What are we to say of our fathers? Mine wasn’t perfect – none are, I suspect. When I turned 40, the age he was when I was born, I suddenly had a whole new appreciation for the man. What must it have been like to be the sole bread-winner for a wife and ten children? I buckled at the prospect. He did not.
Married in 1931, the Great Depression and WWII prevented him and my mother from “getting off the farm” until 1945. How they managed to “keep the farm” during those hard early years – when so many other good people had not – continues to amaze me.
We had our scrapes. What son or daughter doesn’t? I recall announcing at dinner that I was going to protest a Presidential campaign rally of George Wallace. He said, “No, you’re not.” I said, “Yes, I am!” Back and forth we went, horns locked.
Experienced parent that he was he announced, “This is what we are going to do… we will both go! We will sit in our seats. We won’t cheer or in any way express approval. However, we will not be part of an organized protest.” Together we went.
We witnessed those I would have been with taking folding chairs over their backs. The violence made national news. Though it took years to temper my impetuous zeal and admit his more mature wisdom, I never again doubted whether he would “be there” for me.
Who among us would not like to relive, perhaps re-script, certain episodes with our dads. Today, I am still in search of a hamburger to rival those I shared with him as an 8-year-old in cafes of small Nebraska towns when I accompanied him as a sales rep for a farm implement company. Oh, the conversation we’d have!
About a year before he died we shared another meal. I took the risk of asking what he wanted me to say about him at his funeral. His eyes shot up, “What?” “Look,” I said, “I’m going to be there and will probably have something to say. Most people don’t get the chance to say what they want said about them. What do you want me to say?”
Composing himself, he thought for a moment. “First of all, you better be there!” Then he said, “Tell them I wasn’t perfect… I made my mistakes. Tell them I’m sorry. But, tell them I tried my best and have loved them more than they will ever know.”
Dads aren’t perfect. But, then, who’d want to be the daughter or son of a perfect parent! We honor them best by growing into the woman or man we were born to be. In this we become more like them.
Dad has been gone more than 21 years now. Fathers Day without him never gets any easier – just different. There are times I am certain of his attentive presence. At other times I would give the world to share an experience or tap his wisdom.
This year I am especially grateful for the way he taught me to pray: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”