The Day I Met my Dad

Dad and I Practice an Important Walk. Mom Supervises. September, 2007.



Getting to Know Him


“Dad, I have a question for you,” It was the second anniversary of my mother’s death, and he and I had met at the cemetery. As we stood among the urns and crypts, the silence of the place pressed in on me, made it hard to breathe. So I launched a conversation.

“Go ahead,” he said.

“Way back when I was at the church reserving the fellowship hall for you and Mom’s golden anniversary party, I got to talking with the church secretary. She dug out an old book and showed me the record of Auntie M’s baptism, in 1939. I remember Grandma and Grandpa Downs going to church….” My voice sputtered out.

“Yes?”

“I don’t remember your parents going to church. Did they?”

Dad looked out over the green, green lawn, dotted with markers every eight feet, a bench tucked in here and there. I wondered if he noticed the contrivance of peace landscaped into this place.

“My parents went to weddings and funerals,” he told me.

“So, did you start attending church when you met Mom?”

“No.”

I pressed. “Well, when did you start to attend?”

“When I was eight. All the other children in the neighborhood went to Sunday school, so I thought I should go too. I rode my bike to Sunday school.”

“That’s amazing!”

“Not really. I visited several churches, even a Christian Scientist church, before I settled down at one.”

My heart zipped back to the Sunday mornings of my childhood. Mom would be racing about, fastening plastic barrettes in my hair, hunting for the patent-leather Mary Jane that had gone into hiding since the previous Sabbath. And Dad?

Dad would be in the driveway, warming up the car.

I turned and studied my father as if I’d never seen him before, puzzling to work this new information into my understanding of him. I pictured a little boy on a blue bicycle, pedaling off alone on a Sunday morning, wobbling down the driveway as he took himself to Sunday school.

As a child, I confused proximity with causality. Since Mom was the one hurrying to tame my wayward hair, track down my sister’s fugitive shoe, and pack baby brother’s diaper bag, I’d always figured that she was the motivating force behind my family’s church attendance. I thought our faith was a Mom thing.

Now I had a new sense of its importance to Dad. It mattered enough that he’d gone alone, as a small boy, to learn.

I wondered what else I had wrong.

I thought of my weekly phone calls home. Over the years, it was always the same: If Dad answered, he’d ask how I was, then say, “Let me get your mom.” All those years I’d figured Dad wasn’t interested in talking on the phone.

But now our phone conversations would stretch over time, leisurely-like. I remembered him telling me, a few days after Mom died, how he regretted taking those faraway jobs that distanced them from us kids once we had grown up. “She missed you so,” he’d said. 

It dawned on me then: He hadn’t passed the phone to Mom because he didn’t want to talk to me. He’d passed the phone because he knew how much Mom wanted to hear my voice. Sacrifice, not disinterest, led him to relinquish the telephone to my mother.
Since that day at the cemetery I’ve spent a lot of time sweeping the thick dust of assumptions from my memories of my dad. My understanding of him is a lot different with all that crud polished off. This man who claims he didn’t raise me, preferring to credit my mother, is more complex than I imagined.

It took a small black-haired boy, riding off alone on his blue bicycle to look for Jesus, to point it out to me. 

17 “Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. 18 “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty. 

2 Corinthians 6:17-18 (NASB)

Comments

  1. Your story had my heart a-racing. I could sense your tension, your emotions of discovery and love, your puzzlement over re-examining your assumptions.

    Beautiful.

    Your post today fits in exactly with my blog post for tomorrow so I hope it's OK if I include a link to your post.

    Blessings and smiles,
    Linda

  2. Brandee Shafer :

    Ah, the faith of our fathers. I find it so beautiful that our Lord drew your eight-year-old dad to Him. And that your dad responded to that call.

  3. Ah, Linda, you bless me with your kind words. I'll be looking for your post tomorrow! Thank you!

  4. Brandee,
    It's amazing, isn't it? I've heard more stories, lately, of children being drawn to seek Him.

    It's such a beautiful thing.

  5. Carolyn Counterman :

    Oh Sheila. I have found things out about my father lately. They weren't good things – not even things I needed to know really. Yet he felt compelled to share, and to malign my mother in the process (a la "it's okay if I did a bad thing since she did a bad thing too"). I am hoping that God will knock Daddy up side the head and tell him to shut up. I can't take much more of this. I hope that you don't mind that I am pretending that your dad is a little bit my dad too. I need a faithful dad in my life.

  6. Lovely story, so well told, Sheila.

    Isn't it interesting how the kind of traditional mom-at-home, dad-goes-to-work homes many of us were raised in (and some of us built for ourselves), that mom too often becomes the dominant figure/motivator?

    My middle daughter called me on that very thing when she was a young adult – about 18, I think. She asked me why she'd never gotten a birthday card in her dad's handwriting – and I realized I had sort of usurped my husband's place in that small and in other larger ways. I surely didn't mean to do that – but it happened.

    I am so grateful to watch my own kids do a far better job of really sharing every aspect of parenting. And now my husband and I get to do it better with our grandkids, too. Dads are SO important and I'm grateful with you that you've been able to explore the ways that is true with your own dad. It is truly never to late to learn how important they are!

  7. Carolyn, I'm sorry. It's hard when people tell us painful things.

    Pretend all you like. My dad's got a big heart.

    But never forget (I know you won't) that faithful Daddy we all share. 🙂

  8. Diana,
    Yes, and yes!

    Though I must say, my dad always signed my birthday cards himself. 🙂

    I love watching Rich hold our grandbabies. Especially when they're tiny. My dad was afraid to hold Elaine until she was about three months old.

  9. A Joyful Noise :

    We assume so much and it is good go get some hard facts and learn to know the real person.

  10. Yes, Hazel, we do. Maybe the biggest assumption is that we already know that person we sat across the table from for all those years…

  11. This is such a sweet, sweet story. You teach me so much, Sheila. I guess we are never too old to learn truth about our parents.

    I hope you have been well and Advent has been sweet waiting for you. I am sending my love.

  12. Laura, you humble me…you who taught me "irenic" and "Shekinah."

    Yes, the waiting is so sweet. I hope yours is too.

    Sending love to you!

  13. Words about fathers & dads most always embrace my heart. Hard to believe, but my father passed away 21 years ago this Valentines day. My mom went 2 years after him on the exact same date. Not a day goes bye that I don't use something he gave me. Sometimes a physical tool, but more often a word or phrase that is a tool for my soul.
    His last words to me were that he was proud of me, a hard thing to try to live up to…….en theos…..jlawrence

  14. Jim,
    Thank you for sharing these precious memories of your father. I'm humbled.

    My mother's last words to me were "I don't understand."

  15. Megan Willome :

    Since my mom's death, almost two years ago, I am getting to know my dad better, too.

    Thanks for sharing this new perspective on yours. There's so much we misinterpret, isn't there?

  16. Megan, there IS, isn't there?

    I amaze myself sometimes with the breadth of my misconceptions. Sometimes I can tell my conception is wrong but I can't see what's right. That always frustrates prideful me.

  17. As I read all these comments and think back at the lack of constant father figure I had as a child, I think to myself am I being the father to my kids that they will remember and not confuse work with a lack of concern for them… It comes to mind constantly and weighs greatly on my heart everyday knowing the life I have brought them into while being a military father. As I type this while waiting for a repair part on the plane, being away from my family, it brings tears to my eyes at the very thought.

  18. Rob,

    You're an AWESOME dad to my grandsons. Trust me.

    Love you tons. Can't wait to see you.
    Mom.

  19. Great story about your dad, Sheila. Just a great story.

  20. …Carolyns very honest forthcoming comment raises some interesting questions concerning human behavior and the mechanisms we employ to survive psychologically when we simply cant cope with the unpleasant truth in our lives…sometimes we embellish the truth..at other times we 'sugarcoat' and in extreme cases we even deny the truth…of necessity we all are become spin-masters..because we cant handle the truth…

  21. Thanks, Glynn! He's a great dad!

  22. Anon.,
    That's an interesting perspective. I'm not sure everyone can't cope with unpleasant truth. But the phenomenon you describe is certainly too common.

    And Carolyn's honesty, even in the midst of pain–it impresses me.

  23. Carolyn Counterman :

    Wow. If I'm not planning on being forthright and honest, I usually don't bother commenting. The hard part is not telling you what is going on. The hard part is admitting it to myself. Once I get past that barrier, telling others is fairly easy. I have a background in recovery, where honesty is absolutely essential to survival, so I'm a little bit more passionate about it than the average Joe.

  24. Wow is right, Carolyn! To steadfastly stand by what you k ow is healthy and true and right, no matter what you're being told….well, that just says a lot of wonderful about your character.

  25. know

  26. Sandra Heska King :

    So totally undone at the thought of him pedaling away by himself–yet waiting and warming the car to carry his family.

    And the opening of your eyes to his sacrifice, not disinterest.

    This is beautiful, Sheila. Beautiful.

  27. It's something, isn't it, Sandy! I didn't connect those two as you did.

    That photo of your dad, watching the video at your mother's service? Undid me, it did.

  28. ..Carolyn..As a recovered Alcoholic (4yrssober)who regularly attends AA meetings your post stood out above the rest to me for its brutaly honest disclosure..its something i tend to notice much more now that i must practice it myself..as i initally read your post it occurred to me that maybe your father was attempting to make Amends of sorts..its tough to know just how far to take the process with others not knowing how they might react to hearing the harsh truth…I wish you well Carolyn..I mean that…..

  29. Sandy,
    Your comment made me realize that I wasn't clear in my initial post. I never thought Dad was disinterested in me; I thought he wasn't interested in phone chats.

  30. Anon.,
    Congratulations on your sobriety.

    And we all benefit, don't we, by honesty as clear as Carolyn's?

  31. Carolyn Counterman :

    Anon, congratulations on your sobriety! Four years is a lifetime in those terms.

    I wish I could say that what happened recently with my father was a botched attempt at amends. Sadly, it was not. It turns out that some things he had harbored over his lifetime have decided to show themselves now that Mama is gone. He was very angry and calculating in his approach. The siblings aren't even defending him this time (that is huge). There is still a chance that he might make one of his awkward attempts to smooth it over. Things will never be the same after this last bit, but we will make the best of it. As part of my living amends, I have promised my father that he always has a home at my place. He still refers to my house as his home. And if sharing my home with this hurtful man in the last years of his life is what I'm called to do, I will. I will honor my promise. I have been blessed with the emotional support needed to see me through this.

  32. Carolyn,
    Thank you for sharing your heart here.

    I'm praying.

  33. I think it's interesting that we dont really know our parents until after they have passed.

    What will my kids finally understand? And what can i do to make sure they dont have to wait?

  34. Sheila Seiler Lagrand :

    It is interesting, David. I feel so blessed that I began to understand Dad better while he's still here for me to enjoy his company.

    Some of that understanding, I think, is a developmental phase. I could be wrong. But I have a feeling when they're able to see, they'll see.

    I was a late bloomer.

  35. Wow Sheila – this is so sweet. You make me stop this morning and consider my own parents. I've known they had their stories – and I know a lot more about those stories – but I don't always see them as people, living just the same way I am learning to live. It makes me want to communicate that much more with my own children now.

  36. Sheila Seiler Lagrand :

    Kelly,
    You said it perfectly. "I don't always see them as people." That's really it, isn't it?