our neighbor go naked or starve?”

Dad was the definition of loyal. He volunteered to serve his country – while we were at war! When he was at college, he dropped his parents a note – every day. When his mother had to start living in a nursing home, he went to visit her – every day. When he married my mom and promised to love only her for the rest of his life, he meant it and remained loyal to her for over 62 years.

Dad was a man of his word. His yes meant yes, and his no meant no. He wouldn’t lie to you. If you pressed him, he would just tell you to your face that you were being stupid. At our house, it was well-known that the punishment for lying would be worse than the punishment for whatever crime you were tempted to lie about. The only lie I can ever remember Dad telling me was about Santa Claus. Only later did I learn that there really was a St. Nicholas, so I guess that even that was not a total prevarication.

Dad didn’t ask for much for himself, if anything. He just wanted us to treat our mother with respect, and he wanted us to love and care for one another. I think Christmas was his favorite time of year because it was a time when all the kids would come home, laugh, eat Mom’s cookies, and enjoy being together.

Speaking of Mom’s cookies, Dad loved nothing better. If Dad had a vice, it was sweets. That is how we knew he was sick at the end. He quit eating cookies.

Dad wasn’t perfect, but it was not for lack of trying. He had his moments as we all do. But at the end of the day – at the end of his race – I feel confident the Lord smiled and said, “Well done, good and faithful servant. It is time to come home and receive your reward.”