Fathers: 4 things to never stop doing
...and one thing you're guaranteed
My dad: for much of his life he was a bitter, sarcastic man. Who could blame him? His first wife died after producing three boys he was left to raise alone. In his youth, he was a violinist, and from all I know, a very good one. I’m told he played a summer in the Boston Pops. His mentor/teacher was Harry Ellis Dickson, assistant conductor to the maestro Arthur Fiedler, and he said he once went on a date with Dickson’s daughter Kitty, who later went on to marry Mike Dukakis. But World War II intervened, and my dad was 4F—he even tried to enlist in Canada and was refused.
There wasn’t a life for a musician in his early 20s in wartime America. You either fought or you did war work, so my dad gave up playing gigs and went to work for General Electric building aircraft engines. Then came the kids. He and my mother found each other in a “yours, mine, and ours” situation around 1960, him a widower with his three boys and my mother with two girls and a divorce. They married and had my brother and me. I’m the last.
I heard that one day my dad was fixing his car, when the radiator overheated, and he burned his hand badly when steam exploded from a loose radiator cap. I don’t believe he ever played violin again. I never heard him play, though he would listen to classical pieces for hours. I was four when he and my mother divorced. It was an ugly affair. My dad sold his iconic corner three-story old captain’s house on Atlantic Avenue in Lynn, a block from King’s Beach (it’s still there) and moved into a single-wide trailer, where he’d live until he retired to Florida in the early 1980s.
One thing nature guarantees us, is that we have one biological father and one biological mother. As far as is publicly known, no human being has been successfully cloned, so everyone who has ever been born has had a single sperm meet a single egg. Even Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the virgin birth, conceived, according to the Bible. Jesus was not implanted fully made in her womb. No person, living, dead, or God-man, has been born of a woman without a father.
Fathers reproduce. Even fathers who never see their progeny, or even know that they have a child, have reproduced. Here are four things—I’m sure there are more and some are better than the ones I am writing about—that fathers should never stop doing.
First, never stop living. I shouldn’t have to say the obvious: it doesn’t mean fathers don’t die. Your life is yours, not your dad’s to live through you, and not your kids’ for you to live through them. Far too many fathers feel the weight of expectation of their own dads to live up to a life their dad never achieved. There are football dads, soccer dads, musician dads, business dads, professional dads and, yes, deadbeat dads. There are dads who deny any responsibility for their kids, and in doing so, place an enormous burden on the very kids they deny.
The life a dad lives is reproduced in his kids. When dads stop living that life, and either live in rebellion, or to meet the perfect expectations of, their own dad; or they place a terrible burden of expectations—or lack of expectations—on kids, that gets reproduced too. Live the life God has given you, and know that your dad, and your kids, had one life too.
My dad lived until he was 96 years old. He died on July 4, 2016. I had scheduled a trip to go see him just two weeks later. Instead of rushing down to Vero Beach, we kept our plans, and instead celebrated my dad’s life. A couple of my brothers joined me as we had a dinner in his honor. I’m certainly glad my dad passed on such hardy genes (at least I hope). But I am also happy that despite being bitter and sarcastic, he didn’t stop living, and he did make a change in his life.
My dad’s third wife, Gloria, was a Christian. She was what other Christians call an “intercessor.” She’d pray half the night for people and places she never met, and some were far away. She’d pray as the Holy Spirit led her. A nighttime call from Gloria, which I was blessed to receive at at times, was always filled with hope, need, and Godly advice. I went to my dad’s wedding to Gloria. At the time I was not a Christian, and I was unhappy at the fact my Jewish dad was getting married by a Christian pastor. That later came to be pivotal in my own spiritual journey.
This is a convenient segue to the second thing. Never stop forgiving. Raising kids is a sacrifice. It hurts to give up one’s life goals and dreams in favor of pouring into another’s life who needs constant care. It costs money, time, and effort, for even the most detached dad to raise kids. Kids will say hurtful things, do selfish things, and generally give every dad cause to briefly think of life without them. Most come to their senses quickly and realize how empty life would be without their children, but some go to the “milk store” and never return.
(It reminds me of a Bruce Springsteen song “Hungry Heart” that begins with a man who has a wife in kids in Baltimore who went out for a ride and he never went back. That’s got to be one of the saddest lyrics I’ve ever heard.)
So many parents get divorced, both in and out of the church. Families are split, and dads move on, while kids are stuck with weekends and awkward vacations. I also experienced this for years, seeing my dad on weekends. He wasn’t particularly interested in being the “fun dad” either. We’d go on some good vacations to historical places or a lake cabin in Maine now and then, but that’s it.
One time when I was a freshman in college, broke and struggling in a city far from home, I asked my dad for financial help. Asking my dad for money was like asking a rock to spout wine. He said he’d send me some money. I got an envelope with a check for $5. Yes, that’s five dollars. Worse, I didn’t have a bank account in the city where I was going to school, so I couldn’t even cash it.
Then I moved back home and became a commuter student at the University of New Hampshire. I needed a car. My dad co-signed a loan for a three-speed standard transmission Chevy beater. I couldn’t drive a standard, and in typical Richard fashion, he told me I’d learn by driving home (I did). The car’s windshield leaked and the heater didn’t really work, but it got me to school and back most of the time. I was so angry and selfish that I got another car and left the loan for him to pay. He brought it up a few times but didn’t push the issue.
My dad retired to Florida while I was in college, two years early. The reason I heard was so he didn’t have to pay child support any more. I was pretty bitter. I cursed him and did not speak to him for years. How many father-son relationships end up there? How many stay there?
When I was 34 and on my journey to Christ, the night before I became a Christian, I was on the phone with my dad. I felt I needed to ask for his forgiveness. I told him on the phone that I was sorry I cursed him and hurt him. He told me that he had become a Christian a number of years before but didn’t tell me for fear I would reject him further. He also said something I would never forget. “You can never hurt me. I love you.” I broke down in tears.
My dad had learned to continually forgive for hurts. He, a cynical, difficult, hurt man, found it in him to forgive, even when his son refused to speak to him.
Third, never stop giving. Kids grow up, and then one day the dad gets to be the one who needs care. Dads always have something to give. A legacy. Dads who fathered “secret” children can find it in themselves to give the knowledge of who dad is to their unknown kids. Divorced dads can become good grandparents. And dads who have made giant mistakes and give life lessons of how to live a better life. We all live in the time we have—we can’t live our dad’s life because he lived in different times—and we all become a generation out of touch when our kids grow into their own lives.
When my wife and I were planning our wedding celebration (we got married in a church and re-enacted the ceremony six weeks later when we had the big party on Captiva Island in Florida), we were meeting with our officiant and the phone rang. My dad said Gloria had had a stroke and was at some hospital in Fort Lauderdale. The officiant ended the meeting and told us to get going. We drove over Alligator Alley and around 10pm found the hospital. Miraculously they let us in. Gloria gave us a half smile while we prayed for her. She died before we had our celebration, which was on Mother’s Day, 2007.
My dad was devastated and ashen. We had a friend drive our car back to Georgia, rented a comfortable minivan, gathered my dad and brought him home with us. He stayed for about three weeks, and the change was amazing. He played with our cat. He was never a cat person, but became one. He enjoyed being in a family again. He stopped being the bitter, sarcastic man and started giving again.
We would visit my dad in Vero Beach every year. We saw him begin to decline, but he kept giving as he answered questions about the family for my wife. I learned many things about my ancestry that I never asked before. Even if a dad has little to give financially, every dad has a story to tell. Never stop giving.
Fourth, and last, never stop loving. No matter what happens, love is the balm for all hurts. One day, we will all be a memory to our kids. Unless Christ returns, we will all leave this earth. Some dads lose their kids while they are still alive. It’s a tragedy for a dad to bury his child. It happens far too much. But dads will always leave a memory. Love brings blessings. My dad changed my life with one sentence: “You can never hurt me. I love you.”
I love my dad. I miss him, though in his final years, things were difficult for him, due to decisions he made. We didn’t let those challenges stop us from visiting, and ensuring my kids got to see a side of my dad I didn’t see while I was growing up. But my kids benefit from his presence in their lives, however brief. With God’s help, I will never stop living, forgiving, giving, and loving. I do this for my kids’ sake, and also, to honor my dad.
Happy Father’s Day, Richard. And Happy Father’s Day to all The Racket News readers.