The Day My Father Died
It was a Sunday morning like this one, thirty-five years ago today. As the sun rose over the Western Pennsylvania town where he had grown up and raised his family, my father’s battle with cancer came to an end and he was raised to new life in the Risen Christ.
Dad was only 59. It seemed older to me then than it does now! He grew up on a little farm where my grandparents somehow raised six children in a four room house. Their first-born, Harold, had died as an infant in the flu epidemic of 1918, the consequence of what was supposed to be “the war to end all wars.”
Dad dreamed of going to college, but instead he and his three brothers went to war. I’m named for the one who didn’t come home. Like the rest of “the greatest generation,” he came back and went to work, raising a family and building an auto parts business out of nothing. The summer before I went to college, the store burned down and he had to rebuild it.
A Simple Man with Unshakable Commitments
Although he had many opinions – a genetic flaw that runs rampant in the DNA of our family — Dad’s life was built on a few unshakable commitments to his family, his business and his faith. There were times when we questioned whether the business took priority over the family, but there was no question about the priority he placed on his faith. Everyone who knew Ves (short for Sylvester), knew that he was a Christian, a Methodist and a tea-totaller in that order.
Dad would go to the store to get a part a mechanic at the local service station (that’s what we called gas stations when they actually provided service) on Sunday, but only after he had been to Sunday School and worship.
He was the guy people called on to give a prayer before dinner because they knew that he knew how to pray.
He taught us to give the first 10% of whatever we earned to the church because it belongs to God. It’s called the “tithe.”
When he died, we heard the untold stories from people he had helped when they were down and out across the years.
He never hesitated to share his faith as a lay speaker and a representative of the Methodist Men. His witness goes on with the words that are carved into his gravestone: “I commend my Savior to you.” Those words also appear on a statue of Charles Wesley in Bristol, England. Evidently Dad had heard that somewhere along the way and claimed them for his own.
My father lived long enough to see his three sons graduate from college and to watch two of us be ordained as Methodist preachers. He loved the women Jack and I married and adored the four grandchildren who arrived before he died. His love reaches beyond the grave to his third daughter-in-law, his fifth grandchild, and the seven great-grandchildren who are heirs to a fortune not of wealth but of love, loyalty and faith.
The Family Goes On
I’ve sometimes compared my grandparents to Ma Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath” with her unbending determination that against all obstacles, the family will go on. And so, our family goes on.
Yesterday I performed the wedding for my nephew, Chris., in Ohio. At 93, my mother couldn’t go along. But Aunt Sarah, my father’s only remaining sibling, was there to give her blessing. Uncle Frank died last year. We talked about how painful it was for her to come to the wedding without him. But she said, “I have to go on.” She looked at her children and grandchildren who were around the reception table and said, “I have so much to live for.” She said, “Sometimes I feel like he is right here beside me.” We agreed that because we believe in ”the communion of saints,” they were all there. The family goes on.
So, I offer my thanks for parents who passed on the gifts of life, love and faith to us and pray that those same gifts will be passed on from generation to generation. That would make my father proud.
A Wise Word from Ferguson
My friend and fellow pastor, Matt Miofsky, is a life-long resident of St. Louis. He shares a wise witness from the midst of the racial tension that is gripping his community here. It’s well worth reading.
Grace and peace,