70

Good memories are never emptied of their treasures.

November 6 would have been my father’s 70th birthday. Below is an edited repost of reflections on a favorite memory that shapes my present fathering.

I am a grateful son.

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Bumblebee Pilots
(originally posted Sept. 4, 2014)

Side-by side we sat in a Chevy Chevette.

In a cemetery.

Two men. One confident, one scared. A teacher and student. A father and son.

Tree-filtered breezes meandered across the bright yellow hood and through windows hand-cranked fully open. The yellow, contrasted with the deep-space black, vinyl interior invited active imaginations to view us as pilots of a man-sized bumblebee. A masculine carriage, it was not. At the time, I cared not a bit about a car that was yellow – or bumblebees.

I was under siege. Pinned-down by cascading failures strung together with a thread of terror. I could not master the dance between the brake, clutch, and accelerator. Stooges, those three. Starts, stops, and stalls were their shtick. A humiliating assembly of cyclic failure – which I didn’t find funny.

I succumbed to a pattern of resets, struggling to gain ground toward acquiring stick-shifting fluidity. With each restart, I’d longingly gaze at the root-heaved asphalt that lay in sun-speckled tranquility. I yearned to cruise those curvy paths among the gravestones, deftly marching through the gearbox. But that required a skill I did not have. And in that moment, thought I’d never obtain.

Amidst that battle between man and machine, my passenger-seated father was calm, fully immersed in saintly patience. Woven between the whine of an over-revved engine and the chatter of mistreated gears were phrases of gentle instruction and well-timed encouragement. Over and over, my father renewed his commitment to my success. He was fathering me in the truest sense. I felt his love.

That scene from my 16th summer is a highlight, still vivid in the present because of its ongoing effect. I am now the father in the passenger seat – literally, and metaphorically. It’s a seat that is revelatory. It has brought forth some of my finest, and most despicable behaviors. It has frustrated and agitated. It has made me laugh, wonder, celebrate, and cry. It’s a seat that demands a great deal – day after day.

Life demands many things. How we engage our compulsory duties is a strong indicator of who we are, what we value, and how we grant our trust.

Recalling my rough road to mastering a manual transmission brings to mind this quote from Thomas Watson: “To do duty without love, is not sacrifice, but penance.” (All Things for Good, p.88) My father had a duty to teach me how to drive. But in that necessity, he chose love. He went beyond himself, releasing control and trusting God with the risks.

Many times I have wandered into loveless duty. I’ve found it a debilitating snare of fruitlessness. A joyless enduring pockmarked by missed opportunity.

But each day is ripe with new mercy. Today’s relational intersections are divinely crafted opportunities to extend grace and kindness. To give, not just because we should, but because we want to.

Just like my father, on a breezy afternoon, in a car the color of sunflowers.

Aha!

September has been packed with momentous happenings for my clan.

Last week, our big to-do was the acquisition of a driver’s license for my second son. He completed the rigors of training and passed his final driving test with unexpected excellence. The “unexpected” qualifier is fair. My son agrees.

For many months, he and I have been like alley cats shut tight in a room together. Confined in our four-wheeled cage, instructional drive times exposed our best and worst. His fear and anxiety led to paralyzing uncertainty. His uncertainty met my underdeveloped relational patience, instigating several tense, emotional interactions. Voices were raised, feelings were hurt, the steering wheel was grabbed — by both of us. I was expert at inflaming his anxieties. He was a master at initiating migraines. Squabbling cats, we were.

Together, week after week, we worked to condition his on-the-road actions and reactions. Our key phrase was “drive defensively confident.” Start. Stop. Repeat. Again and again. Speed control, braking distance, parallel parking, and the “simple made difficult” four-way stop. But things weren’t clicking. I’d show him and tell him dozens of times. I had him read the driving manual — twice. He knew the rules; why couldn’t he just do it?

Great question.

Ever have an “Aha!” moment? That flash of inspiration or fresh idea you can’t wait to activate? Today I had an “Aha.” An epiphany, sort of. A revelation that brought me not a novel idea or problem solution, but something that has everything — and nothing — to do with my son and driving.

For a long time, decades really, I’ve known God’s call upon me to be generous. To give quickly,  willingly, and wisely of my time, talent, and financial resource. I’m fully onboard with that principle. Benevolence should be core to the Christ-follower. Yep, count me in.

Yet, for all the messages I’ve heard, books I’ve read, and teaching I’ve delivered, my Father in Heaven needed to bring a personalized intersection of my head, heart, and behavior. A divinely crafted flash of enlightenment.

His “Aha!” from this morning leaves me grateful, and sad.

Grateful for His patient, careful tending to my soul. Sadness for my stunted growth toward being a whole-hearted, generous man. Waves of regret roil as I replay episodes of stingy relating. Moments when I allowed my fear to blanket God’s invitation to trust. To give — even a little. To be an obedient Kingdom partner with what He has entrusted to my stewardship.

In two months my family will be in Kenya for a short stint. It’s an experience that requires us to link arms with friends and family, asking for their participation in our adventure through fervent prayer and generous giving. I’m discovering, with God’s “Aha,” that I’m an eager advocate for generosity when soliciting for my cause. But when others make similar requests of me, eagerness battles reticence. 

Is it pride? Stubbornness? Control? A hint of Scrooge? Whatever the root, it’s serious enough to warrant divine intervention. What I know is out of sync with what I do. It’s like I’m at a four-way stop, hesitant to move. I know what I’m supposed to do; why can’t I just do it? (Where have I heard that before?)

Dane Ortlund said, “We will, every day, be hypocritical in some way. Our creed outpaces our behavior.” Truth — knowledge for right living — requires action. It suffocates when confined to the realm of the mind. If what I know fails to penetrate my heart and activate my hands and feet, it is useless, lonely, and incomplete.

My “Aha!” was a generous gift from my Father in Heaven. A well-timed reminder. Like my son with his driving, I’m a bit slow with assimilation. But there’s forgiveness and fresh starts.

Despite a bumpy beginning, my son progressed to near perfection when tested on his driving skill. I’m proud of him. I hope to progress similarly, pleasing my Lord at the next opportunity to be generous with His resources.

Bumblebee Pilots

Side-by side we sat in a Chevy Chevette.

In a cemetery.

Two men. Confident and scared. Teacher and student. Father and son.

Tree-filtered breezes meandered across the polished yellow hood and through windows hand-cranked to full openness. The contrast of the car’s deep space black vinyl interior gave the impression we were pilots of a man-sized bumblebee. A masculine carriage, it was not. But that was of little concern.

Because I was under siege, pinned-down by a series of moments strung together with a thread of terror. I could not master the mechanical dance between the brake, clutch, and accelerator. Stooges, those three. Starts and stops and stalls was their schtick. A humiliating assembly of cyclic failure – which I didn’t find funny.

Succumbing to numerous resets, I struggled to gain ground toward acquiring stick-shifting skill. During each re-collecting, I’d direct my gaze past the windshield and upon the root-heaved asphalt further along. I yearned to cruise the curvy paths, deftly marching through the gears. But that required something I did not have. And at the time, I was beginning to think never would.

Amidst this battle between man and machine, my passenger-seated father was calm, fully immersed in saintly patience. From the noisy barrage of a high-revved engine and grinding gears emerged phrases of gentle instruction and well placed encouragement. Over and over, he renewed his commitment after each false start. He loved me well.

That scene from my 16th summer is a highlight, still vivid in the present because of its ongoing effect. I now fill the office of father and have spent time in the passenger seat. That seat is revelatory. It has brought forth some of my finest, and most despicable behaviors. It has frustrated and badgered. It has made me laugh and wonder and cry. That seat demands much – day after day.

There are many tasks and requirements we as students and spouses and parents and professionals do because we must. That’s our reality, and it is good. Even so, how we engage our compulsory duties is a strong indicator of who we are, what we value, and how we grant our trust.
 
Recalling my rough road to mastering a manual transmission brings to mind this quote from Thomas Watson: “To do duty without love, is not sacrifice, but penance.” (All Things for Good, p.88) My father had a duty to teach me how to drive a stick shift. But in that necessity, he chose long-suffering, patient love. He went beyond himself, and through his risk of releasing control I felt his side-by-side care for my development as a young man.

I have wandered into loveless duty and found – indeed – it is punishing. A snare of ungrateful effort. A joyless enduring, pock-marked by missed opportunity.

Yet, today is new! Mercy abounds, and each relational intersection is a divinely planned setup for us to love with patient kindness. To give not only because we should, but because it is our desire.

With the onset of a new season of school and activities and fresh routines, my desire that those things I want to do – as well as my duties – be done with tangible, sincere, freely-gifted love.

Like that which was given to me on a breezy afternoon in a car the color of sunflowers.

Dragon Slayer

~ On this Father’s Day I honor my father, a man who slew many dragons on my behalf. ~

More than seventeen years ago, I was blessed with a hope made real.

Joy, wonder, expectation, anxiety, laughter, uncertainty.

Fruit!

I became a father.

Forever.

Never can I shed that role. Five children will always know me as ‘dad.’ My attitudes and actions and words and thoughts and choices and proximity cannot separate me from my fatherly call. For sure, many things will quantify the quality of my parental effectiveness. But inherent with the procreative and adoptive acts that have made me a father is the unrelenting, uncompromising charge to provide and protect. To serve and to lead and to model and to nurture.

As a dad, I’ve been tested, abandoned, tempted, and tired. Celebrated and commemorated. The butt of jokes and the recipient of respect. I’ve been asked to do things I can’t and done things I shouldn’t. I’ve see my hard work ignored as demands for ‘more’ flow unceasing. I’ve been silent when my words needed voice. And there’ve been times when I spoke – and said too much.

Fatherhood is no fairy tale. Sure, our world is fantastic with real and metaphorical kings and queens and castles and feasts. Games and celebrations. Wonderful stories. We live in a Kingdom that’s here in part – with more to come.

But in the Kingdom are dragons.

Hoards of dragons. Devious, dangerous dragons that titillate our senses with the promise of personal peace and affluence. Life-stealers clothed as sex, money, and power. Villainous monsters with no bias or prejudice. Their breath is discouragement. Their claws sharp, eager to plunge deep and infect with despair. In their wake tumble wounded souls left to whither and die.

I hate dragons.

And dragons hate fathers.

Authentic fathers. Father’s who accept their role with gladness. Dads who shield and sacrifice. Engage and relate. Laugh and learn and listen and cry. Fathers who thwart the diabolical thirst for a child’s tender heart and the rending of the marital union. Men who use truth and love to push back the poisonous blend of lies, deceit, and discontentment that seeps from our scaly foe. Manly men who fight and get dirty and bloody and scream at the evil that is the dragons.

I’m a father. And I love it.

Dragons hate me. I love that, too.

I’m eager to slay some dragons.

Are you? 

Best Seat in the House

My hand glides lightly over its velvety fabric. Many hands – sticky and rough and small and greasy and snotty and delicate and yes, even some clean ones – have traveled a similar path. It beckons for touching. Few can resist the temptation to caress its surface as they round the corner into the open room.

Then a year ago, change came.

I still glide my hand along that fabric and receive a tickling of my palm. But now, I pause my routine. I press my hand down into the softness and squeeze gently. My fingers curl deep into the plush fabric-bound stuffing, releasing strong and savory memories. Memories of lavish Thanksgiving dinners. Of gut-churning U of M football games and associated outbursts. Of a dozen grandchildren whipped into raucous Christmastime excitement. Of casual evenings of take-out pizza and conversation. Of pleasurable bratwurst smokiness wafting in from the grill on the porch.

I release my squeeze on the thing privy to it all. A greyed-blue friend. Unobtrusive, yet alluring. It’s the epicenter of the room and hasn’t moved in years. It rests in quiet readiness. Expectant, with arms spread wide.

Those arms serve mostly as perches for little people these days. And that’s okay. Those little ones should be there, nestled in the warmth of a beautiful legacy. They need to soak in the pages of Scripture read there. They need to feel the wetness of tears that rolled from joy, and sorrow. Their ears must reverberate with the historical echo of petitions poured-forth from an anguished, hopeful, satisfied, pleading soul. The soul of a man who once sat where they now sit. A man who left us, and cannot return.

His leaving was not from offense, or disgust, or something said wrongly. It wasn’t from a relationship that cooled. The leaving was required. Expected, really. But this type of exit is always too soon, and never without horrifying pain. 



Dad is gone.

But his chair stays with us.

It’s seems strange to crave the sweet and bitter emotion that chair evokes. Yet I’m comforted when I see it. Touch it. Smell it. I don’t care to sit in it…much. It was dad’s chair. And when he reclined, all felt settled and right and good.

I long for my dad. My kids miss their grandpa. My mom grieves the pain of a severed oneness. So we pray. And beg for joy – because we can, and should. I’m grateful that God is gracious in his supplying.



Dad left a year ago. Remembering freshens my grief. Tears, again, trickle along familiar paths.

Yet, I smile.

At a chair.

For the memories it holds. And the person it held.
 


“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4, ESV)

*My father died February 13, 2012. Here’s the eulogy I gave at his funeral.

Feeling Fruity

I’m a detail guy. Mr. Neat. A place for everything and everything in its place. A bit obsessive at times (I prefer meticulous). Thorough, for sure.
 
I’ve previously confessed such things, affectionately categorizing myself a recovering perfectionist. Each day I go hand-to-hand with my urge to control. Although I don’t completely trust self-evaluation, I do think I’m lessening my grip on ‘perfect.’ I drive a dirty car. The walls of my home are pocked with dings and scrapes and scratches. My lawn is peppered with weeds and I given-up rolling the toothpaste tube with NASA-like precision. Baby steps.

Recently I was ‘blessed’ with another opportunity to face myself.

It was a Sunday morning (isn’t it always?) and we had just arrived at church. My gang was piling-out of the car when my super sensitive dad ears detected the “snap-slap!” indicative of something plastic meeting a sudden death. Instinctively my probing eyes flashed to meet those of a child. Together, our gaze panned to the seat from which said child had seconds ago propelled themself (because stepping out of the car would be too simple). Before us laid a scene of woe: plastic trim – cracked and dangling, taunting me with a subtle bob and weave. That shattered trim was a dagger in the heart of ‘Mr. Perfection.’

Such scenes have been played dozens of times with various characters and props in my 16+ years of fatherhood. Each one adds grey to my crown and something to the ‘fix-it’ pile on my workbench. It makes me weary. It’s difficult to be reminded over and over how this life isn’t going to meet my expectations. From the school for recovering perfectionists I’d like to hear “class dismissed!” I’ve told God as much. But things keep breaking. The weeds keep growing. My boys are still boys. And now the dog has seasonal allergies. Seriously?

Why?

Because I need pruning.

Despite my self-proclaimed progress, I’ve still got work to do with killing the idol of perfectionism. Each day is a resubmission of my desires to Jesus Christ so that He might rule my thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions. I want that. God does too. And He promises to help: ““I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1–2, NIV)

So, as dirty hands make dirty walls and air soft guns poke holes in my vinyl siding, God prunes away my perfectionism. Plastic trim tragedies and soda-stained carpet are much more than moments to practice anger abatement or bemoan crushed desires for a perfect world. Rather, they are well-placed cuts that sever unproductive behaviors so I might be fruitier. It’s a wonderful, painful paradox.