I had a “Leave It to Beaver” childhood. We had a nuclear family in the best sense of that word. It was a wonderful, stable, happy family setting. It wasn’t perfect, but it was very, very good. I will always be grateful to God for my parents.
My Dad didn’t talk all that much while I was growing up. If you wanted to talk out a problem, you went to Mom. Dad was an engineer. He’d tell you a joke and buy you an ice cream cone, and he’d carry you to bed when you fell asleep in the back of the car. But you had your long conversations with Mom.
That changed after Mom went to Heaven. We had a lot more in-depth conversations with Dad in the ten years after Mom died. It was good. Up until that time, Dad would talk to you, and you could talk to him, but the conversations tended to be of the “here’s the problem, here’s the solution” variety. Beyond that, he didn’t say a lot.
But Dad modeled some wonderful things for us. Here are a few things I learned from my Dad:
I. Go to work.
My earliest childhood memories are of Mom and me watching TV on a black & white television in the evenings, by ourselves. Dad wasn’t there, because for the first eight years of my life he went to night school to finish his engineering degree.
Dad worked for Allison’s in Indianapolis for fifty years. And he always went to work, no matter how he felt. The only exception to that was when he had an inner ear infection once when I was a teenager, and he couldn’t stand up for a few days. Other than that, he always went to work. He loved his job, and he worked hard at it.
II. Sacrifice for family.
He worked hard at his job to provide for us. I asked him once why he always drove the oldest car to work. He told me, “Always give your wife the best car. If one of ‘em is going to break down, I want it to break down on me, not her.” A few years later when I went to Bible college, he traded me my 1963 VW bug for an almost-new Chevy Vega. I said, “Dad, how can you do this?” He said, “It’s a long way, and I want you to have a good car.” So most of the time I was in school, he drove my old Volkswagen to work. The heater in those VWs didn’t work very well. Sometimes he’d take Rae Anne to church in the bug, and they’d put a blanket across both their legs, and he’d give her a scraper, to scrape the ice off of the inside of the windshield. My Dad did that for me.
III. Love the guitar.
Dad loved the guitar. He tried to get me interested in playing his guitar early on, but I’d just lay it across my lap and beat on it like a bongo. I don’t think he was encouraged.
Then one evening he switched on the television to The Monkees TV show, and that was it for me. Dad showed me my first chords and payed for lessons for half a summer. And I’ve played the guitar ever since. Dad got me started.
Dad loved to listen to Chet Atkins play guitar. He bought as many Chet Atkins records as he could find, and he played them on one of those big old stereo record players in the wooden cabinet that looked like a small coffin in your living room. Dad would get up early on Sunday mornings to make coffee, and usually put on a Chet Atkins record. One Sunday my little brother Stevie got up, heard the music on the stereo and asked Dad, “Is that Chet Atkins?” Dad told him it was, and Stevie said, “Then I’m goin’ back to bed!”
Over the years I came to realize that Dad was the reason I played the guitar. It was to please him. And every time I learned something new or wrote a new song, I couldn’t wait to show him. I wanted him to hear it, and be proud of me. Growing up, I was sickly and not very athletic. But Dad and I had the guitar in common. He taught me to love music, and especially to love the guitar.
IV. Always be friendly.
My Dad was friendly with everybody: cashiers, gas station attendants, and the baristas at Starbucks. When he walked into his local Starbucks, the baristas would say, “Hi, Wayne! We’ve already started your drink!” He always brought them candy and tipped generously. After he moved from his house to an apartment a few miles farther away, two of the baristas would even bring him his favorite drink at least twice a week, at no charge!
Dad could walk into a roomful of strangers and in five minutes be introducing them to each other. He loved his neighbors on Flintstone Drive, especially Larry and Candy Bessler. I’m basically a shy and introverted person. When I started in the ministry, I learned to talk to people by watching my wife, and imitating my Dad. My Dad was friendly with everybody.
V. Make people laugh.
My Dad told me jokes from the time I was a little kid. They were so corny. He told some real groaners.
And he had some classic one-liners, too. He liked to eat at Bob Evans restaurant near his old house, and he always asked for either Judy Belle or Peggy to be his waitress. He would tip generously and always liked to give the tip in cash (because Bob Evans makes their staff wait two weeks to get their tips…did you know that?) One day he gave Judy Belle a ten dollar bill for a tip. She said, “Oh, thank you!” and leaned down and kissed him on the cheek. He looked at me and then regretfully said, “I don’t have another ten dollars.”
He was worried that Steve and I would have our feelings hurt because he chose our youngest brother Curt to be the executor of his estate. We both assured him it was all right. Curt lived closest to Dad, and the decision just made sense. One day Dad gave me a coupon for some shoe insoles that I liked at Walgreens. After we ran some errands, we stopped at a Walgreens so I could buy some of those insoles. But it took a long time to get through the checkout, and I forgot to use the coupon he gave me. When we got back in the car, I felt something crinkle in my shirt pocket. It was the coupon. I said, “Dad, I forgot to use the coupon you gave me!” A few moments passed, and then he quietly said: “That’s why I chose Curt.” I laughed so hard I almost drove off the road.
VI. Buy the meal.
Dad always bought the meal when we went out. This was his way of showing hospitality. (And let’s face it, after Mom died, all he had in his refrigerator was milk and ham salad.) Once at Bob Evans for breakfast, I got the bill and paid it before he knew what I’d done. It made him feel so bad for the rest of the day I swore I’d never do it again! My brother Curt said, “I learned to quit arguing with him about that a long time ago.”
VII. Read your Bible.
Every morning of the world, Dad got up at 4:45 AM, sat in the kitchen, ate his Wheaties and read his Bible and the Our Daily Bread devotional booklet. He continued this practice up until the last months of his life, when his cognitive challenges seemed rob him of most of his ability to read and understand.
VIII. Church is important.
Mom would often say, “I don’t really like this house that much. Your father chose this house.” When they moved to Southport, Dad chose the house so they could be closer to church. Dad was by far the more people-oriented of my parents. He’d have been at church every time the doors were open, if Mom had gone along with it. And after she died, that’s pretty much how often he was there.
When I was away at college, there came a point when Dad and Mom realized they’d neglected the spiritual side of their lives. My younger brothers Steve and Curt were both sick and near death in two different hospitals. Mom told me they came home to the house they’d worked for all their lives, filled with all the good things they’d always wanted…and she said, “None of it meant anything to us anymore.” They knelt and prayed together that night, telling God that if he wanted to take their boys, then they surrendered to that. But whatever happened, they told God that they needed to put Him first in their lives from then on. It was the real spiritual milestone in their lives.
Dad’s Gray Road church family meant the world to him, and it meant the world to me and my brothers that some of them went to see Dad, sang Christmas carols, read Scripture to him, and took the Lord’s Supper with him…just over 24 hours before he went Home to Heaven. He loved his church family.
IX. Love your wife.
My brother Curt said it best: “Dad set the ‘gold standard’ when it came to faithfulness and taking care of your wife.” He was right. Dad cared for Mom so faithfully in her final months of life.
After she died, my brothers and I were kind of hopeful that Dad might find another godly Christian woman and get married again. But if you wanted to make him mad, just let him think you might be trying to fix him up with someone. I told him once, “Hey, Dad, today’s ‘Sadie Hawkins Day’.” He said, “What’s that?” I said, “It’s supposed to be when women can propose marriage to men.” I don’t think he left the house the entire day.
We’d talk about Mom sometimes, and he’d say, “I miss her every day.”
X. Cookies are good.
Dad taught me early on important things like: Oreos are better than Hydrox…fudge-covered grahams are a rare treat…and vanilla sandwich cookies are good, too. When Dad was a kid he once drank an entire can of Hershey’s Syrup. He said, “I never did like chocolate as much after that.” But he always had a pack of what he called “blonde cookies”.
Dad was a “cookie monster”. He was continually eating cookies! It got to the point where he was going through four packs of “blonde” Oreos a week, and we felt that he was not eating enough good food because of the cookies. So Curt reluctantly said, “I’ll be the bad son,” and told Dad he needed to cut back to one package of cookies a week. Dad fixed Curt with an unhappy stare for a long moment…then finally said, “Well, that’s a shame!”
But when the Gray Roaders went to sing Christmas carols to him that last Wednesday evening, they brought him a big family-size bag of Christmas cookies. On Friday morning, when Curt’s wife Liz went in to start removing things from Dad’s room, she found the bag…with only one cookie left in it! We think Dad died a happy man!
He was a great Dad. They say we base our perception of God the Father, for good or ill, on our perception of our earthly fathers. Dad reflected God the Father to us in so many wonderful ways. I am so thankful to our Heavenly Father for my earthly father!
I love you, Dad.
Soli Deo Gloria!