This is a story of two fathers. They were both from the same family, and in many ways were very much like each other. They both loved God deeply, their wives completely, their children wholeheartedly. They both worked tirelessly in their chosen vocations, lived lives of integrity and constancy of character, and gathered excellent reputations. They both spoke truth, boldly, and were unashamed to take a stand for what was right.
And I had the distinct privilege of belonging to them both.
For one, I was the first – and only – daughter. For the other, I was the first – but not the only – granddaughter. A welcome addition of pink to a predominantly blue family. And as such, I know I held a special place in both their hearts. I know…because they told me. With their words but also with their actions. I was cared for and loved, truly and deeply, by them both.
Tomorrow is Father’s Day, the day I will remember the two fathers I’ve lost, but mostly a day when I will celebrate the one who is living. The one I have the honor of sharing life with. The one who has been and continues to be an incredibly amazing father to the children God has given to us. Tomorrow is a day of celebration.
Today, then, is a day of remembering.
Fitting, really, since it is my grandfather’s birthday. On this day, he would have been 103 years old. On this day, he is celebrating his 10th birthday in heaven.
My grandfather was a preacher, and lived his life as preachers are prone to do: right vs. wrong is as clear as black vs. white, strong words back strong character and strong convictions, and be early – and be prepared – for everything. But beneath that bluster was a man who relished his family, especially his role as grandfather. That was how I knew him best…and how I will forever remember him. No longer burdened by the demands of day-to-day parenting, he had the freedom to teach me the finer points of life. From him I learned about candlepin bowling, the humor of Victor Borge, the importance of daily coffee breaks (with donuts), what sugar cane looks – and tastes – like, the fun of model railroading, the simple pleasures of visiting the local farmer’s market, how to make any day better by throwing in a little “illusionism”, the proper technique for skipping rocks, and how to make the best homemade ice cream.
He taught me strength through unimaginable sorrow as I watched him bury his son.
He showed me what true love looks like, as “til death do us part” meant 70 years of faithful devotion to his beloved wife. SEVEN DECADES. Even as she slipped slowly from him, her mind gradually fading as dementia and Alzheimer’s extinguished the glimmer of recognition from her memory, I watched him care for her more and more, with tenderness and compassion, always preserving her dignity and always desiring her best.
We made the trip to Boston to be with him shortly after my grandmother’s death. It was also shortly after the birth of his first great-granddaughter, who bore the same name as his own mother: Crisana.
Their first moments together were spent, ironically, at the funeral home. Not exactly the place you’d expect to meet your infant great-grandchild for the first time, but even in his greatest grief, there was pure joy. The look on his face echoed what my heart felt as I placed my daughter in his arms.
There were other special moments, too, particularly this one. My grandmother’s very first teddy bear – a gift from my grandfather just a few years earlier – became Crisana’s plaything. And once again, in a moment rich with emotion – grief, sadness, loss – there was pure joy.
And as I sat in my grandmother’s chair – now empty – I was overwhelmed with the realization that this was a moment not to be taken for granted. And sure enough, this is the last picture I have of us together. He died the following spring. I spoke at his funeral about the legacy he left: a legacy of family, faith, and friendship. A legacy I have every intention of carrying on.
It is certainly a legacy he passed along to his son, my father.
It’s been 17 years since the last time I celebrated Father’s Day with him. He, too, was a man of deep conviction, much like his own father. But rather than the deep, resonating cadence of his preacher-father, my dad had the carefully measured speech of an educator. He taught me that words, like friends, should be chosen carefully. He showed me how to deal with difficult situations – and difficult people – with grace, patience, and dignity. He taught me that life’s problems – like geometric proofs or algebraic equations – no matter how difficult or complex, can often be solved with out-of-the-box thinking and sometimes the help of a friend. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from him, though, came much later in life. A lesson that was quite literally “sealed with a kiss.” A lesson that demonstrated the depth of a parents’ love. A lesson taught without words, in just a brief, fleeting moment, completely unscripted and totally unplanned.
“Go on, give him a kiss,” the photographer said. So I did. And in that singular moment, a flood of emotions swept through my heart like a raging torrent, so intense and powerful it took my breath away. Then it was his turn to repay the favor.
I was unprepared for the depth of emotion that flowed between us in that simple exchange. Immense pride. Intense love. Pure admiration. Total devotion. Things I probably knew were there all along, but lay hidden beneath the mundaneness of everyday life. With that simple peck on the cheek, my eyes and my heart were opened – perhaps for the very first time – to the depth, the intensity, the constancy of my father’s love. A love I had taken for granted. A love I had grossly underestimated. A love I didn’t deserve but desperately needed. A love I would never forget.
It is a love I now carry for my own children.
A love that desires their absolute best, yet accepts them at their worst. A love that soothes away the hurt, yet doesn’t shield them from it. A love that sacrifices much, yet demands little in return. A love that thrives on simple rewards: a belly laugh, a quick hug, a homemade card, an exclamation of “you’re the best!” A love that encourages, nurtures, and directs their strengths, yet doesn’t excuse away their weaknesses. A love that is tough enough to enforce boundaries, but soft enough to allow choices…and their natural consequences. A love that “always hopes, always protects, always perseveres.” A love that “never fails.”
A love that gives a glimpse into the very heart of my Heavenly Father. A love I have assuredly taken for granted. A love I have – without question – grossly underestimated. A love that I unquestionably don’t deserve but desperately need.
A love that I most certainly will never forget.