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.


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.

I Will Remember

Reflections for Memorial Day 2013

Stooping low, she kneels into an unsteady crouch. Fingers seasoned from years of service extend to caress mossy etchings. Letters. Symbols arranged with intentionality. A permanent tribute. Polished granite resists her touch, reconfirming the coldness of death. Warmth from a shaft of Spring sunshine needles its way through a freshly-leaved Maple, penetrating her loose-knit sweater. A bit of light to balance the dark.

The woman’s delicate tracings of a stone-carved name enliven her face. This day, like many before, she resurrects a life. His life. Her soul heaves and swells as the past is released afresh. Grief seeps like blood through a dry, cracked wound. Happy, satisfying, pleasant tears blend with those of sorrow and loneliness. He was a good man. Her man. Faithful.

She remembers.


Remembering is good, and right. Our lives are more than this moment, this fleeting wisp of finitude. Still, even the smallest increment of our existence is of infinite value. Through remembering we collect and replay and savor a long parade of “right nows.” Melded together, every day moments paint a uniquely expressed portrait of humanity across the canvas of time. They craft a story.

My story has chapters about first days, first love, and a first kiss. Excerpts on lost teeth, being lost, and loneliness. Tales of the broken and the mended and the defeated and the rescued. Cancer. A sacred union. Procreation and recreation. Diapers and dancing and training wheels. Spilled milk and sanctification. Friendship. Digging stumps, baking bread, midnight movies, and belly laughs. A touch. A word. A look.

Memories. All of them good, because they are mine. They are my story. Through them I mourn the loss of the wonderful. I crave second chances. I celebrate grace.

Along life’s unpredictable and variegated path, remembering brings perspective. History offers clarified wisdom for the journey forward. Memories bind our hearts together. They are treasures that cannot be taken but for mental fragility. To remember is to love.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

He did.

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

Yes, Lord.

I will remember.

“But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations.”
(Psalm 102:12, ESV)

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.