In January of this year, I drove our van into the driveway, slipped it into park, and burst into tears. They weren’t the silent tears that pool at the corners of your eyes and can be mistaken for an allergic reaction. They were the kind of tears that gather a sideways glance from strangers who wonder if the person crying them may be having some sort of breakdown.
In this instance, they might have been right. I had undergone a difficult few years followed by an even harder few months that left me wondering if the difficult few years had been in vain. With all that in mind, I realized what day it was.
My father had died 25 years earlier, at the age of 63, the same age as his father before him.
I was 52, and while I plan to outlive him, he also had plans to outlive his father. If, heaven forbid, history chose to three-peat itself, that meant I had eleven years left and doggone it if I hadn’t just watched three of them go up in smoke. (Note, if you were a part of those three years, I have a little better perspective than I did. Please understand that things were pretty raw in January). It had been years since I had cried over the loss of my father, but this year it felt more immediate than it had since we lost him on that bitterly cold January day.
My father looms larger in my mind that anyone other than my wife. When I weigh my own reactions and thoughts, hers and his are the templates that I measure against, wondering how my perspective would align with either of theirs. Twenty five years after his passing, I still ask the same question.
What would he think of my path? While my intention has been to emulate his character, I didn’t follow his path.
Dad was a farmer. I don’t just mean he farmed. He was a farmer. He had an eighth grade education from an era where eighth grade was more like fifth is today. He could count on one hand the number of times he’d been on an airplane, including a ride he took one evening with the local crop-duster. He could weld like a union welder, and do complex geometry to build whatever he needed but you couldn’t get him to explain how.
Eight days after my 18th birthday, I loaded my car and left for college. Other than a week or two here or there, I never returned to live on the farm. To his credit, he never made me feel bad about that. It was pretty clear from the time I was a kid that my heart wasn’t in farming and he never tried to force it or expressed regret about it. It’s a hollow thing for a farmer to watch his only son drive away, but he never pressed me on it and was my greatest cheerleader. Dad was not a man without opinions though, and I imagine he’d have some observations had he lived long enough to watch things play out.
He would think our life is risky.
Keep in mind, this idea that our life is risky would be coming from a man who had to borrow money to work the land many years. He’d take that money, put it into seed, then stick the seed in the dirt where he knew it would die. Then his buried fortune of the bank’s money would be vulnerable to the unpredictable weather of North Dakota, land of three seasons – last winter, this winter and next winter. See that photo of the hay bales on the trailer? In his 40’s, my dad would stand on the ground and pitch bales to the top of a pile like that with a pitchfork. I pulled my back starting a lawn mower a few years ago.
He would think our life is entertaining.
Dad loved kids. Even before he was old enough to be a surrogate grandpa, he played that role for kids in our little country church. He always had a joke, a piece of candy, and a compliment for a child. Kids walked away from my dad thinking they were the smartest and most handsome or beautiful child to walk the face of the earth. He was a champion for kids, and he would have loved life at our house.
He would think our life is worth it.
People mattered to Dad. He was a strange brand of extrovert, who could initiate a conversation with a fence post and elicit a response from said post, but he never liked to be in front of people. On my parents’ twenty fifth wedding anniversary, he was asked to stand and say a few words and it nearly killed him even more prematurely than his heart did. He would love that we have poured our life into people, into pastoring and leading people.
Twenty five years is a long time, but it’s not. It’s a moment, and at this moment, I’ve never been happier to have called him my Dad. He granted approval with great generosity, and the confidence I carry is his legacy.
Happy Fathers Day, Dad.
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