17 June 2007

To Honor My Father

I got to have my Dad here for Fathers' Day, which was a real treat. That's been one blessing and advantage to his retirement from the pastoral ministry; he can occasionally be here with us on Sunday mornings. It is always a humbling thing for me, to preach and administer the Holy Communion to my father, who was also my own pastor for a number of my growing up years. But I am profoundly grateful for that privilege, as well as for the joy of having him here today.

The one unfortunate thing about weekend visits from my parents, is that I spend Saturdays getting ready for Sunday morning, and Sunday afternoons recovering from the morning. In this case, I ended up falling asleep for an afternoon nap with Frederick; I'm not sure which one of us needed it more. It wasn't a bad way to spend a couple hours with my own son on this Fathers' Day, but it did eat up a chunk of the time that I might have spent visiting with my Dad.

I've been thinking back on some of the times that I've shared with my Dad over the years, and I want to honor him today with some of those memories. The Fourth Commandment doesn't have any termination clause, but the ways I am given to honor my father, to serve and obey him, to love and cherish him, obviously have changed with time. Perhaps this little "scrapblog," along with my sincere thanks for the father God has given me, can also be among those ways.

One of my very earliest memories of my Dad is from when we were living in Niagara Falls. I would have been two or three years old, I suppose. He was a Lutheran school teacher then, but also moonlighted as an ambulance driver. I remember him rushing into our little apartment one day, while he was on duty, and grabbing rags and a bucket of warm water. I may be confusing more than one event in my head after all these years, but, as I recall, there had been an accident nearby. My Dad and his partner worked frantically to keep the victim alive, to get him to the hospital with a fighting chance. They managed to do their part, but the hospital folks who met the ambulance mishandled the victim, rolling him off the stretcher onto a gurney in a way that my Dad was sure had broken the man's neck and killed him. The newspaper reported that he was "dead on arrival," and it really made an impression on me, how upset my Dad was about it. Not only had he worked so hard, ultimately for nought, but there was no responsibility taken on the part of the hospital, and of course a man had died in any case. It was already from that early age that I was struck with the preciousness of human life, and the tremendous value that my father places upon that.

A few years later, my Dad was teaching at a Lutheran school near Cleveland, Ohio. I think the name of the town was Westlake, and the family lived in Elyria. I was a student at the school, which was a bit of a drive from our home. Somehow, we had a convertible at that point in our family's life, and I have fond memories of riding to and from school with my Dad in that car. I also recall a time or two when I managed to lose some item or another to the wind whipping all around us and past the open vehicle, as we motored down the highway to and fro. This is a very cool thing to a little boy.

From Ohio we moved to Australia, where my Dad became the "Headmaster" of Tabor Lutheran School in the state of Victoria. We lived there from shortly before I turned eight, until shortly after I turned twelve. That was over thirty years ago, and altogether only ten percent of my life, but it was surely one of the most significant and formative aspects of my childhood. It was for those four years that my Dad was my teacher, from third through sixth grade. He was an excellent teacher, and I wouldn't trade the education that I received from him for anything. There are so many wonderful things that I remember about his classroom. The great library that he made sure we had, and the way he would routinely take time to read to the classes. A lot of my favorite children's literature are books that he read to me and to my fellow students over the course of those years. My Dad would also come up with great games to play during the school year, which he used in connection with our classroom performance. One of the best examples was a version of battleship. Everyone was divided up into two teams, and each team would hide a number of ships on a big grid of graph paper, in much the same way as the classic game. Any time someone got an "A," he or she would get to make a guess and "take a shot" at the other team's hidden ships. It was great incentive to do well in school. Another thing I loved was the flash cards that my Dad made and used to teach us basic arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. He had different methods of going around the room, giving each student a chance to "win" as many of the flashcards as possible. My Dad made going to school and learning an invigorating challenge and a lot of fun.

We had great fun at recess time and in physical education classes, too. We played a version of dodge ball, which we called "poisoned ball," either in a big rectangle drawn on the ground, or up against an open wall of the school building. There was Red Rover, and Kick the Can, and Soccer, Rugby and Cricket, and a seemingly endless number of ways to exercise, to learn strategy and teamwork and a healthy sense of competition. The best sports of all were the track and field events, which we spent a good portion of the year practicing for the big "field day" with the other Lutheran schools in the area. My Dad taught me how to long jump, and triple jump, and high jump, to sprint and run hurdles and relays. So many of the things that I enjoyed the most about being a young boy, I learned how to do, and really how to love doing them, from my Dad.

Being so far away from our extended family was maybe the only drawback to living in Australia. I suspect that we would have stayed there longer, but for the fact that Dad had his heart set on becoming a pastor. As great a teacher as he was, his first love and passion were for theology, and at the regular conferences of pastors and teachers he always gravitated toward discussions with the pastors. The opportunity opened up for long-time teachers to go through the colloquy program at the seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, U.S.A. I'll certainly never forget the months of waiting for correspondence regarding Dad's application to that program. Day after day he would walk across the school grounds to the mailbox, and the whole family held its collective breath, hoping for good news. It was only a matter of time before it came, but I think those were some of the longest days and weeks and months that any of us has ever experienced.

While Dad was at the seminary, the rest of the family lived with his parents in Seymour, Indiana. In many ways, that was a pretty neat experience and opportunity, too, but I know that it was a real sacrifice we made as a family, to be apart like that for those couple of years. I'm not sure at what point I finally realized, looking back, that it wasn't only a sacrifice for us to be without him for that time, but a huge sacrifice for him, as well, to be apart from us. He came to spend as many of his weekends with us as he could, but there were stretches of time when he simply couldn't make that several hour drive each way. It made a major impression on me, as to the value and importance of the pastoral office.

We were all together again for my Dad's vicarage, which also then became his first Divine Call to the Office of the Ministry, at Grace Lutheran Church in Wood River, Nebraska. We're coming up on the twenty-seventh anniversary of his Ordination, I believe, a week from tomorrow (25 June, the Commemoration of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession). It was from that point on, for the next five or six years, that my father was also my pastor, my father in Christ. He catechized and confirmed me, preached the Gospel to me, fed me with the Holy Communion, and by his teaching and example instilled in me a deep love for the Word of God. Although I resisted his desire that I would follow in his footsteps, in retrospect I have never doubted that it was my Dad who really inspired in me the aspiration to become a pastor, myself. Over the years, I've had opportunities for more theological education than he was able to acquire, but I have yet to meet anyone with a clearer grasp and appreciation of justification by grace through faith, or anyone with greater clarity in teaching that Word of the Gospel.

It was also my Dad who catechized and confirmed my wife, LaRena, in the Lutheran confession of the faith, in the year of our engagement. We would not have gotten married, when it came down to it, if LaRena could not in good conscience embrace the Lutheran faith. My Dad was the one who opened her eyes to that evangelical understanding of the Word of God. He also then provided us with pre-marital pastoral care, and officiated our wedding. His preaching on that occasion was beautiful, as always focused on the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It has meant the world to me, over the years, that my Dad has been there for me at the major junctures in my life. Among those, he was there with me at Emmaus when I was ordained to the Office of the Holy Ministry eleven years ago. I was so proud to follow in his footsteps, and for him to be there to witness it. It was almost as profound an occasion for me, when I had the privilege of preaching for my Dad's installation as the pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Milford, Illinois, on the afternoon of the Baptism of Our Lord in January of 2000.

1 comment:

Zaripest said...

Although I already knew a lot of the things you said here, it was a really nice post to read! I hope that both you and grandpa had a wonderful father's day, and I'm anxiously looking forward to the next time I can see you both!