A Tribute to My Dad on His 100th Birthday

            My dad would have turned 100 years old today were he still on this earth, but he left us 37 years ago at the age of 63 – the same age I am as I write this. He had rheumatic fever and rickets as a child and always had health issues.  Then the last 11 years of his life was lived in crippling arthritic pain after he slipped with two children in his arms, fell and broke both of his elbows. There were days that I, as a teenage boy, had to dress him, because of the crippling, excruciating disease. He never complained.

            I began this momentous day listening to church hymns which my dad loved. He was a baritone that, with a bit of training, would have been operatic. Often, we would go to surrounding churches to hear a guest speaker and when the music began and dad joined in, every head turned our way, in awe of the voice that emanated from this 5’8” tall bald guy. Of course, we were mortified that everyone was looking at us, but dad sang louder and, man, he could raise the roof. He liked it and we knew it. I still hear him singing every time I hear, “How Great Thou Art.” But his favorite was, “Heaven comes down and glory filled my soul!”

            He was also a whistler. If you dropped by his place in the country and couldn’t find him in the house, all you had to do was step outside and listen for his whistle. Mostly hymns, but he loved Bing Crosby’s Irish album so it might just be, “The Same Old Shillelagh,” or “Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder?”

            As I was puttering (one of his words) in the garden today, I mulled over ways I could describe my dad and here are a few.

  1. He had a passion to know, and love, Jesus. Dad was a minister of small, country church and his pursuit of understanding Jesus was burned deeply in him for all the 26 years I had him in my life. Dad always had his “nest,” a comfy chair surrounded by the latest books he was reading and a cassette player to listen to sermons on tape. One favorite phrase was, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.” Of all the followers of Christ I have known or profess to follow him, none compares with the intensity in which my dad sought an understanding and relationship with the lover of his soul.
  2. He believed this life is temporary – we’re just passing through. I have never been around anyone who walked as my dad did with a constant awareness of his eternal nature. I was 12 when the arthritis ravaged his body so from there until he passed when I was 26, he lived in a constant state of pain and the only way he could find meaning in the pain was to understand that one day, he would be pain free and it would all make sense. He often quoted the verse, “Our light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. For we look not at the things which are  seen, but the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Dad taught me how to suffer with dignity, hope, and purpose.
  3. He devoured books like candy. Dad read the great minds of history and contemporary culture. Looking back, I realize he had a photographic memory; he absorbed everything he read. He had no formal education past high school but was the most learned man I was ever around because he read, and read, and read. I would put him up against any theologian and bet on my dad for being the smartest one in the room. He bequeathed me his library – his most valued possession. If you saw my dad, no matter where he was, he had a book near him.
  4. He could quote almost any chapter and verse in the bible by memory. Of all the books dad took with him, his Bible was his favorite. In my high school basketball games, dad would be perched on the top bleacher leaning against the wall with a Bible across his lap. One person snidely suggested that dad was doing it for show, but dad replied, “No, it keeps me from yelling at the refs.” We had a great swimming hole north of us a few miles and dad would take us kids up there to frolic and he would lean against an old oak tree with his Bible across his lap. When he passed, his Bible was place in his casket and opened to Isaiah 26:3: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed upon Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.” Dad liked the King James Version.
  5. He believed it was okay to change your mind about God because reading will do that to you. I was listening to a radio preacher once with dad and the guy remarked that he had never changed his mind about God in 40 years. Dad looked at me and said, “There’s a man who doesn’t read.” I watched dad take different positions on certain theological issues that, looking back, I realized they cost him a lot because those with whom he had shared previous views, abandoned him when he changed his.
  6. He had grace, especially for the outcasts, downtrodden and poor and little tolerance for haughty religious people. Because of that, Dad attracted people who were cast out of other churches and religions.  He often shook his head in disbelief and said, “The Christian army is the only army that shoots it wounded.”
  7. Love, and stick by your family, no matter what. Mom and Dad had six kids and none of us were angels 100% of the time, but it didn’t matter what you did wrong, Dad was always there. He would disagree with your life choices and even rough you up a bit when you got in trouble for doing something stupid, but he was always there. He never once turned his back on his kids. Not once. I don’t purport to understand much about human nature, but I do know that when my dad died, our family started falling apart and Humpty Dumpty never did quite put it back together again. He was our rock.
  8. Commit, then figure it out. It recently dawned on me that I learned that leadership lesson from him. Shortly before I was born, he bought and old house south of Rosalia and hired a house mover – the Hobson brothers – to move the old two-story. About halfway down highway 54, they realized they couldn’t clear a bridge a couple of miles down the road. They happened to be by some land the Hobsons owned, so they pulled it in there, set it down and that’s where I grew up. Also, about the same time, dad decided he’d had it with denominational religion, so he built his own church in Prospect, Kansas. Dad worked in the oilfield at the time and continued to do so until the arthritis disabled him but had a small following who helped build the church.  Dad never took one penny for his own service and made sure that after the utilities were paid, that all the money went to missionaries. All of it. He loved missionaries. And those missionaries that came through our little church (the offerings were typically much larger than what they would receive in bigger churches), were from all over the world. I was exposed to various cultures with the whirr-click, whirr-click, whirr-click, of slide projectors and mesmerizing storytellers.
  9. Hard work is an act of worship. Dad told me that society would forgive you for a lot of sins if you were a hard worker, but he had no respect for lazy people or people with their hands out. Even as crippled as he became, he always had a building or engine repair project going on. He was terrible at both but believed, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” so he grilled into us the value of hard work.
  10. He was always funnier than the punch line of the joke he was telling. He would attempt to tell a joke at a family gathering but became so tickled, that he could barely finish. He’d have the rest of us rolling on the floor laughing because of his laughing and by the time he got to the punch line – if he ever made it – the joke was never as funny as him telling it. I have, apparently, inherited this quality.
  11. He had doubts. Dad always seemed like the Rock of Gibraltar, a lighthouse casting direction to lost sailors in a tempestuous sea, or a north star guiding us along the way. However, one of the best gifts he ever gave me was to hear him question his faith. As they were preparing him for the heart surgery from which he would never recover, he said to me, “Well, I suppose I’ll find out whether all these things I have believed all these years or true or not.”  Yet, as they wheeled him into surgery, the last words he spoke to me were, “I’ll either wake up and see the lights of the operating room or the lights of heaven.” He woke up to see the lights of heaven.
  12. Dad was a likeable person. He had taken Dale Carnegie’s course on, “How to win friends and influence people,” and taught me that it was easier to make friends if you spent five minutes learning about them rather than fifteen minutes talking about yourself. For as intense as he was about his faith and knowing Christ, he was not religious or a bit judgmental of people. He was kind, gracious, accepting, funny, complimentary, and generous to a fault.

My brother, Bob, also a minister, spoke at dad’s funeral and read this poem he wrote for him:

My Dad was not the glamorous type

With lots of pageantry and show

His life consisted of simple things

Along the path he chose to go.

He chose a path of utmost integrity

Of honesty and pride

He always taught a humble life

Saying it’s only eternal values that forever will abide.

Every night we would gather around him

As he read of Jesus’s love

He always said he was, “Just passing through,”

To a home waiting for him above.

“The first 10,000 years in heaven,” he joked

Would be spent around God’s throne

“Then I’ll go looking for your mother

And together we’ll enjoy our new, eternal home.”

I think of his love for his family

And how it soothes me day by day

And how he used that old razor strop

To teach us his authority to obey.

My dad taught me many things

And how they comfort me now

Like how to work so very hard

And yes, how to milk our darned ole’ cow.

I cherish the years I spent with him

As we went telling the gospel story

Many an hour we spent with young and old

Revealing the truth of God’s glory.

His work is done, his race is o’er

A glorious crown for him awaits

And someday soon with love’s embrace

We’ll meet inside heaven’s gate.

“Don’t weep for me,” I’ve heard him say

“And please don’t be so sad.

If you could see what I see now

You’d want to come and join your dear ole dad.”

Not long after dad passed, I sat down and penned the words to this song:

Behind My Father’s Doors

Like a prodigal son I wandered from a man who really loved me

He’d brought me into this old world, eighteen years before.

He loved me and he taught me of a Christ who died to save me

And for all of that I turned and walked, out my father’s doors.

Behind my father’s doors, was a place that I could run and hide,

A place that I called home

Behind my father’s doors, were arms outstretched to welcome me

And a love to keep me warm

Behind my father’s doors.

I wasted my life on foolish things, on things I thought would bring me gain

Instead, they brought me heartache as dreams crashed to the floor

I made my way back to him and asked him to forgive me

He threw his arms around me and opened wide his doors.

Behind my father’s doors, was a place that I could run and hide,

A place that I called home

Behind my father’s doors, were arms outstretched to welcome me

And a love to keep me warm

Behind my father’s doors.

I knew the day had finally come when the Lord was calling him

And the father and his youngest son, would visit here no more

With tears running down my face, I said goodbye to my father,

But one day I will see him there, behind his Father’s doors

Behind his Father’s doors, was a place that he could run and hide,

A place he now calls home

Behind his Father’s doors, were arms outstretched to welcome him

And a love to keep him warm

Behind his father’s doors.

And one day I will see him there

Behind our Father’s doors.

Dad bought the old family place before he passed and he and I were gazing out over the pasture and he remarked, “I can see my Grandpa driving his horse-drawn buggy up that road and parking it in that barn over there. My goodness, that was 40 years ago but it seems like it was yesterday.”

At the time, I wondered if he was exaggerating and, it turns out, he was not.

I see him standing behind the pulpit at Calvary Bible Church 38 years ago, but it seems like yesterday. Memories that are as crisp as the spring’s sunrise and as fresh as jonquils springing from the ground.

Suddenly, Heaven comes down and glory fills my soul.