I’ve been adopted. Twice.
Of course, when I became a Christian, I was adopted into the family of God. But before that, I was adopted by the people whom I came to know in my life as Dad and Mom. Both adoptions were providential, in my opinion. Both led to my ability to live life in a way that would not have been possible had either adoption not taken place.
My Dad was a mechanic. His college major was chemistry, but his chances at a college degree were cut short by World War II and he served in the Navy in the Pacific as a shipboard mechanic. When he was discharged, he went to work, first operating and repairing machinery used in various manufacturing processes, and later maintaining the air conditioning equipment in the headquarters building at a major army base. Through his working life, he taught me the value of hard work and honesty. As a teenager, there was nothing I looked forward to more than accompanying him to work. He took a part-time maintenance job at which he worked for more than 15 years, as a maintenance man at our local hospital, in order to provide for my college, though I did not know that at the time.
He and my mother made sure that my sister and I attended Sunday School each week. He had been raised in the Disciples of Christ, and my Mom was Pentecostal, but the only Christian church in the small Mormon community in Southern Arizona where we lived was a tiny Southern Baptist church of about 50 members and they sent us there. He never really told me what prompted him to start coming to church. I was a sophomore in high school when he and my Mom got up, got dressed and came to church one Sunday morning. Shortly after that, they walked the aisle and received Christ as their savior. The most immediate change was that beer disappeared from our refrigerator, but over the long term I saw my Dad take his calling in the church seriously, and step up to the plate to serve.
For years, my Dad commuted the 23 miles to his job at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona with a friend of his whom he had known from a previous job, who was also a committed Mormon. Shortly after starting this daily commute, I noticed Dad didn’t take his thermos of coffee with him when he left the house. He explained that his Mormon friend had pointed out his habit as evidence that Christians didn’t really practice what they preached, because drinking coffee was harmful to the body, which is the temple of God. I learned a lot from his willingness to give up this creature comfort for the sake of the conscience of his Mormon friend. He was gentle and respectful in sharing the gospel with this Mormon man, day after day, in both word and in lifestyle. I didn’t know at the time, but discovered later that he had read several books and had obtained a Bible with notes and markings designed especially for witnessing to Mormons. He was not visibly successful in leading the man to Christ, though I often wonder if this man made a private decision to follow Christ which he didn’t make public out of fear of being ostracized by his family.
One of Dad’s greatest joys was deer hunting. That was something that I couldn’t share with him. When I was about five years old, he came home from a hunt with a large Arizona mule deer, and skinned and hung it in back of the house. My Mom suggested that I pose with him next to the deer for a picture. Standing next to the deer, reeking with a gamy smell and dripping with blood, I gagged and vomited. One winter, when I was about 15, we went to Wyoming for four days in November and the remote isolation of a ranch about 40 miles outside of Gillette, combined with the bitter cold and snow, cured me of any desire to hunt anything that resembled a deer.
The few regrets that I have in my life related to my relationship with my Dad stem from my teenage years. Even during that time, I tried hard not to disappoint or worry him, but there were times that I failed at that. However, one of the greatest blessings of my life was that God allowed me to have my Dad as part of my life for 47 years, and gave me plenty of times and opportunities to make up for the disappointments, and to let him know the depth of my respect and love for him. The night before he died, I spoke with him on the phone. I knew he had gone into hospice care, and was planning to make a quick trip to Tucson to see him one last time. Something told me that I needed to say, once more, how much I loved him, and I did. He went home to be with the Lord on August 30, 2004.
Since then, I have learned that I won’t ever really get over losing him. I’ll just learn to live with the loss and the grief. And I will be eternally grateful to God for this gift that he has given me.
If you’re Dad is still living, please tell him how much you love and appreciate him this Father’s Day.