Some Things About My Father
My father raised seven kids and never failed us. And that is a lot to say about anyone.
He left behind ten grandchildren and another on the way. My own daughter and my sister’s child probably won’t remember him.
But maybe somewhere they will.
He was married 50 years, and it was a good marriage, the kind we all hope and work to have. He renewed his vows to my mother two days before he died.
It’s a lot for God to give someone, to die on your own terms. But he gave it to Daddy. And much as we’d like to, we can’t argue with him about that.
But I’d like to take a few moments to say some things about my father.
My father grew up in Chicago.
Before he met my mother, he had never gone camping, never really traveled.
After they married, my mother, who was the adventurer, talked him into his first trip out West, a camping trip through the national parks.
Every summer after that they could afford it, and many they couldn’t, they took their kids camping “out West.”
My father loved it so much that every time we got on I-20 heading home from Atlanta, pointing west, he would say, “Honey, listen to this car. She wants to keep going. She wants to go West. If we keep her pointing west, she could go another 100,000 miles.”
We never saw a single city. We must have passed San Francisco half a dozen times, and we always took the farthest perimeter around it.
But we saw mountains and oceans and trees so big we could never forget them. We saw lakes in the Canadian Rockies that were pure turquoise. We saw the Grand Canyon. We saw Big Horn Sheep and elk and moose and grizzly bears. We drove roads with names like “Going to the Sun.”
Our father dragged us out of our sleeping bags at three every morning, because that’s when he liked to drive. One night we stopped in the middle of nowhere in Texas at 4 a.m., and we all piled out of the car so we could stare at the stars. And so I can tell you that the stars over Texas at four in the morning are something to see.
My father taught me my first word, Moon.
I didn’t like to go to sleep, and he and my older brother would walk me around the house when I was a baby and point at the moon.
When I told my father my own daughter didn’t like to go to sleep, he laughed.
My father went to Paris once.
You didn’t go to Paris so often back then. Not on a professor’s salary, with six kids and another on the way. It was the trip of a lifetime for him.
I was 15 months old, and he missed me so much he came back after only a week.
He said the French didn’t know how to speak their own language anyway.
My father spent his teenage years in a monastery, from 14-24. He was going to become a monk, and then he thought he might become a priest, and then he met my mother. And they had seven kids.
He loved to tell this story: While he was at St. Mary’s College, he and a friend built a cannon to fire tennis balls at the neighboring Navy base. Navy personnel were coming out of the buildings to see what was hitting them when their dean walked by. He thought for sure they were going to get in trouble. And the Dean said: “Can I try?”
My father taught like that dean. He believed it was most important to learn, even if you were causing trouble.
He loved Socrates, and like him, he liked to get people riled up. He said that got them thinking.
Sometimes, around town, like when the new dentist turned out to be a former student of our father’s, you had to find out exactly how riled up Daddy had gotten him before you let him drill.
He thought we should all question, all the time, and he believed passionately that that was one of the things he was called to do in life—get other people thinking. Teach.
When my sister was looking through his Bible yesterday, she found out a couple of things: There are some typos in the Bible. And my father corrected them.
And nearly every quote he underlined had to do with teaching, shepherding, pastoring, stewarding. Taking care of other people.
When he got his PhD, he had to choose between a job offer in a small town in Georgia and another in Vancouver.
He chose Georgia because of a dream.
My father believed very powerfully in God and listened when he thought there was a message.
As teenagers, most of the seven of us had some trouble fitting in, in this small town, and we occasionally thought about Vancouver and wondered if God was really the one behind this dream.
But he made the right choice.
Although my mother didn’t resign herself to the humidity for a good twenty years.
My father built our house with his own hands. My brothers and older sister and mother helped.
Some of the hot water taps in that house run cold water and vice versa. And the stereo system in the living room goes off any time someone flipped a light switch in the utility room, three rooms away.
Like my father, the house has its eccentricities, but it stands the test of time.
A young man who had grown up in Chicago, he built this house in the wilds of Georgia.
I was 9 before they paved that red dirt road.
He built the house halfway up the hill that rises above the river.
He said if you build a house on top of a hill, you lose the hill.
When they were drilling for water for our house, they drilled three times and came up dry.
The well man told my father it was hopeless.
My father walked over all the property, stopped at a spot, and told the well man: “Drill here.”
They hit so much water the well man said that well would never run dry.
And it never has.
And I think that says it all about my father. That, where no one else could even find water, he drilled a well that will never run dry.