Following on the heels of “15 Things I Learned From My Mom,” I thought it was only fitting to devote a post to my father. This month not only marks Father’s Day, but my dad’s 93rd birthday. Here are just a few of the countless things he’s taught me:
1. Commit your heart to Jesus. My dad’s faith began forming when he was a young farm boy searching for a lost cow. As he went from field to field looking for the wayward beast, he eventually became disoriented and panicked. In that moment, dad asked God to help him, and instantaneously remembered that he could tell the direction home by looking at the sun. The seeds of faith sown that day on the prairie came to fruition at age 15 when a traveling evangelist came to town. When the altar call came, dad felt a burning in his heart to respond. “I practically ran to the front,” dad recalls. He says he knew that it was time to “get off the fence” and make a commitment to Christ. My father calls it the most important decision he’s ever made—and one he’s never regretted.
2. Worrying is worthless. One of the hallmarks of my dad’s faith is how it dissolves fear. As a soldier in WWII, his fellow Army buddies asked him why he didn’t share their fear of dying on the battlefield. He responded, “My life is in God’s hands, and I know that if I die, I will go to heaven.” My dad has consistently turned to prayer during trying times, leaving the matters in God’s hands. He is famous for saying “we’ll take it one day at a time,” a philosophy that focuses on the present rather than fearing the future. Even now, when the frailties of old age could easily produce anxiety, dad often says, “I’ll sleep well tonight; I don’t have anything to worry about. What good would it do, anyway?”
3. Focus on the positive. Instead of grumbling or dwelling on what he doesn’t have, my dad focuses on his blessings. He maintains a thankful spirit, and often says “I have everything I need.” One of the phrases he frequently prays to his Heavenly Father is “Thank you for your many blessings in Jesus.” He acknowledges that not everything in life is easy, but chooses to look at the positive in every situation. Instead of griping about the chronic pain he lives with, he proclaims, “I’ve had many good years. What do I expect at my age?” I’ve witnessed him graciously accept many difficult situations that could have generated bitterness. When he became a widower at age 86, he could have easily become depressed and reclusive. Instead, he asked a friend to join him in a visitation ministry to shut-ins. When it was no longer safe for him to drive and he became confined to home himself, he adapted without resistance or a cross word. (See Goodbye, Mr. Lincoln.)
4. Tell others you appreciate them. Over the years, as dad’s needs have increased, he has never failed to express his gratefulness for my help. It’s common for him to tell me “What would I do without you?” “How can I ever repay you?” “I appreciate all that you are doing for me.” “You take such good care of me.” As I receive these blessings of appreciation from my dad, I realize the importance of passing on affirmations to others.
5. Any job worth doing is worth doing right. This statement by dad has rung in my ears as I have approached jobs assignments, large and small. My dad gave his best to his work, whether it was planting perfectly straight rows of corn or working the graveyard shift at an electronics manufacturing plant. He could be counted on to put in a full day’s work, never cutting corners or shortchanging his employer. Dad’s work ethic was formed at an early age, when he and his siblings labored in sugar beet fields. He recalls a German saying they would shout back and forth as their sweat dripped: “Arbeit macht Leben süß.” Translated, it means “Work makes life sweet.”
6. Live with integrity. Dad’s integrity extends beyond the workplace to every area of his life. If he says he is going to do something, he does it. His word can be trusted, and he fulfills his promises. Some of the greatest promises he has kept are his marriage vows, “in sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part.” My dad faithfully loved my mom over the course of almost 61 years of marriage. When she suffered a debilitating health condition and was confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home, dad visited her virtually every day for three years before death separated them.
7. Be willing to take risks. Though overall conservative in nature, my dad has taken significant risks when necessary. The greatest example is when he chose to pursue an entirely new career in his late forties. Farming had proven detrimental to my dad’s health, and the only way for him to feel better was to change occupations and relocate to a new climate. Dad left everything that was familiar and started from the ground up in Oregon with mom and me. Initially we lived in a tiny basement apartment and dad went off to work at a low-paying job with a farm equipment company. Eventually the move paid off, as he was hired by a thriving technology company, was able to buy a home, and enjoyed two decades in the Pacific Northwest. I look back now and realize what a bold move that was.
8. Remember the Lord knows the way. I’m sure one of the reasons my dad was willing to take risks is because he knew God would show him the way. One of his favorite choruses is “The Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow.” Watching my dad trust God for direction has been an example for me during times of uncertainty. A few years ago I was feeling anxious about a job interview. Dad took time to pray with me, asking God to help and lead me. He closed by quoting Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”
9. Wish the best for everyone. My dad frequently closes a conversation with, “The best to you.” (Or with me, he says, “The best to you, honey.” Sometimes he adds the phrase, I hope you have a good day, today, and every day. My dad genuinely desires for everyone to experience the best life possible. In a world where it’s easy to cut others down and focus on faults, my dad has modeled how to wish good things for his fellow man.
10. Remember that “this, too, shall pass.” Recently my dad ended up in the ER with a severe nosebleed. To stop the hemorrhage, the doctor had to insert an inflatable “rhino rocket” into his nose. The device caused significant pain and discomfort, and had to be left in for many hours. As he endured, dad said several times, “this, too, shall pass.” I am quite sure the principles of 2 Corinthians 4:17 have helped shape dad’s view of earthly suffering: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (NIV). He realizes that suffering, while painful, will not last forever.
11. Be gentle and kind. My dad’s gentle and kind spirit is one of his trademark qualities. In a society rampant with harshness and bad behavior, my dad’s sweetness stands out. One of my friends describes him as a “true gentleman.” His words, tone, and intentions convey a heart that draws people to him. His gentleness has only increased over the years.
12. Don’t let others get you down. There have been moments in my life when I came to dad filled with anguish because people were being unreasonable or saying false or unkind things. At those times, dad typically said, “Don’t let them get to you – they are the ones with the problem!” This perspective has helped me to “consider the source” when processing the comments and actions of people.
13. Let music awaken your soul. If dad could only have two books, he would choose The Bible and a hymnal. Singing songs of faith and praise has always been a source of joy and spiritual comfort for dad. He grew up singing hymns in German out of “gesang buchs,” which contained only words. As a young man he joined a male quartet at church, singing locally and regionally for many years. Church choirs benefited from his strong baritone voice, as well. Now, he keeps a red hymnal near his recliner, which has little “x’s” penciled in the upper right corner of the pages containing the songs he knows. In those rare moments when he feels a bit low, one of his best antidotes is to sing.
14. Trust your Heavenly Father. Some people have a hard time relating to God as a “Father” because they struggle with their relationship with their earthly dad. My experience has been exactly the opposite. My dad’s unconditional love, sacrifice, protection, provision and encouragement have modeled for me what my Heavenly Father’s love is like. Because of my dad’s example, I trust my Heavenly Father’s love even more.
15. Wait on God’s Timing. Now in his sunset years, dad can often be caught humming the old chorus, “In His time, In His time, He makes all things beautiful, in His time . . .” Throughout his life, dad has trusted God’s timing, and it is now more evident than ever as he awaits his final call to heaven. Another phrase he often recites is, “When the whistle blows, it’s time to go . . .” Dad knows that when the celestial “whistle” sounds, it will be right on time. I know it, too, but when it happens it will truly be earth’s loss and heaven’s gain.
Thank you, Dad, for being the best father a daughter could ever have. I will love you always!