At a church service our pastor asked three men to give testimony to the influence of their fathers in their lives. All three men gave glowing accounts of the many ways in which their fathers had shaped their lives, of the importance of their father’s example and the many memories they had of their Christian influence.
But the thing that struck me most was the fact that two of these men expressed deep regret that they had not fully communicated their appreciation to their fathers who has since passed away. The things these men had to say moved me very much. There they were – so appreciative of their Dads, but feeling great remorse that they were unable to tell them.
I did not want to find myself in their shoes.
You are probably unaware of how often I think of you. I suppose a day seldom goes by that I don’t do so. When a problem comes up I want to call you and ask for advice; you are always so helpful and seem to know just what to do. Or, perhaps I just want your opinion on something. You always bring a fresh perspective to any question. I can even recall that I’ve actually called you all the way from Australia in pursuit of a correct spelling. I could have asked someone else, but you have long known my poor spelling ability. Why would I want anyone else to know – and you never make me feel foolish or inadequate.
But the times I think of you most are when I ask myself, “What would Dad do in this or that situation?” I try to imagine how you would handle the major and minor challenges that come into my life. I can sometimes hear your advice without even having to ask. I have often thought I cannot go too far wrong if I do what I think you would do in any given circumstance.
I think back to my early childhood. How I would, with careless abandon, jump off the shed roof into your outstretched arms, with no fear, never once thinking I was taking a risk because I was confident that you would never let me go. What a wonderful picture this is of our heavenly father’s love and care for us. In this childhood experience, you were teaching me even then that God would keep me and never let me go.
Then there were the little adventures we delighted in. Our walks in the hills to ‘Cowboy Country’ when I was still a child. You were my hero as you stood your ground against wild Indians and desperate outlaws. Pork and beans cooked in the tin over an open fire – never has a gourmet meal tasted so good since.
When a teen, there were walks in the woods with the family as we went on fishing excursions to mountain lakes. Opportunity to talk, share, and laugh, and as always, to learn. You were ever the teacher – drawing from the experiences of life – teaching, as Scripture says precept upon precept. The day you swam across the lake as I paddled by your side on an air mattresses – it seemed then, and still does in my memory, like a marathon event.
I remember with delight how you make everything in life an adventure. You always heightened our anticipation of even the most ordinary events. You wove a story around each, and established routines whereby the family could take part in your adventures. Together, with you, we went through your many stages of life-interests: photography, farming, academic studies, Bible teaching, church leadership, boating, fine woodworking, film making – the list goes on.
You taught me how to think on my feet. You would challenge us to suggest any topic and you would speak on it for five minutes. You instilled self-confidence in me, the ability to speak in public, and the desire to do my best at whatever I did. You used to say, “Even if you are digging a ditch I should do so to the very best of my ability and to the honour and glory of God”. You taught me that there was nothing in life that I could not do if I put my mind to it.
Of course, Dad, the one area of my life I owe most to you is your example as a Christian man. You never waver, never compromise, never say one thing and do another. Many have been the times that you have discussed matters of faith with me. At your feet, I completed ‘seminary’ before I completed high-school, for so often our meal conversation was about faith-issues and doctrinal-matters. You gave me a hunger for the Word, and a desire to be a student of Scriptures, and perhaps even a lay Bible teacher, just like you. What impresses me most about you is the consistency between what you say and what you do.
Dad, of course you know that it is from you that I have learned all I know about being a father as I see you interact with each of us. Your tenderness towards Mom and Anne – the countless ways by which you model sacrificial love. You have never stopped courting Mom, and it is your practice to take my sister Anne on dates. Your love and care for your Grandchildren – what an important part of your life they are – and you of theirs.
These are practical signs of your love for us. But I am also very much aware that you have spent many hours on your knees with Mom bringing to God your heart-felt concerns for your children and grandchildren. The phrase ‘man of prayer’ is most appropriate to you. Thankyou, Dad.
I know that your commitment to serving God, was, in part, born out of an experience when as a young father you knelt at my hospital bedside and bargained with God to spare my life in exchange for a lifetime of never saying ‘no’ to opportunities of service to Him. And I know you have never once broken your pledge which to you is a sacred trust. You are a living example of the kind of Christian man I want to be.
But I cannot do justice to you without honouring the wonderful example you have been as a husband. Completely devoted to Mom, always showing her how much you love her in so many, many ways. Dad, I doubt that I will ever know a man who after more than fifty-eight years of marriage is so completely and absolutely devoted as you are to Mom. Of course, an equal portion of credit for this belongs to Mom as well.
I still seek your approval. And though I am now a mature adult, your blessing on the things I do has always been, and remains very important to me. Whilst there have been times when I found your black and white view of life maddening, there have never been times where I doubt your love for me or the rest of our family. There have been times when I wish you were less clinical, more emotional, but there have never been times when I felt you did not honour my self-esteem. You have not always agreed with the things I’ve said, or the decisions I’ve made, but you have never criticised the choices I’ve made. You always make sure my self-worth is intact. You treat each member of our family in the same thoughtful and tender way.
Dad, you are a man of principle, a man of conviction, and a man of great integrity. Please know that I affirm you as a man, love you as a son and am and will always be thankful to God for you.
Your loving and appreciative son, Don.
My father passed away unexpectedly less than four months after I wrote this to him. Naturally, his death has left a big hole in my life, but I rejoice that some day I will be united with him and my Mother in heaven.
Finally, I have taken a lot of comfort from the knowledge that I had sent my father this letter to acknowledge my gratitude to him. Perhaps there is a letter you should write to someone you love.
*To our American/Canadian readers, Father’s Day in Australia is the first Sunday in September.