Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of the death of my dad. It was also the anniversary of my parents’ firstborn child’s birth – she died when she was ten months old. Nine years ago we thought it just like Dad to go home to celebrate his daughter’s birthday.
Here is the tribute I shared with him before his death. I was honored to read it at his service, at his request.
If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. I Corinthians 13
As we were waiting for the ambulance to pick up my dad on November 26, 2008, my mom turned to me in utter desperation and exclaimed “I’m running out of time with him!” As a happily divorced woman, I remember feeling slightly jealous and a little cheated at the idea that 60 years just wasn’t enough time to be with a husband. I also knew that God had a lesson in this for me, probably something about love being worth the risk.
A week later, I was once again completely frustrated with my dad. I got that way a lot. This time, though, he had stubbornly refused to go to rehab for the second time in as many weeks. He was being completely illogical and going against doctor’s orders. I was so hurt that he would defiantly choose to hurt himself by doing the wrong thing. Too, Mom didn’t need all the responsibility of trying to take care of him, couldn’t he think about her for a minute?
He had provided the lamest excuses for not wanting to go to the rehab facility, and I had figured out that he was just afraid it was going to be a nursing home and would never come out. But see, I have a psych degree and I’ve had lots of counseling and know that you just have to name your fears to start to overcome them, so I wanted to help so he could do the right thing! I mean, let’s face it; the right thing is often contrary to what my dad did. His theme song was “My Way,” for pity sakes, so I carefully planned what I was going to say and went over to see him.
It took some conversation, but he finally got around to a sweet, beautiful truth. With some exasperation, he said, “Don’t you get it? I’d rather spend two weeks home with your mother than four or six weeks somewhere else without her.” And God let me see, once again, that sometimes there is more than one “right.”
One of my earliest memories of my dad is playing “Pickle” with my brother and me in the early evenings as my mom prepared dinner. He rarely said no to his family about any want, in fact, my mother got in the habit of not mentioning interest in things because John D. would move Heaven and Earth to get them for her. Then there was the infamous shopping trip the year I was 11, when Dad took me to Jacobson’s and purchased a fabulous summer wardrobe for me, spending all of the money Mom had allocated for his birthday present. She was mad, of course, but he just smiled and said, “Hey, I spent it the way I wanted to!” Whatever we wanted, he made sure we got, even if it wasn’t necessary or fiscally responsible. Contrary to his own upbringing, he encouraged my brother’s participation in football. I don’t think he ever missed a game – not a single one. He also made sure to hug and kiss us, always.
Another of my lifelong memories is people telling me how cute my parents are. It began almost as soon as I started going places without them, which in retrospect was pretty early. From the time I was six, my brother and I spent our summers in the small town were my parents met and married. Every year someone in town would relate the story of how my dad would take a rose from his dad’s “prize” bushes and put it on the seat of my mom’s family car when he knew she was in town. I would also usually hear stories of how my dad exasperated his mom, much to the delight of, well, everyone in town. Did I mention that this was a really small town? There was always a sweet story that people freely shared about my parents.
When I was a teenager I started hearing how great my parents were when I’d stop at Forest Hills Foods (I think it was Shoprite then) or Reilly’s Drugs. I was always so proud to hear people say “Your parents were just here, they are so cute!” Even now, when Dad was in the hospital over Thanksgiving, I was in the room when his nurse told my parents that she loved how sweet they were to each other, and how she wished she could just stay and spend time with them.
One of Dad’s nephews became close with my parents when he was grown with a family of his own. He and his wife were touched by the partnership they saw in John D. and Patsy, their warmth for each other and their profound commitment. Their children also have wonderful memories of times with my parents, while they never really knew their own grandparents. Patsy & John D. even drove to Missouri to attend their eldest son’s college graduation – which blew the kid away! This is just one example of the love my dad freely gave to others.
My dad did things his way. His mom wouldn’t pay for college if he were married, and he wanted to marry my mom, so he refused to go to medical school. He wouldn’t take a traveling job that would have made lot more money because he thought it was important to be around for his children. He told his company he wouldn’t take a promotion that would mean a move because his kids were in high school and moving at that age could be damaging. He did his very best to put his family first. For most of his life, money existed to be spent, and he stubbornly spent a lot more than he had, especially if he was buying things for his family.
You know, the Bible doesn’t talk about having a “paid for” house, or a large retirement account. But there’s a whole chapter devoted to love, and my brother and I know what love is because of our dad. I have to say, I think my dad got that right.