Sunday, June 15, 2008

For My Dad

My dad is a great teacher. The story goes that when he had to go to kindergarten he said, "I see I'm delaying my education another year." Despite that delay, he finished school, went to Moody Bible Institute, got his education degree at UW-Platteville, and a master's in special education at Northeastern University. He was a teacher, a principal, and finally a special education administrator. You pretty much can't go anywhere without running into someone my dad taught or taught with.

Being a teacher by profession has spilled over into his personal life. So many things I know I have learned from my dad. He taught me how to tie my shoes, ride a bike, drive a car. He gave me my first driving lessons when I was fifteen and took me to get my license on my 16th birthday. Then there was my brother's and my first car, a Datsun 210 5-speed (no power anything on that baby). My dad took me over to the parking lot at his work, showed me how to drive it, and then endured several hours of riding shotgun with a clueless teenage girl attempting to drive stick until I finally got it.

Speaking of driving, I think there might possibly be a mileometer up in heaven, counting how far my dad has driven me and hopefully all those miles will be counted to him as righteousness. My dad drove me to piano lessons and orchestra practice and ballet lessons. He drove us all on countless trips to Door County, to northern Wisconsin/Minnesota, upstate New York, Georgia, Florida, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. He drove me to camp in northern Michigan every summer. When I was in college he drove innumerable times roundtrip from Wheaton to Chicago --including Sunday nights when I didn't want to take the last train in so he would let me wait as late as possible and then would drive 80 miles roundtrip even though he had to go to work again in the morning.

My dad taught me much of my love of reading. In the evening when we were little, he would read us Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis, and Patricia St. John. He also taught me to read the Bible every day. He would read it to us after dinner as a family, and he bought us Scripture Union notes so that we could have our personal devotions each morning. It's rare that you would see my dad without a book in his hand, and every day, without fail between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m., he got up and did his devotions.

My dad also taught me about valuing people whom others don't necessarily value. He devoted his career to working with children who needed special education: those with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, emotional disorders, and behavior disorders. He was in charge of making sure each of the children in his jurisdiction, "my kids" as he called them, were in the best possible program and environment in which to learn. In his spare time, he had a ministry to the elderly. He organized Sunday morning services in two different nursing homes. This involved getting music together (he learned to play the piano as an adult), preaching a sermon, visiting, and even going around to the residents' rooms and wheeling them in to the service (seeing as some of them had senile dementia, this was sometimes harder than it sounds. "I went to get Edith for service today, and she hauled off and slugged me!" he would laugh.)

Throughout everything, my dad maintained a sense of humor. Ask any of my friends about my dad, and they'll just start to laugh. When my friend Anna's daughter met him for the first time, she asked Anna on the way home, "Is Auntie Alice's dad a comedian?" I think he learned early on that laughing through stuff makes it all easier. His job was quite stressful, especially because he cared about what happened to the kids so much, but his sense of humor helped to temper it. One time he and I were waiting for the absolute longest red light in all the western suburbs and he remarked, "One of my kids blew this light up once. You know, it's hard to have to sit through this thing when you're trying to get away from the cops." (Yeah, that was one of the behavior disorder ones!)

Being an educator himself, of course our education was important to my dad. Throughout our schooling, my dad taught evening classes at National-Louis and Wheaton College in order to pay for our tuition. (I had no idea that's why he did that when I was a kid. He never said why, and I just assumed he did it for the fun of it.)

I think a lot of dads have the reputation, even though they love their kids, of being distant and remote. It's more of an effort for men, especially since they're at work all day. My dad took off work on each of our birthdays and spent the day with us. At Christmas, he took us out every year and got our tree. He took us downtown to see the window decorations. He would take us all out to lunch for Valentine's Day. He took us out for ice cream after church on Sunday nights. He would drive downtown while I was at Moody and take me out to dinner. He spent so much time listening to my childish/teenage/college-age stream of consciousness and was interested in it all (or at least pretended to be!) When my friend was killed in a car accident and I sat in our living room, sobbing my heart out, my dad didn't say a word, just put his arms around me and cried right along with me.

The greatest thing of all my dad has taught me though is faithfulness and keeping my commitments. He taught by example. My dad was 37 years old when I was born, almost the same age I was when Elaine was born. There are some great advantages to being an older parent, I know, but having unlimited energy is not one of them. I remember him saying sometimes when he got home from work, "I'm so tired I can't even get the rocking chair going!" Now I know what that feels like. Yet even though he was exhausted a lot of the time, he went above and beyond as my dad, always working for my benefit and never making a big deal out of it. If my dad made me a promise, he kept it. In all my life, I can never remember a time my dad did not come through for me.

I realize I've written all this in the past tense, and I guess it's just because I am talking about my growing up. My dad is 76 years old now, and even though he's been officially retired from his career for quite a number of years, he hasn't slowed down much at all. He finds all sorts of work to do, and he still has a thriving ministry to the elderly. He's almost always got a book in his hand. When I was stuck at home a couple years ago in the dead of winter with two babies (Darren had accidentally taken both sets of keys to work) and dying for any sort of adult interaction, my dad drove 40 minutes to my house, drove us back to my parents' house for the day, and did the round-trip again in the evening. He still puts the tree up at Christmas, takes us out to lunch every year on Valentine's Day, and still takes me out for ice cream sometimes. He recently came over and took all the wallpaper off my guestroom for me, and he listens to my random stream-of-consciousness on a regular basis. And guess where my dad is every day between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m.? Yup. In his rocking chair, reading his Bible, without fail.

So, Happy Father's Day, Dad. Thank you for leading by example. Thank you for all the teaching, and working, and driving, and listening. Thank you for going out to teach all those nights even though you were dead tired and we took it all for granted. Thank you for showing me how to go through life with a sense of humor. Thank you for being so faithful and always keeping your promises. You're the best dad ever. I love you!


Juliet said...

What a wonderful tribute to your father. Thanks for sharing all that he has meant to you.

We are a product of our parents and thank God for giving us such great dads. Of course, we all think: "My dad is better than your dad."

Jill said...

Just a side note...I also learned how to drive in a Datsun 210 wagon - 5 speed, baby blue. And you're right, NO POWER ANYTHING!!!. Too funny ;) Glad you had a nice Father's Day.

Ann-Marie said... I got some tears going! What a sweet post. Your dad sounds amazing and affectionate. And it's obvious he did a great job teaching his daughter...who we all love, too!

I'm so glad to rejoice in our godly heritage together!

Mae said...


I have a heavenly Father that loves me dearly, but didn't have an earthly Father that loved me. Your tribute to your Father was wonderful and it deeply touched me. I'm so pleased that you had a man of God like him in your life.