As I was microwaving my cup of coffee this morning (a pot will last me several days), I was thinking about the phrase, “can’t live without,” as in “I can’t live without caffeine.” (I was imagining how much better my heart health would be without it, and remembering how hard it has been to give up caffeine in the past. But I’ve done it, and survived.)
I’m sure that in my past I’ve uttered sentences that included such a phrase. “I can’t live without chocolate,” for instance. But really I can’t think of a thing that I absolutely cannot live without.
I lost my dad – my hero – 11 years ago. When he was in bad health and we knew we wouldn’t have him for many more years, I thought about his future death a lot. I wasn’t sure I would be able to go on without him. He and I were very close.
But I did. I survived. And I’ve made a new life – even a good life – without him.
As painful as it is, you go on.
While I can’t say now that I consciously think about him every single day, he is definitely with me every day. In my decisions, in my character, in my work ethic, in my aptitudes, in some of my physical attributes – even, unfortunately, in some of my less-than-admirable traits. I inherited a lot from dad, the good, the bad and the ugly (including his toes, his nose and his inability to tolerate stupidity, one of the traits I’ve worked hardest to overcome!).
We have the same sense of humor, something I hadn’t thought much about until recently. Yeah, we could always make each other laugh (as well as make each other smile). But as I was making up a new word the other day (Bruce and I do that a lot), it occurred to me: Dad used to do that. He’d create a phrase (“That’s too big enough”) or mispronounce a word to make you giggle (“burple” for purple). He did it naturally. I never thought of my dad as a “goofy” guy, but he certainly could be goofy.
Kids loved him, and he loved kids. He had phrases for them, too: “curtain-climbing rug rats” or “tricycle motors,” for instance. You knew when he called your kid a rug rat that he meant it in the most endearing way. At church, he often had someone else’s child sitting in his lap during the service. Or at family gatherings, he’d pick up a kid and talk to him like he was an adult. No baby talk like the women do. Not that he tried to talk politics with them or anything – he was definitely silly with them.
My dad grew up poor, so his teeth were bad and he had to get dentures when he was in his 30s. Once, when my cousin Gary was 2 or 3, he was sitting in Dad’s lap, facing him, and Dad pulled out his top plate. Gary was fascinated with that, so Dad told Gary to take out his own teeth. Gary kept trying, but it just didn’t work! That was one of Dad’s favorite memories of Gary.
My cousins Teri and Tanya lived next door to us for a few years. They called Uncle Benny their “fix-it man.” Any time something broke, no matter what it was, they’d bring it to Uncle Benny because they knew he could fix anything.
He could even fix a broken heart.
Many times when I suffered a severe trial of life, the only salve was having my dad’s big, strong arms around me. He may not always be able to change the circumstances – and sometimes he knew he shouldn’t even try – but having his arms around me always comforted me. With Dad, I knew I was loved unconditionally. It’s how I can at least try to fathom the love God the Father has for me: I first experienced it with my earthly father.
And, just as my heavenly Father is always with me and in me, Dad is in me. (Of course, not in the same way, but an earthly father’s love was created in the Heavenly Father’s love.)
Dad is so much a part of who I am.
When I’m out pulling weeds or mowing the lawn, planting flowers or just standing in the yard admiring the greenness of the grass and trees and the chirping of the birds – Dad is with me.
In fact, I think of him most when I’m outside doing something like that. He loved the outdoors, and I feel so close to him when I’m out there reveling in God’s creation. I even use his big leather work gloves and some of his tools. When I bought my first little house, he bought me my very own toolbox – and a coffee pot (although I’ll admit the coffee pot was mostly for him; I had not acquired the coffee habit yet. And he would cringe to know that I keep my brewed coffee in the fridge and microwave a cup each morning. But I can’t tell you the times I’ve sipped a morning cup of coffee and wished we were out on the deck together watching the sun rise and the squirrels frolic).
He showed me how to do little things around the house and how to take care of my car, although he was always there when the job was too big for me. When I lived in California after college, he couldn’t be there in person, but he could tell me how not to get cheated by the professionals. After I moved here, he would get in his pickup and drive to me to fix whatever he could. And I think he enjoyed letting me be a part of it, even when I was more hindrance than help. Mostly I got to hand him the tools or hold the flashlight. But I loved doing that for him, and with him.
When Dad was fixing my car or something in the house, I’d never know how much physical pain he was in. Oh, I knew he was in pain, but I never knew how bad it was until later, when he was back home and Mom would tell me how much it took out of him.
Dads just do that for their kids.
Often – very often – I wish I could ask his advice. When my brother, JT, wonders how to solve a problem, he often asks himself, “What would Dad do?” I wonder the same thing in so many situations.
My dad was really smart. He didn’t have a college degree, but he didn’t need one. He probably got the equivalent of a master’s just by being a voracious reader. And his doctorate was from the School of Hard Knocks. He was good at figuring things out, and he’d figure out a lot of things just by reading a good instruction manual.
But Dad wasn’t just smart, he was wise, and what we most benefited from was his daily use of the original Owner’s Manual – the Bible.
His favorite book was James, and one of the passages that describes him best is from James 2, verses 14-16:
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” — but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
Dad would give you his shirt if you needed it, but what I remember most is the endless hours he gave up for people who needed his time and expertise, especially farmers. He was a mechanic by trade, having a reputation as one of the best around in many categories. He would drive miles and miles to help someone whose tractor wouldn’t start in the snowy weather or whose hay baler had malfunctioned in the middle of harvest (I once rode with him to Jackson, Tenn., to deliver a piece of equipment). He knew these things were a part of a family’s livelihood, and he took them seriously.
Yeah, we waited dinners for him a lot of the time – or gave up and ate without him. He was out of the house by 7 most mornings and often not home until 7 or 8 in the evening. And, yes, we sometimes complained that he was giving to others the time he should have been giving to us.
But in the giving to others, he did give to us.
He gave us – me – a legacy that will last my whole life. And I would never want to live without that.
Other posts that include my dad:
Happy birthday, Dad (July 11, 2008)
The power of a flower (June 14, 2008)
Daddy’s girl (Dec. 23, 2008)
Our fathers (March 28, 2008)