We tend to immortalize people who died. At funerals, you rarely hear someone euologize the deceased by sharing some of their questionable qualities.
John was a great man. Kind. Compassion. Loyal. But geez, his temper was out of control. He’d flare up as quickly as a bad case of hemorrhoids. And his mouth? Made a trucker driver sound like an angel.”
“Jennifer was lovely. Inside and out. Except when she was driving. I’m surprised someone didn’t run her off the road. She always followed too close. She flipped the bird constantly. She even yelled and screamed at old people driving too slow.”
Most times it feels disrespectful to mention any less than stellar qualities at the end of someone’s life. Or in the continual light of their absence.It was that way with my father. He died almost twenty-two years ago. I was fourteen. Impressionable. Insecure in my identity. I held grief in my hand like a rattlesnake. It shocked me, and all I wanted to do was chuck it as far away from me as possible. I was numb in the wake that my father was never coming back. This is it? Once he’s in that box in the ground, it’s over?
For years afterward, I esteemed him in the mesmerizing yet misleading light of perfection. He could have done no wrong. He had no faults, no bad tendencies, no blemishes on his spotless character. Truth was, he wasn’t a perfect man. But he was a great man. He was a hard-working man. He was a godly man. He was a man who had a servant’s heart and a gentle spirit.
‘Yes’ to all those things. ‘No’ to perfect.
I don’t immortalize my dad as a saint. But I do remember the things that made him a great man. How he never made snide remarks about my chubby body or love for cream soda and ice cream. How he faithfully read his Bible at the kitchen table every morning. How he wanted nothing more than a peaceful life.
I’ll never forget what one man said at his funeral. Tears filled his eyes as he spoke of my father in his native tongue, Ukrainian. He told us how every Sunday at church, right before the preacher gave his sermon, my dad would get him a glass of fresh, cold water. With refills.
I don’t think of my dad and envision him as this ethereal spirit radiating beams of light. I don’t pretend if he was still alive, he wouldn’t have been the recipient of my rebellious teenage years, my tantrums, my complaints, my angst (just as my mother was). I also can’t tell you he changed the world, or impacted the lives of thousands of people, or had an infectious personality and oozed charm, or had even a high school degree.
But I can say that just by watching him over the years, my father influenced me to have a solid work ethic. He taught me the value of a simple life. He showed me the importance of faith. In his death, he reminded me to slow down, to enjoy life more than working so hard it only tires you out and makes you sick.
And I can tell you his consistency, his stability, and his desire for peace were the very qualities I asked God to give me in a husband. And He did. A funny thing happened when my daughter was born last year. On April 18, I went into labor. Hours went by as I writhed in pain and tried to remember how to breathe the way I was supposed to.
The contractions seemed endless…for almost 48 hours…but no sign of the baby. On one hand, I felt tortured because my little girl was taking forever to come out and the pain was almost unbearable. On the other hand, I so desperately wanted her to hang in there so she could be born on April 20th—my dad’s birthday.
When the doctor told me it was time to push, I suddenly heard the music that had been playing on my IPod for the last twenty-four hours. My playlist was overpowered by the contractions. A beautifully sung hymn poured out through the speakers, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”
It was my dad’s favorite song. The one we sang at his funeral.
Liliana Claire was born at one in the morning on April 20th. She shares a birthday with her grandfather, whom she will never meet other than in memories and pictures. I pray through my example she learns what my dad taught me.
Happy Father’s Day to dads who, though may be flawed, leave their children with lessons they will no doubt carry with them into the future. Happy Father’s Day to the man who, though the world may never know your name, makes his little girl smile because he took the time to build her a dollhouse or take her fishing or let her visit him on the job. Happy Father’s Day to the man who, though may be quiet or shy, shows his son the value of living a life of virtue, of character, of unconditional love.
Happy Father’s Day to you, too, Dad. I will always remember you.