My father’s birthday was on the Ides of March. He had heart problems from childhood due to rheumatic fever, but ended up dying of liver cancer when he was 71 years old. That seemed young to me when it happened, even more so now that I’m approaching 70. I thought I’d have more time with him. It seemed unfair, but then life can often feel that way.
Dad was always busy. In today’s vernacular, he would have been called a “Week-end Warrior”, building our home from the ground up and remodeling, putting in backyard water features and terraces, planting an orchard of walnut trees. Dad and Mom worked side-by-side, not just on week-ends, but after work Monday through Friday. They also believed in playtime and saved up their days off so they could lengthen their once-a-year vacation time and take me and my brother to National Parks all over the country – by tent in the early years, then a small trailer, and later a larger one as we grew up. A couple times a year, they took a break and we went to the coast to camp at Pigeon Point or Dillon Beach. Dad loved to fish, and wherever we went, there had to be a place to cast his line; ocean, lake or stream.
Dad also believed everyone should serve their community in some capacity. Being a “public servant” was/is a high-calling. Married with child on the way, he joined the Army and was a medic in the third wave on D-day. It was important to Dad to serve his country, and later, his community as a police officer. My brother enlisted during the Vietnam War, and I thought about becoming a Marine after college graduation – but married one instead.
My parents believed in family dinners, and we gathered every evening at 6:00 p.m. for a four-square meal. We sat and talked, sometimes argued, about all kinds of topics. We debated every topic under the sun, sometimes at high volume and interrupting one another (the same way news anchors do today).
Church was important to my dad, and he made sure we all went every Sunday. My parents walked a narrow, moral line, but that didn’t mean everyone else did. The church split twice, and there were several squabbles that left rifts in the congregation. Despite egregious problems, Dad and Mom stuck with the church because they understood people, even Christians, sin, and church is family. You don’t give up on people you love.
I left the church for years. Whenever we’d get together, Dad and I would talk – and argue – and talk some more. We both tended to get on our soap boxes. He was a Presbyterian elder and I was born-again in a small non-denominational-evangelical church. We locked horns at times because we were alike; passionate in our beliefs, opinionated, always on fire about something. He didn’t always understand me, nor I him.
In the end, none of that mattered. The last time our family gathered, knowing he didn’t have long on this earth, we talked, laughed and cried together. I told him I loved him, and I still do. Politics and religion aside, Dad and I shared what was most important: Jesus is our Lord and Savior. Our Redeemer is at the center of both our lives. And love is everlasting.