June 20. 1993 (Fathers'
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
It's been 10 years now since you left us. In some ways that seems like an eternity, in others - it seems like only yesterday. With time, memories start to meld together, such that some of what I recall of you is tied to other recollections, the both of which did not happen side by side. Like how you used to wake me up in the morning, before you went out to jog. The farm boy in you tried to get your suburban son to rise to meet the dawning of a new day - and to appreciate it. The moments of tickling, scratching me with your stubbled face, and inviting me to join you are all one. There are some days, even now, when I open my eyes and almost expect to see you there.
I'm a father now, too. One of my great regrets is that you never got to meet and know my children, and they you. The only way they can do that is through me. And, I confess, Dad, that often I don't do a very good job at it. I lack much of your patience. But I am good at waking them up in the morning with a tickle and a scratch and an invitation to face a new day with appreciation. At least, most of the time.
Thanks, Dad, for being a father to me in such a way that through you I could see my heavenly father. I've encountered so many people whose fathers were not there for them, or were there in troublesome or abusive ways. For them the word "Father" is a stumbling block. Thank you that you made it a stepping stone for me. I pray that I might do the same for my children. It's very easy, though, to see my imperfections. In order to see their heavenly father through me, my kids will be looking through a mirror dimly - that's for sure. A cracked and smoky one.
I remember when I shared with you one of my favorite songs as a teenager. "Cats in the Cradle" spoke of a father who wasn't there for his son, always postponing playing ball or talking, saying "we'll get together then, son, you know we'll have a good time, then." When I played the record for you to hear, I wasn't trying to make a statement about you. If anything, you were the opposite of the song and, if I was trying to say anything, it was how much I appreciated that fact. But those were the years you and I found it hard to communicate. There was real sadness in your eyes when you looked at me - as if you heard the judgement in the song upon yourself. "1,000 times no", I wanted to say, but couldn't.
As I think back on it, though, I wonder if, indeed, you did struggle with being fully there with us kids, just like I do with my children. Even when I am around them, it is hard for me to play with them. Oh, wrestling, tickling, reading a book - that I can do. But play is hard. For some strange, not understood reason, it is sometimes easier to play with the children of others. Maybe it has something to do with our own kids being a mirror of ourselves. I wish you were here to talk about this with.
I do have wonderful memories, though, of special times we spent together. I need to lift these up as examples for myself. Like the time just the two of us went to one of your professional conferences. We left scout camp, you a leader and I a scout. It took us a day to get to Lexington, Ky. On the way we taught each other morse code. How significant that memory is, in light of the following years when morse code was about the only way we could communicate. This is my favorite memory of you. We stayed together in a dorm at the University of Kentucky, while you attended your meeting and I took part in the kids' activities. I had an interest in architecture then, and together we visited the admissions office to check it out. They said I was the youngest person ever to enter their door. While I never went any further in that direction, your love and encouragement were evident. I still feel it, now, almost a quarter of a century later. That's the power of a father's love.
Love was about the only way we made it through the teen years. How I stretched the term. I knew how much I disappointed you by dropping out of scouts, just a few merit badges short of Eagle. Then I was making a statement. I needed to separate from you. Why?, I don't really know, even though I understand all the psychological theory behind it. To me, a better description is "sin", that which so often propels us to do precisely what we don't really want to do. Sin separates us, from each other, from God. Forgive me, Dad, for what I put you through. I wasn't a prodigal son in the way many are, but sometimes the sons who stay home can hurt a father the most... I know my day is coming, with a daughter and 2 sons. In some small ways it is already here. Parents die a thousand deaths. But it is worth it.
Mom was the glue which held us together through that time of separation. My memories of you during those years are almost non-existent. I know you were there, we have pictures of the two of us together. But I was, no doubt, so self-absorbed that my ego filled the frame. It wasn't until I was in college that you re-entered the picture. Until then, you were the one who paid the bills, who replaced the basement light bulbs when my rock band broke them with our vibrations during practice...You were an encourager, even then. I just couldn't hear you. Must have been the loud music.
But later, especially after that key year which separated us by over 600 miles, a new relationship began. On the surface it was intellectual, as we talked over the great issues of the day. I was so smart, hah! But underneath, this "sparring" felt good. We were talking in more than morse code. We were debating as equals. I loved it. I loved you. Of course, I still couldn't say so. It's crazy being a man sometimes.
I was so idealistic in those days, ready to go out and change the world. You respected me for that. But you also challenged me with the wisdom of your years. You didn't impose your experience on me, though. You gave me the freedom to come to my own conclusions. Perhaps this is the greatest way in which you patterned for me a heavenly father. As a father now, myself, this freedom is perhaps the most terrifying aspect of being a parent. Our children are given the freedom of choosing rightly or wrongly. Parents can die a thousand deaths. What does this say of our heavenly parent?
You did influence my idealism by lifting up (not dumping) reality. Maybe that's a father's task - to send his children out into the world with a note of realism. Not to destroy ideals, but to temper them - such that children becoming adults do not themselves get destroyed. For the world can do a real number on you. People can be like devils, even those whose hearts seem to be in the right place.
You knew this, Dad. For you had experienced the hurt. But your faith was strong. Don't worry, you passed this faith on, all right. Not just in the sense that your son is a pastor. No, in reality that's the surface. I believe in God because you showed him to me. Thank you, father. Now, will I be able to do the same for my own children? Again, I wish you were here, because I still have so many questions. The difference is, now I look to my heavenly father to see you. You helped make that possible. It still seems impossible that he could know me and love me more that you. But it's true. You told me so.
I know you'll never read this letter. It wasn't really written for your benefit. Somehow, I know, though, that God will make this communication complete. And it won't be in morse code, either.
©1993Peter L. Haynes
return to "Messages" page
return to Long Green Valley Church page