Measuring greatness on Father’s Day
As a kid, I wished my 5’3 father was a foot taller. My friend’s dads went fishing, hunting, changed the oil and tuned up their cars, threw a spiral to their sons, and hit a golf ball 250 yards down the fairway. Mine wore a white shirt and tie each day. I wanted him to buy an Oldsmobile instead of Plymouths and Studebakers but knew we couldn’t afford it. He was not a dad that I could brag could beat up your dad. No guns, alcohol, or cursing; no macho posturing, no grease under his fingernails. Didn’t own a boat or ever ride a motorcycle. I don’t remember him ever losing his temper. I thought that if my father was a tougher, bigger, surlier guy, I would be too.
He died on Father’s Day morning eight years ago at the age of 92. Had he lived, this year would be his 100th birthday.
I’m no longer a kid and the former things do not matter, for the memories now are of a man of stature who could not lie and a man of compassion who spent his lifetime helping others.
In the 1950s he sponsored a refugee family from Poland who sought a new life in America. In the early 60s, it was a family escaping Castro’s Cuba. He made sure they had homes, jobs and school for their children.
Early in his ministry, he was active in an interfaith group of Roman Catholic, Jewish and Protestant clergy on the west side of Chicago. He brought a black family into church membership against opposition. He met the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and served as an administrative pastor to the black preachers on the south side of Chicago during the heat of the Civil Rights era in the later 60s.
He looked shaken one evening when he came home, after holding the body of a young father who died in his arms after a fatal construction accident during the building of a church addition.
One Christmas afternoon he went visiting people for whom Christmas wasn’t merry.
He went immediately to the home of a husband who cut his wife’s throat and threatened those who came to help her.
On a New Year’s Eve, the college daughter of a church family was killed in a snow mobile accident, and dad sat through the night not only with the parents but also with the boy who caused the accident and cried that he was the one who should have died.
Some readers will remember my father during his 22 years in retirement in Haywood County. Raised and educated in Louisville, Kentucky, he went north for his seminary days and stayed in northern Illinois until retirement allowed mother and dad to live their last years here in the mountains they loved.
He was president of the Waynesville Kiwanis Club, taught an adult Sunday school class and at Elderhostels. He assisted each summer at a day camp for adults with special needs. As a fearless carpenter, he rebuilt the only home they ever owned and volunteered for hands-on projects all over Lake Junaluska. After the sanctuary of First United Methodist burned, he raised 1 million dollars in memorial gifts for the reconstruction and furnishing of the church. He volunteered for the menial jobs and was abidingly gracious. He called all the church members on their birthdays to wish them well. It was a simple thing that mattered.
It was often said in our family that big things come in small packages, and I learned years ago that the size of the person has nothing to do with the greatness within. He did not preach to his sons at home. He didn’t need to, for God’s greatest gift to me was to be born his son and to see firsthand how a meaningful life should be lived.