Sunday, August 12, 2012

Remembering My Father

I received quite a number of private e-mails from my cyber-friends over the past week. Thank you all so much for your concern and condolences. Thanks also to Ken for keeping the blog going this past week.

For those of you who have lost both parents, you probably know the feelings I'm experiencing. It's a strange thing to consider that the very people that brought you into the world are both no longer there, at least physically there. What goes along with this, at least for me, is the process now of going through my parents possessions and selling the house I grew up in. When I close my eyes and think of "home" my immediate memory is of the house I spent most of my childhood in. Not only have I lost my parents, I'm losing my concept of "home" in a sense. These are all just striking reminders that there is only one lasting comfort in life and in death.

My three siblings and I spoke at my father's funeral. Below is the brief eulogy I gave in my father's memory:

My sister has summed up aptly my father’s commitment to his family and to raising us in the truth of the gospel. As a child, I never understood this commitment. The only thing I understood as a child was that I wanted my way, and that using my parents was the means to getting my way. It’s only been upon reflection in my later years that I’ve come to understand my father's love for his family, and his love for me.

My father seemed so different than I was... perhaps it had to do with the fact that my dad was in his early 40’s when I was born. My father, a World War 2 veteran, the father of 4 older children already, found himself in the 1960's with another small baby. I’ve often wondered what he thought about raising a family, and then again having another small child to raise. I never once though heard him complain that I, whether I was planned or not, was born. He never seemed resentful that I was born. Quite the opposite. When I was born, it appears he began to work harder to provide for his family. My father worked excessively to provide for us. In fact, I can recall that I often didn’t see him because he was working to provide for us.

I’ve been told that our family was living in a rather volatile neighborhood in the 1960’s. As the culture changed, sometimes violently, my father moved his family to safety. My earliest memories are that of a big house with a built in swimming pool in a nice neighborhood. This is probably much different than what my siblings remember about their childhood.

We went on big vacations. In the early 1970’s he took the family to Florida: Now I was going to visit Florida’s Disneyworld. What my father didn’t tell me though, was that going to Disneyworld in 1970 was actually going to visit a construction site. The park had not been built. He did though take us, around the same time, to California: and there, I as a young child experienced all the joys of Disneyland, with my father accompanying me on the rides.

As I grew older, it became more apparent that my father and I were two very different people. He was an elder in a very conservative church. I was a teenager with long hair, playing electric guitar, very loudly. We had many special times together discussing music in which Dad expressed his view that the best music was not a distorted electric guitar playing so loudly the neighbors would call over and ask for it to be lower. These conversations were often brief: "Jimmy, turn that thing down, now!" He did though tolerate that which he did not like. While my “music” appears to have worked him up at times, he found out that while a loud guitar in the house was a burden, drums were even worse. He would say, “Jimmy- it’s so loud the cat can’t find a place to sit.” He was right: I would find my cat Titus sitting on top of the refrigerator when the whole band was over and the house shook. But he tolerated it. He may not have liked it, but he allowed me do it.

As his last child, I think my father had a strong desire to pass on the family business. He would take me house to house fixing appliances, trying to teach me how to fix a washer or dryer. This went on for years- throughout junior and senior high school. The only problem though is I have no natural aptitude to fix anything. In fact, if he allowed me to work on a machine, chances are it would be broken worse than it already was. I didn’t like getting grease and dirt on my hands, because it took too long to remove so I could play my guitar. I also had bad dust allergies, so going down into someone’s basement often meant I would be suffering hay fever most of the day.

I don’t think I realized he was trying to pass on his successful business to me. He hoped I would get it, but I never did. Sometimes now I wish I paid more attention to what he was teaching me. Those of you who knew my father knew how well he could diagnose and fix something. Now, when something breaks in my house, I can no longer call my father, nor can I summon up what he tried to teach me. This is a hard lesson- that playing guitar really didn't help me provide for my family when something breaks. 

My father and I differed in other ways as well. In Missouri I enjoyed nothing more than going to Crown Center, the big mall, and having my parents leave me in the bookstore, and then picking me up when they were done. My father rarely read books, I loved reading. We just seemed like two very different people. I was reading and playing music, he was fixing machines and watching TV to relax after a hard day.

Dad and I though loved each other. We may not have understood each other, but we loved each other. This was our relationship up until his last day: we were two men who didn’t understand the other, but both wanted the best for the other. We just differed on what that best was.

But music and books, as many of you know, are just that music and books. I learned a few weeks ago that a guy I took lessons from, a world renowned Chapman Stick player, died suddenly of a heart attack. What became of all his music skills and what was the result of his hours and years of practicing? Nothing. He left this world with nothing.

My father though, did leave this world with something: salvation in Jesus Christ. While my father and I were different in so many ways, these differences similarly amount to nothing, because we both share in the eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ. My father and I both agreed as to what the only lasting and true unity and comfort are  in life and in death:

That my father and I are not our own, but belong body and soul to our faithful savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all our sins with his precious blood, and has set my father and I free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over us in such a way, that not a hair can fall from our heads without the will of our father in heaven. In fact, all things must work together for our salvation. Because my father and I belong to him, Christ by his Holy Spirit makes us wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Guitars and washer machines are not eternal. At some point, they’ll rust and disintegrate. I’m so grateful for my Father raising me with that which will not pass away, the truth of the gospel.


This is a picture of my father and I, circa 1989, underneath the grape trellis in the backyard of my first house.  Also pictured is my first German Shepherd (I miss him too.)


Hélio said...

Today it's Father's Day in Brazil. It's very touching to read your words about your father this very day here. My father died almost one year ago at 83. Now we live in this wonderful hope that one day we'll be reunited again in Heaven. May God bless and comfort you and your family as He's been doing to us!

J. Brian McKillop said...

I returned home yesterday from spending a week with my folks celebrating my dad's 92nd birthday. It is always hard to leave them as I never know if it will be the last time I see them this side of heaven. Thank you for sharing this.

p.s. My dad, like yours, tried to teach me to be handy, but my brother inherited those genes

Algo said...

James, I also am in Brazil for this whole month. I lost my Dad a year ago in July. He and my Mother who passed 16 mos. prior were both in the Roman Communion until they died. I never wearied of loving them with the Gospel of Grace. At my Mother's death bed and through my Father's Alzheimers torment. All in the hope that God would mercy them. I am so happy to hear that both of your parents were in the 'cloud of witnesses' and will rejoice with you at the Throne.

steelikat said...

With that hair, I would have guessed 1979.

My dad died too young, only 69 years old, in early 1989. My mom died two decades later. In my dreams, they are both still alive, and my dad is about the same age you and I are now. I miss them both terribly and I still sometimes feel the pain of the loss of my dad even though I know it's a temporary separation. I am so fortunate my own father is also my earthly hero. I wish I had told him that before he died.

I've been remembering you and yours in my prayers.

Rhology said...

As a man whose relationship with my mom has been difficult at times, I thank you for this insight. It has blessed me.

Pete Holter said...

Great picture and testimony. He looks like a gentle and kind man. You… look like a guitar player. Ha. Praise God for the comfort we have in the love of Jesus.

“I have no natural aptitude to fix anything. In fact, if he allowed me to work on a machine, chances are it would be broken worse than it already was.”


With love in Christ,

Brigitte said...

A lovely tribute and recounting of blessings. The Lord be with you in this time of mourning.

Ken said...

My father was a World War 2 vet also - he flew a B-17 from England to German and bombed the Nazis (he said 35 times officially and later when I got older, he said he was on 20 other secret night missions).

I played the drums as a teenager (and still do; just as a side hobby when I have time and I don't bother others); and it drove my parents crazy; they had to say "stop it" a lot.

He died in 1996, at the age of 73 (would have been 74 in 2 more months). As I wrote in the other com box, he was a self proclaimed agnostistic and skeptic until 3 years before he died.

There was real evidence of a real conversion, as he hated Scripture being read to him before (when I would witness to him and we had many discussions up until 2:00am over the years) he was saved, and afterward he welcomed it and cried when I read Matthew chapters 1-2; Luke 1-2, and John 1:1-18 to him (it was December, close to Christmas time) We discussed John 1:18 and he really loved that verse and said "I believe it now" and "I am no longer fighting against Christ" . His brother, my uncle, led him to Christ and it was hard for me to believe at first, when my uncle called me to come to the hospital and talk to him. Talking about those chapters and the incarnation and atonement and John 1:18 to my dad was a great blessing, he said, "I know now that God and Christ accepts me".

He was bedridden mostly for the next 3 years and had small strokes. He asked me to preach at his funeral, after 3 months before he passed away.

Thanks for sharing about your dad; these are always tough times.

Ken said...

oops - typo - the word "after" should not be there.

He was bedridden mostly for the next 3 years and had small strokes. He asked me to preach at his funeral, after 3 months before he passed away.

should be:

He was bedridden mostly for the next 3 years and had small strokes. He asked me to preach at his funeral, 3 months before he passed away.

Scott said...

Thanks for sharing, James. While I have lost my father - my mother is still with us. My sincere condolences.