Almost every person who had a good father figure in the home could offer some valuable and vital lessons learned from that fatherly influence. I am no different. My story is not unique, except it is my story to cherish, and when I have the opportunity to do so I tell it.
Decades ago, at the early age of 47, my father passed away on August 30 and was buried on Labor Day.
He was in so many ways what we now call a mentor. He was also my hero as I grew as a young boy. This is the same testimony so many other people can offer, and I am glad that is the case, because it is a healthy way for life to unfold.
Like some in my generation, my father was a World War II veteran. He was a part of the Eighth Air Force of what was then the Army Air Corps. His role in the war was to be a crew member of the B-17 Flying Fortress fighting force over the skies of France prior to the invasion called D-Day and later over enemy territory held by Germany.
My father did not talk about the war. It saddened him to do so. When I would probe and pry, he would reluctantly share anecdotes about his experience that left me astonished and thirsty for more information.
Little came because, like so many of his fighting generation, he could not speak clearly and openly about the loss of life and the carnage of war he helped create.
Since his death, I have thought much about how much I learned from him as a father and spiritual influence.
These are simple observations, but I hope you find them helpful to you in your pilgrimage. If that happens, then I am very grateful indeed.
Although my father was not an educated man, he had some natural leadership instincts that served as an opportunity for me to learn from him, even when I did not know he was teaching me.
In our local church, despite little formal education, on a few occasions, my father was called upon to be chair of the deacons.
He took this role seriously. I can remember him reading books on how to be a good deacon and especially a chair of deacons. I recall him praying with our pastor and taking the time to visit with him as the pastor made his rounds in our community.
For my father, leadership meant devotion. He was devoted to the task at hand, to the call upon his life.
Later, that example guided me in my ministry. Often, I thought of him as I was making pastoral and leadership decisions. When I visited the sick or made evangelistic visits, I would remember his exemplary influence on my life.
I don’t know for sure, but I believe my father enhanced his reading skills in military service and in reading the Bible. He was by no means bookish, but he was inquisitive. He wanted to learn, and learn he did.
My dad was good with his hands. He was mechanically inclined. Early on, my father could discern that I was not mechanically gifted. His advice was for me to read and read all I can: Learn from those who have come before us.
From his influence, I learned the value of reading the Bible. I sought to read biographies and American history, especially military history. This desire intensified through the years.
Years ago, someone asked me, “Why do you read military history so much? Why read about war?” My answer, unrehearsed, surprised me, “Because I want to know as much as I can about how to make peace.” Avoiding total war is not always possible, given human nature, but I have “given it a go,” as the Brits say.
Sadly, my father never lived to see me become a pastor. He did hear some of my most ineffectual, novice sermons early on, but he was gone by the time I was called to my first church.
At my ordination, I remember leaving a chair vacant symbolizing his presence in my mind. Throughout the years, I often wondered what advice he would have for me.
There were times I could hear his voice in my mind, sharing encouraging affirmation. In the low points of serving the Lord, he seemed to be “an unseen witness” to what I was experiencing.
From the vantage of an age he did not live to see, I am thankful to our Lord for giving me 18 years with my earthly father because he taught me so much about my Heavenly Father.
Life is lived in chapters — at least that is one way to view the experience of living. That early chapter or so was so spiritually formative for me. It became a foundation on which I sought to build my life.
One passage my father loved to talk about was the one found at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus challenges us to build our lives, our houses, not on sand but upon the solid foundation He offers.
Pam and I were blessed with two daughters. As a boy growing up around boys, I didn’t know much about girls; and I guess I still don’t know much. However, I pray that, like my father, I set the example of building your life on the solid foundation of Christ alone. If that is the case, then the legacy continues.
Grandparenthood or being a grandfather has offered a new opportunity to help the youngest generation to build their lives on the foundation of the Solid Rock, Jesus Christ.
Through their parents, I can see that foundation being built before my eyes. You cannot imagine how much that means to me.
Also, if my father had made it to the ripest of old age, like a few of the World War II generation, he might be able to see his footprints in the sand of time. He just might smile as he sees another generation far removed from him, “growing in grace and knowledge of Christ.”
During the Labor Day weekend, I will watch some football, and I will read and reflect as I was taught to do, but there will be moments when I will see my father’s face and remember his unique voice.
I pray someday the Heavenly Father will give me the greatest compliment of all, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
When that happens, I believe I will feel obligated to thank the Lord for an earthly father who pointed to Him.