Happy birthday, Dad

I wrote this last year about my dad for his birthday.  It’s just as true today as it was then.

My Dad was born in Missouri or Kansas (I can’t remember which) and eventually moved to Omaha with his family. I can’t speak much to his upbringing because I don’t have much information on it, but I gather he had a very typical American upbringing where my grandma and grandpa tried their best but eventually became distant from each other. They divorced soon after I was born, so I’ve rarely seen them in the same room together.

I gather my grandpa was a kind of distant man and the few times I’ve seen him in my life, I could tell he had a quiet demeanor and just wasn’t really much of a “people person”, but I also knew he loved his family. Growing up, grandpa would call Dad maybe once or twice a year around the holidays or his birthday to say “Hi”. The phone calls usually consisted of “catch-up” talk, golf, the weather and work. The call would end the same every time. Dad would hang up the phone and I could see the smile on my Dad’s face but there would be some sorrow beneath his eyes.

To my grandfather’s credit, he’s been trying to reconnect more with my father and us recently since he was hospitalized for a heart attack.  God is really doing a work in that area with reconciling the whole family. I imagine the next time I see him, it will be like meeting a familiar stranger again.

My own relationship to my Dad was sometimes tense, but mostly good and happy. As I was growing up, I was always closer to my mom because I spent more time with her and she always seemed to take my side in any argument. She’d be the shoulder I’d come running to after I’d approach my Dad to ask for something and he’d simply say “No”.

Man, I was a whiny kid.

I now know he had his reasons for saying no, but my prepubescent brain never understood his reasons.

In the very rare occasion where I would disobey, my dad would take me into my parent’s bedroom, sit me on the bed and talk to me through clenched teeth about what I did wrong. I was a very sensitive kid, so I’d scream and beg for mercy, but my dad would still carry out the execution of the spanking with utmost precision. I would know when my Dad was angry but if he saw the fear in my eyes, he’d apologize for lashing out in anger later. After the spanking, he’d pick me up off of his lap and just hold me for several minutes, sometimes with tears in his eyes. He’d let me know that I’d be fine and that it hurt him to have to punish me, but I knew the consequences of what I did.

Our relationship wasn’t based on just those interactions though.

My Dad was the one who taught me how to read the Bible. He was the one who’d tell us stories before bedtime, like “David and Goliath” or “Joshua and the Wall of Jericho”. I’d sit in wide-eyed wonder as he described epic battles that I’d later learn were much more violent than my young mind could grasp.

He was the one who taught me to pray.

I remember him kneeling down my bed with me and his massive freckled hands would fold, then he’d tell me to close my eyes. Of course, I’d always be peeking because I’d want to watch him pray. As he spoke to God, it was a lot like watching him talk to an old friend. It wasn’t awkward or stilted speech. He just knew how to talk to God. His prayer was one of trust. Trust in God’s power over the darkness and evil forces. He’d pray a blessing and a petition of protection over me. Then, he’d tuck me in, give me a kiss on the cheek, tell me he loved me and leave the door open just a crack, knowing I’m still afraid of the dark.

I remember sitting next to him at church and when we’d stand up to sing songs like “The Lion of Judah” his deep voice would ring loud and off-key, but he’d sing with passion and zeal to Jesus Christ, his good friend. We’d laugh about his voice afterwards in the car and then later I’d hear him sing another worship song around the house with the words all jumbled up and the tune mixed with another song (think “Days of Elijah” mixed with “Garments of Praise”). He obviously didn’t care for our critique of his musical prowess.

Dad was also very observational and he delighted in searching for truth. I don’t remember him being much of a reader of -ology books, but he instilled in me the ability to ask questions, often using the Bible as his source. Sometimes my own curiosity would get me in trouble and I’d get a spanking or grounding for it (mostly, it was for stuff like smoking cigarette butts behind a neighbors garage with my best friend). Other times, my curiosity deviated from my Dad’s or my Mom’s own perspective, but they always encouraged me to continue seeking and asking God.

My Dad worked at an office job and if you saw my Dad today, you’d swear he was born for a blue-collar job, not a stuffy office job. Your assumption would be correct. Dad was laid off a few years back and he’d tell you it was probably the best thing for him. Since then, him and my mom have gone through “Adventures in Owning a Small Business” and times have been tough, but they both still keep their faith and are ever optimistic. Now, he drives a bus and works long hours, but he still has kept his sense of humor and that wild grin of his.

All in all, I believe I was one of the fortunate ones. I had a Dad who wasn’t perfect (because no one is, really) but he modeled the loving God I now see very well. I know my Dad never wanted to be like his dad and I can soundly say that my Dad doesn’t sound anything like my grandfather was during Dad’s childhood.

I have my own thoughts and opinions about things nowadays (mainly about God), but sometimes my Dad and I will just sit and talk like regular guys…like friends. We’ll tell each other jokes and he’ll talk about some band I’ve never heard of. I’ll tell him about some book I’ve read but he probably won’t have time to read. My Dad is one of my best friends. He remains a friend because just like I know God won’t give up or stop pursuing me even in my lowest point, my Dad won’t stop loving me or pursuing me. I want to carry that legacy on to my children by showing them agape love and no matter how far they may run, they’ll know clearly how their earthly father and heavenly Father sees them.

Happy birthday, Dad.

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