Growing up, I always thought my father was more or less a silent partner in our house. He worked away from home a lot and my mother ran the day-to-day affairs of the household. Only after he passed away did I realize how pervasive and important his influence had been throughout my life. In this day and age, when half of all marriages end in divorce, and so many children grow up without benefit of a father’s input, I feel blessed he was always there for me.
When I was young my father used to talk to me as though I understood deep things. He made me feel intelligent and appreciated as he listened carefully to what I said, and laughed at my jokes. In my vulnerable teens, he encouraged me to use my talents and mind, telling me I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. He affirmed my worth. When teenage boys ignored me for the pretty cheerleaders, my Dad put everything into perspective. Time, he said, was on my side. Soon those boys would grow up and appreciate the more enduring qualities I possessed, and come running. I believed him because he said it with authority, and because I wanted him to be right.
My father was what you’d call upstanding. He was honourable, trustworthy, and lived by a strong moral code of right and wrong. Although not a particularly vocal member of the family, he was nevertheless an active one. Besides working hard to support his family, he helped my mother plant her beloved plants every spring. He maintained their two vehicles with care so she would never have to worry about running out of gas or breaking down on the highway. He even babysat his grandchildren one year while Mother took us two daughters on a Caribbean cruise. He paid dearly for that privilege by contracting shingles from one of them who had just had chicken pox.
Dad worked long past his official retirement to keep Mother living comfortably. Even though he suffered from a bad hip and poor circulation in his legs, he worked full time at the nearby airport giving out parking tickets. After a few years of this, he finally decided to have a hip replacement. The day before he was to come home after a successful surgery, he suffered a massive stroke.
My mother called me home from work that day, and when I first saw Dad unconscious and breathing erratically, I thought it was all over. It almost was. After months of rehab and physiotherapy, it was clear that Dad would never speak again, had lost the use of his right side, and would no longer be able to live at home. His new hip seemed like a cruel irony; he never walked again.
During the five years he had left, Dad continued to demonstrate his character. Instead of self-pity, he accepted the hand he’d been dealt. Voiceless, he still managed to convey a wealth of meaning in new ways: a hand gesture, a vigorous shake of his head, or a nod of approval. He read magazines, watched TV, and attended church services every Sunday, mouthing the hymn lyrics he could no longer sing, with tears running down his cheeks. He learned how to manipulate spoons and forks with his left hand and submitted to the care of his nurses without balking at the indignity of it all. In short, he made the best of a bad thing. He always had a crooked smile or a “thumbs up” for everyone who stopped by. Everybody loved him.
There is no way no know what he really thought about his drastically changed circumstances or how many lonely tears he might have shed in the quietness of his room. Only God knows. But my father bloomed where he had been planted, and to the last day of his life, he remained engaged with living.
I would like to think that when my father arrived in heaven that last day, he heard the voice of his Maker tell him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”