Once, when I was about four, our family went to see a Billy Graham film. Arnold, two years older than I, walked on the inside of the sidewalk beside me.
“Arnold.” Your quiet voice behind us carried the hint of a smile. “Don’t you know a gentleman always walks on the outside of a lady?” Arnold immediately moved to my left. I felt ten feet tall. You called me a lady.
The only daughter in our family, I was Daddy’s little girl. I knew you held me deep in your heart, and I adored you. Oh, you weren’t always easy. You punished me when I was disobedient. But my recollection is that, after spanking me, you held me on your lap and comforted me. You explained why you punished me and what you wanted me to learn through your discipline. You didn’t let me go until I stopped crying and we hugged. Between you and Mom and keeping short accounts, I grew up wanting to resolve conflict as soon as possible. I hated feeling distance between myself and anyone I loved. You lived out Paul’s challenge of Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.”
At Sunday School picnics when I was a wee girl, there was always a competition to see who could hammer a railroad spike into a log in the fewest strokes. A builder by trade, you won hands-down every year. Three strokes and that six-inch spike was IN. One year I walked over, so proud of you, put my little arm around your calf and hugged your leg. Suddenly I heard your voice: “Carrie, I think you have the wrong Daddy.”
I looked up. Wrong daddy indeed! I was holding the leg of a man with bright red hair that, to this day, I still believe was a toupee. I was mortified.
You were handsome, striking, with your quiet, authoritative bearing, alert grey eyes, and the smile that so often lit your face. During my teen years you sometimes took me out for a coke, just the two of us. On those dates you helped teach me how I should expect to be treated by a man. You stopped hugging me as much, probably cautious about my developing womanhood. In college I took the initiative to start hugging again and you responded warmly. That barrier disappeared.
You and Mom visited me in the inner city of Los Angeles, where I ministered for ten years. Once, after you walked me out to my car, I discreetly parked and watched until you were safely back inside. That was my turf. I felt I knew the dangers, and I wanted to be sure you were safe. I couldn’t fool you; you knew I waited, and were annoyed that I was being protective of you when you wanted so much to protect me.
When I broke an engagement, I came home to tell you and Mom. Mom sat up late with me, listening as I talked and cried. The next day you and I visited one of your construction jobs. We talked rationally about why I had broken this commitment. I felt blessed to have both the emotional and the cerebral perspectives.
Single until I was thirty-six, I sometimes feared that you would die before I married. I so wanted you to walk me down the aisle toward my groom. When that day came, I walked down a curved staircase. From below, you watched me with a big smile creasing your face, love in your eyes. As I took your arm and we began walking down the aisle together, I whispered “Are you nervous?”
“A little. You?”
On September 26th, 2002, a day after my birthday, you were diagnosed with acute leukemia. I walked into your hospital room after Mel and Mom told you the news. Your face was turned away from the door as you looked reflectively out the window. You turned to me, smiled, and said, “How beautiful heaven will be.” Oh, I sobbed that night.
One day you told Arnold, “I didn’t think it would take this long” (to die). You were at peace, ready to meet God. Two nights before Jesus took you home, Mom told you Jesus was preparing a mansion for you in heaven. Having been in construction almost all of your adult life, you responded “I’d like to see the blueprints.” And exactly one month after your diagnosis, you went home to be with your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The morning before you passed into His presence, Mom, Bob and Sheila were with you. Your face was radiant, and you tried but were too weak to speak. Mom asked, “Do you see the angels?” You shook your head, “no.”
“Do you see Jesus?” “Yes!” was your heartfelt response.
You grounded and colored my life, Dad. Your love for Mom and for us kids; your discipline and your walk with Jesus Christ; your integrity–these are your legacy to me. Most important, you, my earthly Dad, helped me know my heavenly Father.
My husband Jerry, whom you loved, followed you into glory a short three years later. And the husband I have now is like you in his integrity, his quiet strength, his love for Jesus and me. At your memorial service your oldest son, Melvyn, said something that will always remain with me … “For fifty-seven years, Dad, you taught me how to live. And in the last month you taught me how to die.”
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I miss you. But I eagerly await the day I see you again when I join you at Jesus’ feet.