Seven years ago today my father died. It is strange to me that I seem to think about him more now than ever before.
My dad was a good Dad. I loved him and I thank God that I had him for a Dad. There was always a certain disconnect between us – what was most important to me, was not to him. (My Dad was not a Christian.) But this chasm shrunk as I got older and we had more of life in common. I look around at what some folks have to deal with for fathers today and I realize how remarkably peaceful and happy was my childhood.
Yesterday I started thinking about things my Dad did well. It began to turn into a long list. Here are a few of them. Maybe it will encourage all of us dads to do a little better in some of the little things that end up meaning so much.
1. He cheered at my hockey games
I cannot recall a single instance of my Dad “coaching from the stands” or being upset when my team lost. My dad was simply a big fan. He would bring a vuvuzela to the games (yes, they existed way back then), rattles, whatever was noisy and he would cheer us on. It was a tad embarrassing and, of course, when you are 12 years old that is all you are thinking about. Except for that little part in the back of your brain that smiles when you realize your dad is the one everybody likes. We all watched with horror when Cam’s dad came into the dressing room and criticized his son down for blowing a breakaway. But everybody smiled when my dad bought a round of orange pop for the team post game. My dad was a great fan.
2. He came on my scout camps
Now that my son and I go on camping trips, I realize how much my dad loved me! And I have an air mattress. My dad often joined in trips full of dirty boys and bad food. He was not what you would call a “natural camper,” but he was there.
When you have parents like mine, you just grow up expecting that they will be the ones to volunteer for stuff and so you expect them to be there. I see now how wonderful it was to have a Dad who was There.
3. He was home for dinner
Dad was always a busy guy running his own business and being involved in things like Rotary and industry organizations, but he rarely missed dinner. I lived in that golden age when you could set your clock to my dad’s evening arrival. At 5:55 I would often go to the front window and wait for the flower truck to lumber up my street. In the summer, I would wait for him at the corner and he would let me “drive” home. And when we got home he would wash up and we would all eat together. That was so normal to me I was completely blown away when I started to meet people who had never shared a meal as a family. In our family, that happened almost every night of the week.
4. He played the organ
Ours was a musical household. Dad had a great old organ and would often go straight from the dinner table to it. There were lots of classics to be played and even a few Beetles tunes. To this day I will recognize a melody somewhere and have no idea what is the title of the song. My dad had a band with a Benny the sax man, Gilly the drummer, Merrit the fiddler and a few other fellows that were in and out depending on their gig. Those gigs were never any great money-making deal – just a bunch of friends who loved music and enjoyed playing together.
My favorite though, was when Gilly decided to leave his drums at our house so he didn’t have to haul them back and forth anymore. That led to years of me and dad playing together. And if you have heard me drum, you will better understand his great patience.
5. He wrestled with us
It wasn’t uncommon for the jam session to end with my dad chasing me or somebody else around the house. We had one of those good chasing houses – multiple escape routes on one floor. I wonder now, however, if we ever really wanted to get away. The fun was in getting caught and trying to get past those gangly arms that seemed to be always everywhere.
I remember when I finally got big enough to get around those arms and he told me we needed to be done wrestling. I felt kind of proud and miserable all at the same moment. Happy I had conquered the giant, but miserable the fight was over. I loved wrestling my dad.
6. He came to “Father and Son” stuff
Both my scout troop and my hockey league would have a Father and Son banquet every year. I recall one year that my dad could not make it to a hockey banquet. That was the year I learned how great it was to have a dad sitting beside you and smiling back at you when you got your PARTICIPANT ribbon. In my day, only the winners got the trophies.
I played hockey for years and never won a championship. The one year I was put on a team that looked like it was going to win, I got traded. All those years, all that cheering, all those PARTICIPANT banquets. My dad was there.
7. He let me go my way
My dad’s father passed away when he was about 19. That meant he had to quit college and come back to Toronto to run the family business, which he did until his retirement. My sister owns that business now and is doing a great job. I started working at the flower shop, oh, I don’t know, about 7 seconds after I was born. Well, that is the way it felt. It was just part of our lives.
I grew up with my dad talking about the industry, giving me different work experiences, and sharing where he thought things needed to go. I cannot recall him ever saying it, but I always felt from him an expectation that I would follow in his steps.
Once I was convinced of my call to pastoral ministry, the conversation I dreaded most was with my dad. There is no question it was difficult for him. He saw little “future” in that career choice. He was mostly against it.
But he didn’t try to take over my life. I see now God’s great mercy to me in that. As disappointed as he might have been, he said his peace and I went on in my training. He even flew out to California for my college graduation.
It was never a particularly easy topic for us to discuss, but over the years I think we both made peace with it. I am glad my dad let me go where I believe God was calling me. He even let our church meet in his home for a season. And we ended up living there for 13 months when we planted Grace Fellowship Church.
He may not have supported the idea of me being a pastor, but he supported me.
8. He loved my kids
Well, this one makes me cry. My dad was a fantastic grandfather. He thoroughly enjoyed his grandkids and they thoroughly enjoyed him. Granddad would do all the same things he did with us, only with his grandkids. So, there was lots of chasing, lots of music and lots of fun. My kids would bounce with delight when they got to see Nana and Granddad.
It is hard to describe how much it means to a parent to have your own parents love and enjoy your kids. There is a fullness and rightness to it all.
It was not many years after we decided to name our son after his grandfathers, that dad got sick. I think that gave Will and dad a special bond with each other. It was amazing to see how effectively a little boy could cheer up a sick man. I am so glad my son got time with my dad.
9. He gave me responsibility
When I was something like 10 years old, we had a church group visiting our cottage. They ran into boat problems, so my dad and I took the “big boat” out to perform the rescue. Dad jumped into the little boat, got the old outboard engine running and took off for home before she conked out on him. The folks in the “big boat” had no idea what to do, so I did what I always did – got in the driver’s seat (on a few lifejackets so I could see over the deck). I drove everyone home nice and safe and about that time my mom realized what had happened. You can ask her the rest of the story!
Whether it was on the boat or in business, my dad would give me responsibility. Once he told me to bring my friend Robbie down to the shop and he would set us up with a fresh flower stand. I had to “buy” the flowers on credit, sell what I could, pay him off and keep the difference. It was a good lesson in business… and mob intimidation! The local king of the street where we were selling our wares kicked us out forthwith. Like the time he had me selling Vexar nylon bags at a flower auction and I got kicked off the property or selling… well, it’s a long list of selling things and getting kicked off our out of somewhere. Needless to say, I learned some life lessons. Like how to hide from authorities!
10. He loved my mom
Here is my basic childhood memory. Dad leaves in the morning, he kisses mom goodbye. Dad gets back at night, he kisses mom hello. Repeat.
I used to think it was less than stellar that I never saw my parents fight. Now I realize how privileged I was. They had their things to deal with like any married couple, but it never crossed my mind that they might not love each other.
That let’s a boy grow up with lots of confidence and little worry.
11. He had fun with me
Every year dad and I would go on a boat trip somewhere on Georgian Bay. Just the two of us, a cooler of food and a lot of charts. I have thousands of memories from these trips. Some fun and some terrifying! But all memorable.
As soon as I turned 16 my dad realized a lifelong dream and signed us up for scuba diving lessons. Once per week we were in the pool and class. The day finally came for our open water test and dad didn’t pass. It was a rather scary incident, but after that experience he was done with scuba. So was I. It wasn’t any fun without him.
12. He never spoke ill of his father
My dad’s father was an alcoholic, which led in part to his early death. I know almost nothing about the man, but I keep a picture of him in my office. A solemn reminder that, but for the grace of God, there go I.
A different look came over my dad when he talked about his father. It is not that he had nothing good to say about the man, but more like he had little good to say about him and therefore chose to not say much at all. A lot of this is speculation on my part. When my dad was dying from cancer I asked him a couple of times about his father. I wanted to know. But he chose to not tell. I think now, that spoke to my dad’s character.
13. He honoured and cared for his mother
Like I said, my dad had to quit school and come home to run the family flower shop after his dad died. By the time I was on the scene, his mother was retired and frail. She lived in the apartment over the top of the store and dad would go there every day for lunch. Some of those lunches were epic, like the time she made grilled cheese with the plastic wrappers left on the cheese slices or mistook cat food for the tuna can. But that didn’t stop my folks from caring for Grandma.
My dad gave his mom most of the credit for keeping the business afloat in those hard days after her husband’s early death. The world was not used to a woman business owner, so she would coach my dad from the sidelines and help him with all the financial decisions. They made a good team.
And I cannot recall a single time he spoke ill of her. He taught me how to honour my parents by his strong example.
My dad was not perfect. But he was a good dad.
I thank God that He gave him to me.