Things only our Fathers Can Teach Us
My Dad passed away two months ago, just shy of his 95th birthday. He was an amazing man who lived a remarkable life. He served in the army in World War II and in the air force in the Korean war. He was a physician and an attorney who actually practiced both medicine and law. And while I knew even at a young age that he was unusual in his achievements, that has almost nothing to do with the most important gifts that he gave me. Those all fall under the category of showing me how to be a Christian man.
This was virtually all teaching by example. Dad wasn’t preachy or loudly Christian, even with his kids. His language was salty, my parents’ friends drank cocktails and “highballs” and his favorite jokes could never be told in church; ever. But that was merely a cultural gap between a man who grew in faith over his entire life and the sometimes-effeminate church of our day.
Dad was born in 1924 and so from age five to fifteen lived entirely in the Great Depression. His parents, a house painter and a school teacher, were at one point evicted from their home with their five sons and lived for several months in a CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) tent. They were working poor.
I learned how to work from Dad. By the time I was five, Dad had been working in some way, shape or form for 20 years. At age 17, he drove from Illinois to California in a Model A with two friends and got a job in the San Pedro shipyards. His friends didn’t get jobs so drove back home. Dad, as a kid just out of high school, was living on his own, supporting himself and doing a man’s job.
He attacked pretty much all work with zeal. As a very young boy I loved helping him in the yard. We lived on almost an acre and even though there was a gardener for mowing the lawns, there was constantly work to do planting trees, weeding, putting in sprinkler systems and the like. Dad did much of that himself or with the help of other, hard-working men, who collectively became my teachers.
Over several summers, I helped one of those men install our corrugated steel sprinkler pipes.
Whenever I sat down to do something he would jump on me and say, “you can’t work sitting down.” So, I would stand, kneel or “sit” on my knees, which he allowed.
I never dreamed of questioning his authority, as he was a man. And to this day, I pretty much never sit down if I’m doing any sort of physical work.
Another man, who I only knew for a few days, was a short, strong, stocky Eastern European of some sort who ran a cement pump. We were pouring concrete for the floor of an addition and he waded through the cement in knee boots, moving the heavy hose that ran from the pump to spread the cement where it was to go, talking all the while. He said, “when I discovered that I couldn’t be President of the United States because I wasn’t born here, I decided I would become the best damn cement pump man ever!” And I suspect he was.
Our gardener, Ben, was Japanese. I thought of him as a friend and loved the days when he came to our house. He let me use his power lawn mower, following me around so that I didn’t cut off my foot or run over more than one sprinkler head. And while I knew he worked for us I also knew that he and Dad liked each other. Though from completely different worlds, socially, (Dad was an anesthesiologist) in some way I didn’t understand at the time, my Dad and Ben and these hard-working men were friends.
With Ben, that probably had something to do with Dad’s time in Japan. Dad had been drafted into the Army in 1942 and ended up in the Army Corp of Engineers. From there he was ordered back to school to become a doctor as part of an Army program to prepare for a ten-year war. His best friend took over his duties as the platoon sergeant and was later killed in Normandy. His death, as Dad’s place as he saw it, was a burden Dad carried his whole life. Perhaps partly for that reason, Dad enlisted in the Air Force as a doctor when the Korean war began and then spent two years in Japan performing surgeries on wounded soldiers and also, at times, treating Japanese civilians near the base.
From my Dad and from the men that he attracted to him, I learned a Biblical view of work. Specifically, there is no such thing as a hierarchy of work in the Bible. Rather, all good work is imbued with dignity.
Saul is found plowing with oxen after becoming king. Jesus worked as a carpenter for nearly 20 years before spending just over 3 years in ministry. And Paul, in the first written advice he gives to any church in the history of the world, encourages the members to “live a quiet life, mind their own business and work with their hands . . .” He urges this lifestyle before writing on prayer, worship, giving, service or spiritual gifts. He must have thought it important.
Thanks to my Dad and the men around him, I learned those values instinctively as a young boy. I still grew up in the modern world, protected from virtually all hardship, well-educated and at times shockingly arrogant. But I at least learned that work was meant to be good (Adam worked in the garden before the Fall) and that I’m to respect those who work no matter how humble their labor or circumstances. And that is absolutely a Christian view of the world and something that, at the end of the day, our Fathers are best equipped to teach us.
There were lots of other things I learned from Dad including obedience, kindness, risk-taking, passion and love in action. Real men, in my experience, didn’t gossip or complain and were, at the end of the day, inherently joyful. But all of that is a story for another day. Watch this blog for future Dad stories in which we will explore some of those other gifts.
In the name of our Father in Heaven, thanks for reading.
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