What I Learned From My Father

As we celebrate Father’s Day, I remember my Dad who passed away a little over 8 years ago. He didn’t get to see me become a father myself, as my daughter came home about 3 years after he was gone. However, the cool thing about being a good Dad is that your kids will (hopefully) take what you taught them, and teach their kids. It’s a pretty amazing thing to see your child doing something that your Dad taught you, and even more amazing when they never met in person. So in memory of my Dad, here are a few of the things he taught me.

Character is Important
My Dad was a minister for nearly 50 years. He taught in small churches, and many times was the only person on staff. He was the primary example people had of what living a life for God was like, and he took that role very seriously.

My Dad had taken over a church a few years earlier from the founding pastor who was retiring. After this man retired, he had a distinct idea of how he was going to still run the church, so to speak. My Dad had a very different idea about that, and because of this disagreement, the older pastor began spreading rumors about my father, saying that he was “adding to Scripture” or “being a false teacher” and trying to lead people away from the Bible. My Dad never once complained about it, he just firmly went about leading the church in the direction he felt was where God wanted him to go.

When I was in late elementary school, one of the elderly members of our church had passed away and we were heading to the visitation. I asked my father if this other pastor was going to be there. He said that he definitely would be. I then told my Dad that if the opportunity came up that I was not going to shake this man’s hand. I was angry that anyone would deliberately hurt my Dad and lie about him. My Dad simply told me that I would absolutely shake his hand because it was the right thing to do. He said that this pastor had led this church for over 3 decades, and that he meant a lot to the people of our church, so regardless of what he had done to us, we were to show him respect.

The Value of Hard Work
My Dad was always serving others. His job was basically like being on call 24/7: if a member of our church needed him, no matter what time of day, he would go, and he didn’t complain. I always saw him working hard at whatever he did.

My Mom shared a story with me not too long ago. A couple years after they had been married, my parents moved to the Daytona Beach, Florida area to start a church. They moved to town with $60 in their pocket. In looking for an apartment to rent, they found one that was perfect, but they needed to pay a month’s rent in advance, and the rent was $60. They explained to the woman why they had come to the area, so she agreed to take only $30 so that my parents would still have money to eat.

While the church was getting started, my Dad took on second jobs because the church was just getting started and there was not enough money for him to have a salary. He worked as a ditch digger, a milkman, and a few other blue collar jobs in order to provide for he and my Mom. He simply said that he wasn’t going anywhere because he knew that God had called him there to preach, so he was going to do anything he needed to do to make it work, and put a roof over their heads.

The Importance of Family
Growing up we effectively shared my Dad and his time with a larger group of people (our church). While there were things that he missed, I always knew that outside of God, we were the most important thing in his life.

He was diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic in his late 20’s. As he got older, he experienced complications from the disease including circulation issues in his legs. This sometimes led to him having to be admitted to the hospital so that they could very aggressively treat sores that would appear on his feet.

I dare say that he seemed like he enjoyed these times at the hospital because he got to talk to EVERYONE! By the end of his stay, he would know the full back story of every nurse, doctor, and whoever else came into his room. He would enthusiastically introduce his family to all his new friends anytime we were in for a visit. One day someone asked him what his hobbies were, he simply said “my family”.

Don’t be Afraid to Show Affection
My Dad’s father was a good, hard-working man’s man who worked for and retired from Dodge in the Detroit area. He wasn’t necessarily one to express his feelings to others or to show his affection. This changed a bit with us grandkids, and honestly I think it was because we wouldn’t take no for an answer (at least not me).

My Dad was always hugging and kissing us, to the point that you almost got tired of it. I never had to question if my Dad loved me or was proud of me because he told me, all the time, every time I saw him. He told me one day that his Dad was not like that, and he decided early on that he just wasn’t going to be that way.

The last time I saw my Dad was about two weeks before he suddenly passed away. I had missed coming over for dinner as I had planned a few days earlier because I got stuck at work. I had told my Mom that I was upset I couldn’t make it because I didn’t want them to think that work was more important than they were. So I took a long lunch one day and come over to see them. My Dad met me at the front door, hugged and kissed me and began crying, saying “I would never think that you were putting work ahead of us” and I said that I knew that, but I just felt bad for having to break plans with them.

I didn’t see him in person after that day, but I didn’t have to worry about having left something unsaid to him because we always told each other how much we loved and appreciated the other person. So unlike some people who have a hard time talking to their father, I was able to say goodbye to him with no regrets.

All People Matter
There are almost too many examples to choose just one to give details about, but when things like divorce, inter-racial marriage, etc. were still very much taboo in the church, he accepted them. Many of these people had been shunned or literally asked to leave other churches, and my Dad would make a point to make them feel welcome. He wanted to tell them about this man Jesus that he had fallen in love with, and who cared about them deeply.

One woman who been coming to our church since even before we got there had actually been told not to come back before. She and her son would come, but her husband wasn’t a church goer. The pastor before my Dad had told her not to come unless her husband came too. My Dad assured her that regardless of who in their house came with her, that he wanted to see her there. My Dad helped to restore her dignity, and that of others who had been marginalized by bad representatives of the church.

Baseball is an Amazing Sport
My Dad was a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan, and he instilled the love of the game into me and my two older brothers. Not only is the sport rich in history, it’s an amazing display of skill and strategy. I think what makes it a great pastime for spectators is the fact that when you watch a game, there is time in between pitches and innings to talk about what you would do if you were a coach, or an amazing play that you saw at another game, or to just socialize with whoever you are watching the game.

What makes it a great game for Dads and their kids is that the players of the past are so larger than life that they are almost mythological characters with god-like status who battled all the odds and won. If you grew up admiring your Dad like I did, then you think of your Dad in almost that same kind of context. My Dad was my hero growing up because he had a big heart and was the most generous person in spirit that I have ever known.

Always Have Faith in God
I didn’t know it growing up, but my parents really didn’t have a lot of money, but we never seemed to go without. Money wasn’t a topic that they shared with us, even though they sometimes were struggling wondering how things were going to work out. But despite this, they never wavered in their faith that God had a plan, we just didn’t know the details at the time.

The week before I graduated college, the company my Mom was working for shut down without a warning. My Dad was retired at this point, leaving my Mom’s salary their major source of income. I was a getting a degree in finance, so I could put two and two together at this point and new that they didn’t have an immense amount of saving to carry them through a prolonged time of unemployment.

My parents just told me that they had faith in God that it would all work out. While I sat there questioning God as to why He would repeatedly allow one bad financial disaster or another happen to my parents given all they had done to serve Him for decades, my parents faith never wavered, never cracked, not even once. I thought I was helping the situation by being worried for them, not that worrying has ever helped out any situation ever. Less than two weeks later, my Mom had a new job.

I could go on and on about what my Dad and Mom have taught me over the years, but this post has to end at some point, right? Not everyone was as lucky to grow up with such a great guy for a father. My Dad wasn’t perfect, and he would have been the first one to tell you that. But his love and care for us has allowed what mistakes he did make to fade away in the background.

The good news is that even if we have lost our father here on Earth, never had one, or had one that was the farthest thing from a good dad, we have an opportunity to see what that kind of good relationship is like. In the Bible, God is referred to as a Father in numerous passages. For those who didn’t have the kind of relationship I did with my Dad, that might seem more like a slice of hell than heaven. But when you have seen how good and nurturing that father-child relationship can be, then you know how wonderful that sounds to hear the term “God our Heavenly Father”.

I pray that those of us fathers here on Earth can build bonds with our children much like the good examples of Dads around us. More importantly, I pray that we can build the kind of relationships with our children just like the one our Heavenly Father wishes to have with each of us.

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