The Man who Didn’t Raise Me

Rod Seiler, Enjoying a Card. Father’s Day, 2011. 

Celebrating my Father on His Birthday

“Your mom did a good job raising you and your brother and sister,” my dad said to me one day as we sat, just the two of us, talking. 
My eyes widened. “Dad,” I said, “You did a good job, too!”
“It was your mom. I was always working,” he sighed.
He’s right. He was always working. In addition to his career as a telephone engineer, he worked at raising decent children. 
I was his toughest assignment.

It began when I was a toddler. Visiting friends, I discovered an old razor blade, rusted beyond purpose, and being a toddler, I put it in my mouth and bit.

My father reassembled all the fragments of crumbling metal, toiling with tweezers, to ensure that I hadn’t swallowed a single sliver. 

The Christmas Eve I was nearly five, bedtime brought bitter tears. I had asked Santa for only one thing, and then convinced myself that unless Santa brought a Baby Pat-A-Burp in the night, he would bring me nothing for Christmas. 
Late, late that night, after I’d sobbed myself to sleep, my dad drove to my grandparents’ home, an hour away, to exchange the doll they’d bought for me with a gift from Mom and Dad’s Santa stash. It wasn’t enough that he knew I would receive the coveted toy at their house, later, on Christmas; he exhausted himself to make a swap so that Santa would deliver my Baby Pat-A-Burp.
He knew it mattered to my four-year-old heart, so he made it happen.
My father taught me, when I was five, how to play chess and form letters. To this day, my right-handed grip on a pen bears his southpaw’s unique grasp. 
The night my brother was born, he walked my sister and me across the hospital’s dewy lawn, soaking all our sneakers, hoisting us to peek through a window into the nursery for a glimpse of our new baby brother. The next day, when my sister and I quarreled over who would wear the “It’s a BOY!” button to school, Dad solved the dispute with a flip of a coin.

When a friendly game of softball turned ugly, shredding the ligaments of my dad’s knee, he wheeled himself into the yard, huge cast supporting his healing leg, to play catch with my sister and me. 
Dad worked hard at his career, too. Mom was home, mothering us: Dad provided the resources for music lessons, braces, new clothes every September, family trips. He served in the U.S. Marine Reserves, having completed his active duty before my birth. He went to college at night. He volunteered at church, coached softball teams, boarded the band bus at 4 a.m. with the other parents.
When I was an intractable teen, rebellious and angst-ridden and angry at the very air I breathed, he loved me enough to weather my endless whining when my drunken escapade had led him to ground me. I could wheedle Mom, whittling her resolve until she relented. Dad stood firm, valuing my character over his comfort. 
If I had a new beau, the young man always had to come inside and shake my father’s hand before we left on a date. Always, Dad asked me, in my suitor’s presence, “Do you have change for a phone call?” He sat, every date night, in his rocker, smoking his pipe and reading until I was safely delivered home. 
The day I wrecked the family car, I expected his wrath. My fingers shook as I phoned him with the news. “Are you hurt?” he asked.

“No, Daddy.”

“Is anyone else hurt?”

“No.”

“Okay, then. Call Mike at State Farm.” 

When my mother died, my father grieved with a grateful heart, thanking every nurse, every visitor, the housekeeper who mopped the floor in the hospital. He shook the funeral director’s hand as we planned my mother’s memorial. 
And always, through every hairpin turn in my life, every opportunity to begin something new, he asked, quietly: “And what about your writing?” He never let me give up on words.

As an adult I learned that some people struggle to see God as a loving Father, as they have no human reflection of that image. My dad showed me mercy and justice, forgiveness and discipline, and love.

Always and unconditionally, he offered love. He still does. 

Yesterday Dad celebrated his 77th birthday. We gathered at my sister’s house.

Watching him, I realized:

Mom was the heartbeat of our family. But Dad was, is, will always be, our backbone. 

21Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.
Colossians 3:21 (NASB) 
Edited on October 6, 2011: I’m repurposing this post to contribute it to a group blogging project at The High Calling, hosted by my friend Jennifer Lee at Getting Down with Jesus. I hope you’ll stop by.

Comments

  1. Jennifer @ GettingDownWithJesus.com :

    Sheila,

    This is a most tender tribute to a man who fathered a beautiful woman: YOU.

    Your attention to detail here has painted an evocative portrait of a man who helped shape you. Such love expressed here through these details — Dad with tweezers, and Dad driving so far to get that baby you so desired.

    Beautiful, my friend.

  2. Jennifer,
    Thank you. Dad and I locked horns a lot when I was younger…too much alike for our own good, I think.

    But I never, ever, doubted that he loved me.

    He's my hero.

  3. I just came over via Jennifer's site… I love this post! You captured your dad so beautifully, and his story reminds me so much of my own dad's. As you said, mom was the heartbeat, but dad was always the backbone… Beautiful writing!

  4. Thanks, Pam! I'm so glad you came by…and I'm glad you had a father who was a backbone.

  5. Brandee Shafer :

    Oh. I really love your dad. And you, his daughter.

  6. Brandee,
    You have excellent taste in Dads. 🙂

    Love to you, Friend.

  7. Oh my word! I am rejoicing that "Red" logged in and left that comment!

    What an awesome dad you have, Sheila. This is a fantastic tribute, and I would be honored to shake Red's hand someday.

  8. Ann,
    Red is a dear friend. We were band parents together when our kids were in HS. His son and my daughter dated for some time.

  9. Well….so I was confused, but charmed. Thank you for clarifying. 🙂

  10. You're welcome, Ann.

    I know Dad came by, because he asked me to email him the image file. 🙂