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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My First Day without My Dad

My father died yesterday. Today is the first day I have ever been alive without my dad also breathing in air somewhere. It’s been a long time since my dad and I lived in the same house, but this is different..

He died suddenly, his body worn out from 76 years of use. Men of my dad’s generation, even accountants and corporate executives like him, used their bodies differently than my generation, and they really use them differently than my daughter’s generation.

In my dad’s day smoking was a rite of maturity to becoming a man. My dad goes into the service and starts to smoke. That’s what you did. My dad’s generation didn’t know that smoking was supposed to kill you. They never thought about smoking in terms of health, smoking was all about culture and lifestyle, sort of like what kind of music you liked or car you drove. What you smoked told people what kind of man you were—or wanted to be.

Then there was the food. My dad’s parents lived through the depression. (My dad was born in the Great Depression.  By the time he was conscious of it, it was over and the war was on instead.) So my dad grew up eating anything that had calories in it, and although there were a few bromides about food and health (My grandma’s favorite one: “Eat like a king at breakfast, eat like a prince at lunch, and a pauper at dinner”) no one though too much about eating food primarily made out of chemicals rather than, say, food. My dad’s idea of a green vegetable was a dill pickle, and for a serving of fruit he would have an orange gummy bear. He knew what food was, but no one told him to eat that rather than whatever was being sold as the newest and best food alternative.

No generation made “cocktail hour” as iconic as my parent’s generation. You watch any movie set in the 1960s or 70s, and the cocktail is always a major actor in the story. That’s what they did. Business happened over cocktails—they invented “happy hours” for the “sad”, I guess, working class. I remember my dad’s advice upon my graduation from college (I was the first person in his family to ever do so. That I went on to earn two masters and a doctorate is proof that I am into “overkill.”). His advice: “Remember guys just want to drink beer, watch TV, and f*** their wives.”  My dad was not a complicated man.

Anyhow, it’s no surprise my dad’s body wore out after 76 years of living. And my dad did not want his living to be prolonged artificially. He always took the most radical treatments for his ailments as he lived by the adage that “quality was more important than quantity.” And from my perspective he seemed to have achieved that goal. He had a quality life. As my mom said, "It was a hell of a ride." The drugs he took, like the smoking and drinking and food, all had a corrosive effect on his longevity, but they were the stimulants of his humor and his energy to make friends. His humor and his friends were the fabric of his joi de vivre.

I am sure that as the years go by, I will discover more and more about how I am my dad’s son. But here are a few things I already have realized I learned from him:
a)      You can never be too organized.
b)      Your socks should always match your pants. (Granted, he may have learned this from my mom, but I saw it on him.) Of course, 8 months out of the year I don’t wear socks, as they clash with my Birkenstocks.
c)       Never tell the truth when you can tell a joke. As a preacher this is the enduring legacy of my dad. Truth is usually quite boring—which is why we miss it most of the time. Somehow my dad always knew the truth, but he was too disinterested in it to share. I hear myself saying in every sermon something like—we know what we’re supposed to do, it’s not that hard or difficult, but that’s boring. Here’s a story about… (The truth is God loves you, but do you really want to hear one line every week? How God loves you THIS WEEK—now, that’s a sermon.)
d)      Never forget to say “I love you.” I noticed when I moved away from my home 29 years ago that my dad started telling me he loved me more. I don’t remember him saying it much the first 22 years of my life, but when I moved down to Austin, TX he said it more and more. And he kept saying it. My dad had a stroke, and my mom put the phone by him to talk as best he could the other day. He told me he loved me and to take care.  Those were the last words he ever said to me.  That’s enough for me. After 51 years I know it was the truth.

He was the best dad I could have ever asked for, and I will miss him every day until I too, at the last, tell my daughters I love them, and to take care.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.


Chris said...

Nice - Peace to you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this about you and your dad's relationship together. I'm praying for you. The death of well-loved parents is hard.