Sunday, August 17, 2008

Things My Father Taught Me

So I've spent the past couple of days with my family in Lansing. Dad had his gall bladder out Friday morning, and boy, has medicine come a long way. We were at the hospital about 8:45 and zip-zop, they yanked that thing out and we were back home in about five hours. Crazy.

But as I slept in my childhood bed and knocked around the house I called home for all of my teenage years, I began thinking about the man I've become and what that man on the left in the picture has had to do with it.

My Dad taught me about spontaneous fun. The summer after my mother passed away, the two of us went on a vacation throughout upper Michigan together. Driving in our pickup truck/camper combination, a bug would splatter against the windshield and Dad would say, "I bet he won't have the guts to do that again." That was the first time I'd ever heard that and to a 12-year old, it was just hilarious. Eventually, we began saying it together whenever a bug would commit windshieldcide. Another time, we had stopped at a "scenic view" roadside rest area and there was a sign that said, "DANGER! OVERHANGING CLIFF." Well, my Dad's name is Cliff and yup, he climbed up onto that sign, draped himself over it, and we snapped a picture. Sadly, we drove away with the camera sitting on the roof of the truck and it's lost forever, but the image is still fresh in my mind. While I don't remember all the details of the trip, I do remember an overwhelming sense of having just plain fun. Dad has always been quick with a smile and there's never a joke or punny one-liner far from his lips. I'm sure my sense of humor comes almost entirely from him.

My Dad taught me about generosity. One summer afternoon I came tooling into the driveway on my bicycle, with a friend close behind. Dad was out in front of the garage, grilling steaks for supper. "Hey, Dad, can Carl stay for supper?" I asked. "No problem," he said, reaching for another steak to toss onto the grill. I've never forgotten that moment and his complete, instant willingness to share what we had with others. He's been that way his entire life, and it's a model I've tried to emulate.

My Dad taught me about honesty. If anyone ever gave him too much change at the store, he always brought it to their attention and gave it back. He once slipped a pack of hearing aid batteries into his pocket because they were too small to stay in the grocery cart and got all the way home before he discovered them ... he went right back to the store and paid for them, to the amazement of the customer service desk. He has been my Step-Mom's caregiver since their terrible accident two years ago but when he went in for surgery - knowing he'd be back on his feet in just a day or two - he notified the insurance company that he was handing over the reins of caring for my Mom to my step-sister, and she'll be the one paid for that work (and she does it diligently, too, I must add), while he recovers. He didn't have to do that, but it's just the way my Dad has lived his life.

My Dad taught me to keep learning, no matter how old you are. He started to tinker with computers somewhere in his 60s, and when he was 74 years old, he took on email and the Internet. Now, mind you, he's still somewhere on the left side of the learning curve, but the fact he would undertake such a daunting task at such an age is just jaw-dropping awesome to me. In the two years since, he more than holds his own and is still learning. What an inspiration!

My Dad taught me the power of proverbs. One day the windshield wipers on my car stopped working and I was sure it was a mechanical issue so I asked Dad to take a look at it since he was so good with that stuff. A short time later I went outside and there, under my wiper, was an index card with a small stone taped to it. On it Dad had written, "...wedged under your wiper at the base. It couldn't move." And then, at the bottom, "When all else fails, look for the obvious!" Another time, in the rain, he slapped on an extra rain bonnet my Mom had with her. Despite the fact it was purely a feminine look, it kept him dry. He says to me, "Any port in a storm, son." There are many others that I find come to mind in the different situations in which I find myself, all thanks to him.

I know not everyone's experience with their father has been so close or so special, and some have undoubtedly been downright horrific. For that, you have my pity, and my prayers for an extra measure of God's grace and abundance in your life.

If it's true that we get our own image of God from our own fathers, then I can't wait to get to Heaven, because for me, that image is one I treasure.

Photograph taken by my nephew, Chad Smith.

1 comment:

hucknjim said...

Hi Mark,

My relationship with my dad wasn't horrific. Rather it was distant. He worked very hard and was a wonderful provider. Our family never lacked for a comfortable home, food, clothing, or small luxuries. But he was quiet to the point of stoicism.

I used to say that most of what I am came from my mom. I no longer believe that to be true.

My dad lead by example. I'm quiet, but that just means I'm listening carefully. I work very hard and sometimes have to restrain myself from criticizing those who don't live up to my standards. I am intensely loyal to friends and struggle mightily to forgive enemies, succeeding for the most part. In short, I also lead by example; and that's thanks to my dad.