I was thrilled to discover my column for this month fell on the weekend of my father’s birthday. I felt a tribute to him was in order, but how do you squeeze 79 years into 790 words? That’s 10 words per year, or 0.027 words per 28,835 days of life. Wow. I’ll do my best.
Strickland Gillilan wrote the poem “I Had a Mother Who Read to Me.” Well, I have a father who sang to me. Every night he’d get his banjo uke and sing tunes to us kids. We’d beg for “Frankie and Johnny,” the old train songs or “The Blacksheep” — anything with a lot of verses, just to keep him there a little longer. He instilled in all of us a love of music and an appreciation of time spent together.
I have a father who prays for me. It’s humbling and comforting all at the same time. The outside water spigot is under his study window, and I was on
my way to fill a bucket for the goats when I saw him with his head bowed, hands clasped together, elbows resting on his desk. A line from a Randy Travis song goes, “You almost felt sorry for the Devil, ’cause when Momma prayed, he didn’t have a chance.” I know the world is in good hands, because my dad prays. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16, King James Version).
I have a father acquainted with grace. When Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease several years ago, a family friend expressed her sorrow to me upon learning the news. She said Dad didn’t deserve it, he was such a good man; and did he ever ask, “Why me?” I laughed and explained to her that was the last thing he’d think.
When I told him about it, he laughed, too, and said, “I’ve been blessed beyond measure in my life, and I know God will use this for blessing as well. Like the apostle Paul said, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10, KJV). And yes, he really did say that.
I have a father who is true to the Bible. As a pastor, he still studies every day, making sure that what he preaches from the pulpit is true. Parkinson’s may have weakened the outward man, but the inner fire is apparent when he teaches God’s word, not pulling any punches when it comes to Bible doctrine, believing that “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Revised Standard Version).
I have a father who enjoys life. When we were kids, my brothers and sister and I could always count on him to join whatever game we were playing when he got home from work, be it kick-the-can, basketball, volleyball, football, or softball. All the kids in the neighborhood came to play at our house because our dad was fun, and, regardless of age or ability, everyone got to play. We learned to play our best and be good winners and losers.
I have a father who gives without strings. Following 2nd Corinthians 9:7, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver,” he advises us to be graceful. If we lend, don’t expect or demand it back, and don’t make an issue of it.
I have a father who leads by example. He recently baptized two friends in the cold waters of the Atlantic without any hesitation, because they asked him to. I’ve never heard him swear, use the Lord’s name in vain, or lose his cool. He has been a Coast Guardsman, a husband, a student, a parent, an electrician, an ironworker, a teacher and a vocational school instructor. When he became a pastor in his late 30s, he continued his teaching while maintaining two churches in the midcoast region.
He’s confident without being arrogant. Fair without compromise. He’s unconditional love personified, regardless of social status, educational status, economic status, race, religion or creed. But he’d be the first to tell you it’s not him, it’s Jesus Christ in him, that makes him who he is.
I remember one of my Sunday school teachers telling his students that we are the only Bible some people will ever read, so we should do our best to be a good example of what a Christian is. That’s my father. Thanks, Dad; I love you.
Brenda J. Norris is assistant Sunday school leader and choir director at the West Lubec Methodist Church. She may be reached at email@example.com. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.