How My Father Became My Dad

This is a strange Father’s Day for me.img_4026

Last year at this time on Father’s Day I had no relationship with my father.  We were estranged.  We hadn’t spoken in eight years.  During those years, I sent him a card on Father’s Day card but never received a response.  That seemed to be the way it was going to be for us.  That had become the usual thing but things changed in September when I sent him a letter and he responded.

He was dying.

I’m a little bitter that it took that for him to finally reach out to me.  I was living out the movie “I Can Only Imagine” in my own life.  I’m sure the expectation that he had was that I would not be there for him yet I put everything aside and went to be with him during his final week.  I will be forever grateful for that time.  We resolved most (not all) of the issues between us in the end but now I wish I would have had more time with him and our new relationship.  Without the interference of the church and my mother, I think things would have been much different between us.

If I had a message for Dads out there for this Father’s Day it would be this:  If you have issues with your children, get things right with them NOW.  Don’t wait.  Don’t let the years stack up like another brick in the wall between you.  You will discover that all the drama and stupid things we thought were important won’t really matter in the end.  Stubbornness and pride aren’t worth it.

Now I will tell you that my Dad was a stubborn man.   He was a man who believed what he believed and was set in his ways.  There is no easy way to sugar coat it.  He was always excused with the explanation of “you know how he is”.  I’m sorry but that excuse is B.S.   People can change if they really want to and if it is important to them.  For most of my life, I hoped he would make an effort for me.  He never did until the end.  I went through the early years of my adult life feeling that I was never important enough for him to make an effort.  Here he was a minister and the person he couldn’t forgive or ask forgiveness was me.  It took a long time for me to work all of that out and rise above it.  I had to get to the place where I just had to be willing to let it all go if he ever responded to me.

Dad was a good man but his stubbornness really caused problems in our relationship along with my mother’s interference due to her own insecurities.  A father-son relationship was much more complicated than it needed to be and in the end, it was different.  I think we both saw what it was supposed to be.  We both saw each other without all the junk.  I saw the man he was and he saw the man I am.

He finally became my Dad in the end.

Today, I am mostly mad as hell that it took this long to reconcile with him and now he’s gone.  It isn’t fair.  Today I miss him.

We still didn’t agree on everything.  I wasn’t expecting that he would and I didn’t need his approval.  I have passed that expectation years ago.  My life didn’t need his approval but I still wanted my Dad.  I guess I could go on about what wasn’t right about me and my Dad but today I want to honor him with the good memories I have of him.

During his last week, he told me about the time he lost a toe nail pushing me around on a tricycle and how much I loved that tricycle.  He also tried to make time for me even if it was rare but I do remember him putting up a basketball goal at most every place we lived.  He and my mother would play a game called “Round-the-World” where you would attempt to make shots at different spots and try to beat other players back to the beginning.  He would always win.  I also remember the times he would throw the baseball with me.  Again, it wasn’t often but I do remember those times.

The church occupied most of his time.  In fact, he apologized for that in the end but I had long ago made peace with all that and I told him that although I hadn’t understood it at the time, I understood it a lot more now.  It was hard for him at times to separate the preacher from my father.  I can’t say that my Dad “led me to the Lord” as they say but he did his best to put me in the right direction.  Over the years I have had to re-learn a lot of things about being a believer and separating my relationship with the Lord from being a member of a church.  My dad was strict and rigid about the church teachings so we didn’t always agree on them but I still respected him I just resent it that the church stole much of my relationship with my Dad.

I see a lot of my Dad in me.  Like him, I hate to be late for anything.  I would rather be early than to be late.  I am also strict about following rules and having a good work ethic.  My Dad also loved his Clinch County Panthers high school football team.  He is the one that got me into following high school football.  That was something we always shared.  I will never forget sitting with him in the Georgia Dome in 2010 to watch his alma mater win the Georgia High School Football state championship.  He’s the one I credit with igniting my interest in Georgia High School football.

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Dad and I watching Clinch County in the State Championship Game

It took a long time for me to miss my Dad but that’s what I am feeling today.  No, it wasn’t all good but it wasn’t totally bad either.  Honestly that might could be said about us all.  I am just thankful that I was with him at the end.  I am glad I was there when he said his final words “Beam me up Scotty” as the orderlies were moving him to the bed that would transport him to Hospice.  It was fitting for him because he always had that kind of sense of humor about him as well.

For a long time I didn’t want to see any part of him in me.  Today I am honored that I have a part of him with me.

Life has many twists and turns.  We can never predict how things are going to work out.  I never thought I was ever have a relationship with my Dad.  I hoped and I prayed about it but I never saw any results until I received his letter last September.  I was fortunate that my cousin and her husband were there for him during the years I was shut out of his life.  When you are estranged from your parents, you feel like the whole family is against you.  You think that no one understands nor do they have the guts to support you or just simply tell you that they know what you are going through.  I spent many years furious about that but no more.  It is what it is.  Can’t change it now.

My Dad was a good man.  He did the best he could.  I can’t fault him for that.  None of us are perfect and we go through life trying to figure it out too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Son Of A Preacher Man

I grew up as the son of a preacher man.   In the early years of my life, my dad was the man behind the pulpit.

He preached a lot of sermons but the lessons I learned was him.  He wasn’t like other fathers.  Sure, he took time to play basketball or throw the baseball around with me but his priority was the church.

He was born in Gadsden, Alabama but some how migrated to South Georgia where he graduated from Clinch County High School in Homerville, Georgia.  He played football and basketball and you will still find him at the football stadium on Friday night watching his beloved Clinch County Panthers.

When he graduated from high school he left for the United States Air Force.  Later, he and my mother married and I was born while dad was stationed at Dyess Air Force Base near Abilene, Texas.

He was “called” into the ministry when I was a toddler.  Dad was the pastor at many churches in Georgia.  I called Valdosta, Moultrie, Temple, Homeland, Villa Rica and Savannah home over those years I was living at home.

Dad was strict.  He didn’t have any tolerance for any nonsense and I was careful not to cause much trouble.  Strict isn’t always negative.  I have inherited a lot of his characteristics.  When I stand in the mirror I see some of him in me.  Some of the things I see is:

  • Dad was a planner.  He was never one to just do anything without planning.
  • Dad was punctual.  I never recall my dad ever being late for anything.  If nothing else, he would be early.
  • Dad was honest.  I never remember him lying or cheating anyone.
  • Dad had faith in God.  I remember many times he said that we were just going to trust in God.
  • Dad had a unique sense-of-humor.  He wasn’t a cut-up like my mom was but he had his very unique humor.
  • Dad was a hard-worker.  There were many times he worked a job in addition to pastoring a church.  He never complained about it.

 

Savannah1981

Savannah, Georgia (1981)

One thing about my dad was that he was committed to doing what he believed was the right thing to do even if he never got recognized for it.  I remember when we were in Temple, it was a very small church. One Sunday no one showed up for church but Dad still had church with me and my Mom.

I don’t think he was really appreciated for the sacrifices he made.  He made a lot of them.  I never remember him being a selfish man.  He always thought of others before himself.  I would like to be more like him in that way.

 My dad is still a good man.  I still think of him that way even if things are quite as they should be between us.  It has been a rocky road for us but he’s still my dad and always will be.  I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to have been my Dad.It’s tough writing this because it exposes some of my raw emotions.  While most Dads aren’t supposed to show emotions, I remember times that I saw my Dad cry.  I know I have probably been some of his tears.  I am not one that seeks to blame his Dad for things that he did or didn’t do in my childhood for some setback today.  My Dad was just like any other parent, he did the best he knew to do with the time and situation during those years.  I certainly don’t put anything on him.  It was what it was.

The connection a man has with his father shapes his life. Which is why every adult son must choose how that relationship will – or won’t – define him.   His ways prepared my way.  I am who I am because of him.  It was 35 years ago this month when I left home to join the United States Air Force but the lessons he taught me continues to this day.  My work ethic and personality are a lot like his.  Yes, I have tweaked it a lot over the years but he’s still there.  I see him in me when I look in the mirror.

Life isn’t always what we expected and we all make decisions that cause collateral hurts and consequences.  We all have to do the best that we can.  I have made some of those difficult decisions that have disappointed my Dad.   No son intentionally wants to disappoint their dad.  A son always wants to have his dad’s approval.  He wants to know that he made it regardless of how successful he has been on his own.  That approval matters deep inside of us somewhere.

When we’re not reconciled with our fathers, there’s something inside of us that remains restless. We don’t really grow up until we have come to terms with our fathers. Whether we want to admit it or not, we need our fathers to bless us in a way that brings us into adulthood regardless how old we are.

As for me, it doesn’t matter what has happened before.  He’s still my Dad.