Father’s Day Reflections
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:1-13, NRSV)
Thank you, Jimmy, for this opportunity to speak on Father’s Day. I am honored to follow the previous Father’s Day speakers.
My dad was a brilliant and very analytical chemist who worked for B. F. Goodrich. He was part of the team that developed the resins that would eventually become siding for housing and many other plastic and vinyl products that needed to withstand exposure to varying weather conditions. My dad was a Boy Scout leader, although for a scout troop other than the one I joined. My dad was also involved with Masons and the Shriners. After he retired, he often volunteered to drive kids and their parents all over the northeast to one of the Shriner’s-affiliated hospitals so the child could get needed care and treatment.
I imagine it will surprise many of you to learn that while growing up, and until I had been married seventeen years, I would have told you that Father’s Day was never a day I felt I had any reason to celebrate.
The reason is because my dad was an irrational and violent father. I don’t remember him ever offering to help with schoolwork. Rather he insisted that each night I sit at the desk in my bedroom in a straight back chair and study. He never permitted talking during dinner. Generally, there was one week each year which was a relaxing time. My parents, sisters and I went to a lake outside Perth, Ontario each year for a vacation with my grandparents, and an uncle’s family. We would stay in our tent camper and fish all day long and dinner was dependent on what we caught. I do not remember him ever telling me he loved me, with one exception, which occurred immediately after he thanked me for providing a male grandson.
It should not be a surprise that my primary desire after high school graduation was to get out of my parents’ house. Therefore, I enlisted in the United States Navy. The desire to get as far away from my parents’ house was part of my decision to volunteer for Underwater Demolition team training. That choice meant that in December I would go to San Diego, California for boot camp instead of Great Lakes training center just north of Chicago, Illinois.
By now you might be questioning Jimmy’s judgment in asking me to speak on Father’s Day. You may be thinking how could I possibly have something good to say today to celebrate Father’s Day. Well, in my case, it is because I was fortunate to have quite a few people who acted as fathers to me but who were not genetically related to me.
The Congregational Church my mom, sisters and I attended retained a new minister just as I became old enough to join Pilgrim Fellowship. Dave Sandberg recognized something was amiss and pried out of me the conditions at my house. Dave, his wife Ruth and their home became a refuge. Dave and Ruth adopted a son Paul and since I was spending time at Dave’s home I was able to watch Dave’s interactions with his son, and subsequently their daughter. It was wonderful to realize how effective loving care instead of anger and violence could positively influence the development of children. Even after I left the area, I frequently reached out to Dave to help me work through questions that arose. Dave remained a father to me throughout my life until he succumbed to cancer in 2014.
Another father to me during high school years was my diving coach. Al Wisniewski left high school to join the Navy Air Corps during World War II and the Korean conflict. Despite the lack of a high school diploma or college degree, he became a respected administrator at NASA Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. He led by example and always preached that you can achieve anything you set your mind to if you were willing to work for it, and he constantly encouraged me to pursue my dreams.
While in the Navy I met another father figure. He was the Captain of the Bryce Canyon, a destroyer tender on which I was stationed for about two years. The captain and I developed a relationship primarily because I saw him just about every morning to discuss the secure communications that had been received and any scheduled communications drills. It was my good fortune that we also had occasions to discuss many other subjects, and he was comfortable providing counsel when necessary. The Captain proposed me as a candidate for a communications team that traveled all over the Western Pacific Ocean to perform secure communications inspections on ships and communications stations. As a result of his caring support I was able to experience many locations and cultures that I never would have seen without someone caring enough about me to see potential. The Captain had developed an understanding of my character well enough that he actually laughed at the Chief Petty Officer who put me on report when I insisted on strict enforcement of security rules during receipt and decryption of an encrypted top-secret message. My strict enforcement involved me pointing a loaded 45 at the Chief. However, the Captain could not stop the transfer orders that arrived soon after, sending me to the Naval Communications Station in Adak, Alaska.
After a year at Adak, I was transferred to a Naval Communications Station on Guam, Marianas Islands. While on Guam I was fortunate to meet another father figure. I began coaching a swim team and one of the parents of a swimmer took me under his wing. We had many discussions about life, the war and whether I would remain in the Navy or get out and move on with my life. He realized that the Goldwater conservative I had been when I enlisted in 1968 had changed. He, like my other father figures, helped me understand that I was capable of greater things. I applied to college and was honorably discharged three months early so I could begin my college education.
I continued working as a swim coach while pursuing my college education and met a couple of what I think of as female father figures. One of the families of a swimmer on a country club swim team I coached essentially adopted me. Mrs. Berman was always available to discuss any issue and always had valuable advice. Dr. Berman who was 30 years older than me also had valuable advice and often taught me the value of age and experience by regularly kicking my butt at handball. I continued to seek the counsel of Dr. and Mrs. Berman for many years after I left the area.
My first teaching job after college included coaching swimming and diving for the high school women’s swim team. One of the mothers of a swimmer also adopted me. It was through our frequent discussions and her thoughtful advice that I gained an understanding of many issues including the trials, tribulations and psychology of high school women swimmers. The swimmers of my team became so possessive of me that unbeknownst to me they actually interviewed Lynne to determine whether I would be allowed to marry her.
As with many newly married couples Lynne and I were frequently bombarded with questions about when we might produce children. We were both teaching
and were around many children every day. In addition, in part based on psychology studies I had read about while in college, I was afraid that if we had a child I would expose that child to the same violence I grew up experiencing. With Lynne’s help and the help of more than one of the father figures in my life I became convinced that I could overcome my past. After seventeen years of marriage we had so thoroughly convinced our relatives that we would not be having children that when we called my mother and told her she would be a grandmother she thought our dog was having puppies.
Gregory was born preterm, and weighed around three pounds when he was born. When I first saw him lying helpless in the isolette in the neonatal intensive care unit, I knew I would never be a father who needed violence to help him grow and develop. However as imperfect as I am, there was one time when I came close. It was when Gregory had not yet developed the ability to communicate with words. I’m sure you all remember those times when infants begin to cry and you desperately struggle to determine the cause. Lynne was out of town on business and Gregory had been crying for what seemed like hours. It was very unusual for him to cry for so long and I became extremely frustrated with my inability to discover the reason for his crying. I was about to shake him and scream at him to tell me what is wrong, when an image of my father red-faced and about to strike came to me. I laid Gregory down and took several deep breaths to relax. Then I picked him up and just held him against my chest until he stopped crying and fell asleep. I have joyously celebrated Father’s day for the last 23 years. I am very proud and happy that he is the reason that I celebrate Father’s Day.
So after all that, what thoughts do I hope you will leave with today? Although being a “father” suggests a specific gender, in my experience the role is not actually gender dependent, but is one of being a caring and loving helper and advisor. Providing love, advice and guidance to a child, student, or friend does not require a specific set of X or Y chromosomes. Each of my father figures took an interest in me for some reason, and they were driven solely by love and a desire to help me grow, understand and accomplish my goals. I take every opportunity to encourage and remind Gregory that he can accomplish his dreams and aspirations, and to tell him I love him and hug him. All that is required to be a good father or father figure is to follow the advice in today’s scripture and love your children. Amen.