My Dad died at age 73 from complications with Parkinson’s Disease in 1993. He was a believer before any of his children were born. He and Mother met at an evangelistic rally she and a colleague held in Paradise, Kansas, as war was about to be declared by the U.S. She and her friend had graduated from Foursquare Life Bible College in California and were having meetings in small towns around the Midwest, and as they say, “The rest is history.” Married, a short stint on a recon team in France, farming in Brookfield, Missouri, two daughters and my brother after the war ended, a move to Kansas City, Kansas, and the only Kansas “Sunflower” since Daddy was me! 🙂
Some of my earliest memories include learning to read from the Bible sitting on his or Mother’s lap, and learning to count as they pointed to the verse numbers as we had “family devotions.” He taught adult Sunday School with more students in his classes than many churches of the time. It was in Victoria Tabernacle where attendance ran around 500, a feat almost unheard of before Calvary Chapel and Westside Assembly of God ran into the thousands. Back then the very few biggest “megachurches” ran between one and 2000.
Dad was not an easy man to get to know, a characteristic of his era where men were admired for being strong and silent. When asked if he loved his family it is reported that he answered, “I put a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, food on the table and give them wheels when they’re old enough to drive. What more is a man supposed to do?” Yes, he loved us as much as he understood of love, which was a lot more than we realized as children. I never saw his chest swell larger with pride than when my brother spoke and played piano at Victoria Tabernacle while home on a visit from college.
In the 60s the hippies of California preached a humanistic “love gospel” that slipped over the Midwest to embrace Woodstock, NY, before permeating back through the Rockies and the Pennsylvania forests to finally meet in Missouri where I was in college, getting ready to go to Alaska for a summer program. The summer turned into a year, and at 20 years old I would spend my first Christmas away from family.
I remember calling my parents in August, 1972, from my boss’s office and telling them he had invited me to stay on for a year. Asking them to get on extensions so both could hear, it was a joy to get their encouragement. Dad said he would pray that I would do a good job and be a blessing in Alaska which Mother affirmed.
I had never heard anyone in my family say, “I love you” to another person. That does not mean they had not said it, just not in my hearing. But I had heard a sermon about the love of God and its implications to our relationships the previous semester, the first one I had ever heard on that topic. Just before saying goodbye, with a lump in my throat I meekly said, “Dad and Mom, I love you.” . . . Dead silence on the phone for what seemed like forever but was only moments, Mom spoke up first. “Well, we love you, too.” Then Dad spoke, “Yeah, son, we love you. Now do a good job up there in Alaska.”
When I returned home, Mother met me at the airport, and when Dad came home, as we started to shake hands, he pulled me closer and I realized we were going to hug. And that became a pattern whenever I would be gone for a season, first to finish college, then to my first job, then through career changes. Whenever I came home, Dad and I would shake hands and it would turn into a warm hug.
For families today, any Dad that does not provide physical support to his children is tantamount to child abuse, but back then most of my friends were surprised if they saw Dad and me hug each other. Their dads did not do that, and these were dads that I know loved their sons as much as mine loved me.
Dad had to take early retirement from a long career as a local truck driver due to progression of his Parkinson’s. His feet could not move quickly enough any more to drive the big rigs safely, so at 63 he began to relax and drive Mom up a wall with being underfoot until she discovered their mutual love of the Kansas City Royals baseball team.
Just before he died in 1993 we visited in his hospital room and I asked him, “Dad, I know you’ve taught the Bible longer than I’ve been alive, but I remember one of the things you taught was to never assume someone knows Jesus, no matter how religious they may be. . . . So Dad, do you know you’ll go to Heaven if you die?” To my delight he smiled at first before breaking into a small laugh as he assured me, “Yes, son, I know Jesus is my savior, and you know, based on Psalm 90, I owe the Lord three “years of grace” over the 70 that we are supposed to get.” So we talked more about Father’s love for us and the grace that he gives.
In 1996 I was mulling over these events and penned the following song that I wish someone could sing for you. The music is pretty good and if I ever get someone to show me how to load videos to YouTube, and get a vocalist who can do the song justice, and maybe my brother or brother-in-law to play it, I’ll post an edit to this blog.
In the meantime, here is my memory of my Daddy and his Years of Grace, until I worship Jesus alongside of him:
Years of Grace (A memory of my dad from 2 Corinthians 4) ©May 14, 1996
1. My father laid before me, his body trembling like a leaf.
He said, “Son, I know the Lord Jesus, and I’m ready for Heaven’s relief.
He’s blessed me each year of my seventy-three, and though just a blink of His eye,
That’s three Years of Grace to give back to the Lord when to His presence I fly.”
“These are the Years of Grace that the Lord has given to me,
And though I long to see His face, there may be reasons I cannot see
To keep me here in this time and place to learn to serve Him more faithfully.
Though outside we appear to be dying, inside the light of Jesus is shining.
He put such treasures in this earthen vase in these Years of Grace.”
2. Years ago I left the Way to chase the pleasure of sin,
But Dad prayed and God bore my abuse of His grace to bring me back to repentance again.
So Dad and I spoke of the mysteries of faith and the mercies of God in the night,
And we realized each year was a year of God’s grace bringing us into His light.
3. Then I laid his hand upon my head and said, “Dad, say a prayer for me.”
And like the patriarchs of days long ago he prayed for his whole family.
He named each of us God had put in his care and prayed the light afflictions we feel
Would work in us a greater eternal reward and the weight of God’s glory reveal.
4. So we’re troubled on every side, yet we are not distressed.
We’re never abandoned nor in despair, though persecuted or perplexed.
We may be struck down, but we are not destroyed, for we know His surpassing might
Reveals through our bodies, for Jesus’ sake, His life and His glorious light.
5. Two weeks later my sister called. The Lord had taken Dad home.
His spirit was free from its crumbling shell, from all of earth’s pain he had flown.
I can picture him bowing before the Throne with all the saints who are saved
And singing as angels stand silently by of the Years of Grace the Lord gave.
See you soon Dad, your younger son.