A Tribute to My Father, on His 80th Birthday
My dad turned 80 today. While he might take issue with this, particularly this first statement, his mind is good and his body is strong. I have every reason to believe that he will be with us for a long time yet, and that is my fervent hope. I can say without hesitation that I have been deeply blessed by God, privileged to call the finest man I have ever known “Dad”. It is with no fear of contradiction that I say that whatever I am or may yet become, by way of a worthwhile human being, I owe first and foremost to my parents, and to my Dad first as the leader of our family and example of what it means to be a man. In the words of an old Wayne Watson song, “I could do a whole lot worse than turning into Dad.”
First, my father is a man of immense integrity. He is a man of his word. I don’t remember Dad ever making a promise to me which he failed to keep. He is not as outgoing a person as I am (there are some who question how I could be his son!), but he is polite and friendly, and treats others as he’d want to be treated. Speaking of this, to give one example, I never once have heard my father tell an off-color joke. I never once have heard my father tell, or laugh at, a racist joke; I’ve said that my father is the least-racist person I have ever known. Given the era in which my father was raised, those words are meaningful. I remember an incident in which my father was asked by a family friend to help keep our neighborhood from being integrated. My father refused to join in this effort (no doubt to the chagrin of his friend!). I learned what integrity was by watching my father live.
Second, my dad is a man of great wisdom. He has only a high school education; he went into the military and then began working for the City of Roanoke at a ground-floor level, working his way up to a management position over time. Yet Dad is well-read on a variety of subjects, and a very intelligent man. Beyond this, though, he is a man not merely with a good mind, but a man who is filled with wisdom. I have benefitted time and again from his sage words, delivered humbly from a heart of love and genuine concern. Dad doesn’t force his thoughts on me, but when he considers something important, he will gently ask if he can share a nugget of wisdom with me (he wouldn’t phrase it that way, but you get the idea). And it’s almost always useful.
Third, and related to the second, my dad is a truth-teller. His mind has always been keen and analytical; Dad thinks things through and reaches his own conclusions. I have developed a reputation of sorts as being a “straight-shooter”; I try to find that “truth-in-love” balance, but I don’t have much reticence to speak the truth, at least as I see it. I’ve been thinking about this recently and I realized that this is something I got from my dad. For instance, he is generally politically conservative and yet is unafraid to criticize those ostensibly on “his team” when they are out of line. Funny…my blog is called “The No Kool-Aid Zone” because I try not to “drink the Kool-Aid” for anyone; I try to really call ‘em as I see ‘em, even if some of the things I say ruffle some feathers or surprise some people. My dad may not be as boisterous about it as I can be at times, but that’s my father coming through in me.
Fourth, my dad has always been an example of love, particularly in the way I’ve seen him interact with my mother. They’ve been married 56+ years now, and he has tenderly and lovingly cared for my mom for all of those years. They are affectionate with each other, crazy in love even more than when they married, I am convinced. And my dad has never been shy about showing his love for myself and my sister. I still kiss my dad when I see him; it would seem odd for me to shake his hand (I actually have no memory of ever doing that!), and I will as long as he and I are alive, I am sure. I hear men speak of never hearing their fathers say, “I love you”, and I confess that that is unfathomable to me. My dad still signs every email, “Love, Dad”; we still end every phone call with “love you”, and more than just words, my dad has always shown me his love—sometimes via “tough love”, to be sure—and I’ve never once doubted that my dad was in my corner and would do anything he humanly could for my good, my sister’s good, my mother’s good. Dad models love in how he speaks and lives.
There is one fifth and final thing I would like to say about my dad, and I think it ties it all together: my dad is deeply committed to Jesus. Dad came to faith when I was a child, and while he has always been a good dad, he became from that time forward a godly dad. My father put some life habits in place upon his coming to Christ, and they had a profound impact upon me. My dad and I shared a love of football, but I used to say that it didn’t matter if there were five minutes left in the game and the Redskins (his team, not mine) were on the 30-yard line and driving for the winning score; if it was time for evening worship service, the TV went off and we got in the car for church. Today some might call that legalism, but they’d be wrong, at least in my dad’s case: Dad has priorities in life, and they begin with God. Though there were times I would have liked to see how the game ended, that example taught me much about what is—and isn’t—really important in life. There are many other examples I could give to illustrate my dad’s commitment to the Lord, of course, and every one of them would testify that he is a humble man with a wonderful God.
These words have done little justice to the rich legacy of a great man, but on this milestone birthday, I felt that my friends ought to know just a little about this treasure of a man many of them will never meet—but whom they meet every time they interact with me, for a little bit of my dad will always, I pray, shine through me.