"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Nearly Perfect Man

I can’t recall when he first coined me “Blondie,” but it’s stuck for the past forty something years—only now, I pay for the blonde to hide the gray lurking beneath. This man who oozes love, gentleness and acceptance is nearly perfect in my estimation. The faded shirt on the fence for incalculable years unfortunately hinders his ability to win Perfect Father of the Century--and maybe the doorless kitchen cupboards.
Always humble, honest, hardworking, Dad centered his life on family from day one, a miracle as great as God parting the Red Sea. Losing both of his parents by the age of 10, Dad shuffled to various relatives until his teens when he finally landed with his oldest newly married brother. In spite of so much tragedy and transition, he graduated high school, married his high school sweetheart and successfully raised three children in three states. Perhaps his days of bouncing to aunts and cousins sealed his nomadic tendency to wander. Although we resided fourteen years in one city, we transferred homes five times.  At least his transient itch never extended into marriage for he recently celebrated fifty years to the same woman. Many men, raised in more ideal situations complete with two Godly parents, possessions and a pet, don’t fare as well as my dad. How does an orphaned boy parent three kids with no role model to speak of? What’s the secret to my dad’s success as a father?
Most men learn to parent from their fathers whether positive or negative. However, my dad has little memory of his father, yet he doesn’t appear to have suffered from his lack of parental influence. From my perspective, a poor father can be more detrimental to a son’s future parenting than a father absent through death. Then again, my dad may be one of those extraordinary fathers who rose from adverse circumstances to become a stellar example.
Dad invested in his kids. I’m not just referring to handing us a few bucks now and then although he did that too. He was not only present, he was involved. A participating parent, he cuddled with us, changed our diapers and corrected us. While he never spanked us, he occasionally would admonish us if we disrespected mom.
“If you do that again, you will find out what will happen,” he’d warn.
We never wanted to find out exactly what he meant, so we stopped.
He coached our teams, cheered our games and came to our band and choir concerts. He knew our friends and our dates. We attended church together on Sundays and every other time the doors were open. He volunteered as a youth worker to keep track of us. During tough times, he encouraged us and was our biggest fan (alongside mom).  For a few years, my dad traveled quite a bit with his job. One Mother’s Day dad had just returned from travel, and we dined at a Chinese Restaurant. When the waiter seated us, the three of us yelled in unison, “I want to sit by dad!” To this day, we occasionally joke about who gets to sit by dad, much to mom’s chagrin.
The experts say the best thing a dad can do is love his kids’ mom. It’s true. Not only did we see dad’s love through his actions, he voiced his love out loud—in front of us, causing us to grimace. Some dads are stoic and barely show affection to their wives in the presence of their children. For their kids’ sake, they need to demonstrate love for their wives in behavior and words. Kids feel more secure. We did. Even though my parents bickered, because of their outward show of affection, we knew their love was strong. My dad defended my mom and was devoted to her. Many times, we attempted to pit one parent against the other until they figured out our game. We’d ask dad first because he most always said yes to whatever we asked. Somewhere along the way, they conversed and clamped down. From then on, dad backed whatever mom said. Bummer.
Unconditional love, especially for his family, characterizes my dad. Many of us tend to treat others with more kindness than our own families. My dad is an exception to this. He always had less tolerance for others outside the family.  While the three of us are as imperfect as hot chocolate without marshmallows, I’m certain he believes we are nearly perfect. He overlooks our faults as the Good Book advocates. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)
Many men are duty-driven, churchgoers; not my dad. His most important success as a father, by a mile, is his Godly example. When I was about two, Jesus transformed his life. He’s never been much of a Bible-thumping, preachy person; he just lived it. Kids can spot a fake a mile away. When dads act all spiritual on Sunday, but the rest of the week cut people off on the road, use the tall finger and treat people they work with rudely, their kids desire to follow Christ as much as toddlers like to nap.  Fathers don’t have to follow Christ perfectly; they just need to follow Him truthfully.
My dad stumbled, slipped, staggered. But, he also scaled, surmounted and soared. Just like all of us. He’s transparent and truthful. He doesn’t excuse; he owns up. He’s someone people can talk to and be real with. Never Pecksniffian, he exemplifies the attitude of the woman that pours her expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet at the pious Pharisee’s home.  When Simon rebukes her actions, Jesus tells him a story about two men who owe different amounts of money to a lender, one more and one less. The moneylender forgives the amounts they owe and Jesus asks who loves the lender more. Simon replies that the one whose debt is greater loves him more. After some explanation, Jesus finally says, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:36-50) My dad loves much because he realizes how much grace he’s been given. During any given Sunday sermon, tears slip quietly down his face as his fingers gently brush them away. He’s not afraid to show his emotion as he recalls all that God has done in his life.
Recently, I was conversing with my sister-in-law who shared with me a poem that her daughter, Taylor, wrote about her daddy. I listened to her read a beautiful metaphorical tribute to this man, my brother, as my eyes dripped like a leaky faucet thinking about my father. My brother, fathering his own three children, resembles his father in all the ways that count. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. My orphan father raised a son just like him.  
My Daddy
 by Taylor Weston

He is like a tree,
standing tall and strong.
He has been there,
as long as I’ve known,
and I know he always will be.
With his roots in the ground,
and his branches held high,
he shows me what is right.
Always patient, always calm,
he teaches me respect.
With the wind, the rain, the sun,
he continues to stand firm.
I learn from him what it is to be free,
to stay true to my beliefs,
yet still respectful and kind.
His arms spread wide,
like branches are,
for warm embraces
whenever there is the need.
And I know he loves me.
While I can’t claim authorship of this appropriately penned poem, I can adopt its words as a tribute to my own father, who at almost 70, has been an immovable tree in my own life. Over the years, I have watched my dad grow as a leader, a teacher and a mentor. His life is an exemplary act to follow. Recently, I heard a man approximately my father’s age say about him, “When I grow up, I want to be just like you.” Me too!

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