Owners Manual for Fathers

Last week I received my instructional manual for fatherhood. It was a little late being delivered, (about 40 years) because the publisher wanted to include at no extra cost, a supplement, my grandfather’s manual. It was all part of a birthday present and party my family semi-surprised me with. They warned me a couple of days before the big event so I could get my best face together.

One of my presents was this most treasured book I now own, second only to the scriptures. It is a collection of letters from my children and grand children, and a few other close friends and relatives.

One of the beauties of the book is that the contributors were both candid and specific about their memories. As the saying goes, they listed the blessings they have enjoyed from having me as their father, along with some they did not enjoy. Paper routes on cold winter mornings, working on our little farm on a sweltering summer afternoon, milking the goats before we opened our presents Christmas morning; these were among the most forgettable memories of their growing up years.

They also remembered feeling supported by me in their aspiring dreams, and empathy when they struggled. One son remembered being so sick with rheumatic fever he couldn’t raise his head, so his dad bundled him up and gave him a “piggy shoulder” ride to at least watch his siblings sleigh down our backyard hill. All these memories and more touched the deepest part of where I live.

The book shouts out loud and clear what every parent knows. Some of our most memorable teaching moments are times we didn’t notice then and don’t remember now. One Sunday morning we were short three papers. I took the children to a nearby convenience store with a stack of papers in the rack outside. I dropped in the coins that opened the door. My daughter thought. Hey once we’re in there we can take as many papers as we want and only pay for one. I took three, shut the door, and then dropped in the coins to cover the other two. It was a visual she has never forgotten. Be honest, even when nobody is looking.

Another daughter was struggling with a book report for school. Since writing is part of what I do for a living, she figured I could whip it out for her fast and easy. Instead I helped her write it. She learned more than what the book taught in that report. One son and I. built his Cub Scout Pine Wood Derby race car together. The derby often brings out in dads the battle cry of fabled football coach Vince Lombardi, “Winning isn’t everything. Winning is the only thing.” Dad’s sometimes bond more with the car than with the kid. But my son and I combined our skills and thereby produced a singularly homely, overweight, ugly duckling which, dragging its spare tire, refused to even leave the starting line. We won runner up Mr. Congeniality and son. I had mercifully forgotten that night, but to my son it was a Gran Prix, Indianapolis 500 championship memory.

The book is full of these inconsequential life altering moments. The piggy back rides up to prayers and bed, the listening to a childhood tragedy such as being snubbed by a friend, the “Yo” hollered back to them when they needed me, later the holding and marveling of the grand babies they brought into the world were all so much more powerful and lasting than the platitudes I pontificated in Home Evening (although they remembered many more of them than I would have ever expected.)

But pardon me while I gush a little. The overall appreciation, patience, and love they had, and have for an imperfect specimen of a father/grandpa who is stumbling along pretty much making it up as he goes was humbling and gratifying to me. A guy can’t be all bad when gets to be the father of people like that. In my totally unbiased opinion, our children and the spouses they have succeeded in marrying are irrefutable evidence of superior parenting (ok, mostly on their mothers’ side.) And if that isn’t conclusive, let me tell you about my grand children. They personify a collection of superlatives that would drain a thesaurus dry Why just the other day one of my granddaughters said the cutest… Hey wait. Come back. I’m just getting started…

Hands That See

In his song “On the Road Again,” Willie Nelson sings this line, “The life I love is makin’ music with my friends.” I agree. I also like making friends with my music, and in other ways.

One of my most inspirational friends was a Renaissance man who succeeded at many things. He was a varsity wrestler in high school, a physician in his career, a pretty good mechanic from growing up on a farm and helping keep the equipment running. He was a loving and successful husband and father, and a faithful servant in his church. His college graduating class honored him as its most successful student. He was featured in an inspirational song about life being “The Test.” He could make music on a guitar and a musical saw. He was well read and articulate, and an active member of his community. He was wise in his thoughts, temperate in his habits, and his healing hands blessed thousands in his long career as a doctor.

I think the key to his accomplishments was his heart, mind, and especially his attitude. The best way I can describe that to you is with a story from his days as a medical student in Missouri.
One night a patrolling policeman stopped to check out a suspicious looking scene. A car was parked on the dark street and a man was working underneath it. The cop naturally suspected somebody was pilfering parts. He called the man out from under the car and got one of the bigger surprises of his career. The midnight mechanic was my multi-talented friend. He was fixing his car because like most students he was on a tight budget and didn’t want to pay a garage. Also he had learned how growing up on the farm in southern Utah. Mechanical work was a refreshing break for him from the mental grind of medical studies.

The suspicious policeman wasn’t convinced. “If you’re not stealing something, why are you working in the dark?”

“Because I’m not handicapped like you folks. I don’t need a light. I can ‘see’ with my hands,” said the future Dr. Iliff Jeffrey who had been blinded by an accident when he was a small child.

The policeman verified the young man’s blindness, shook his head in amazement and went back to his patrolling. The policeman was one of a long line of people who were amazed at what this man could see and do with his hands.

Dr. Jeffrey could work in the dark because he had learned the secret. It is our inner light not the outer lights around us that creates the world in which we live.

Calculating the Cost of Freedom

Two out of three doesn’t often equal more than 100 percent, but the love of freedom and the desire to do good can generate their own mathematics. The signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged three things, their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. None of them compromised the third. But many of them in various measure laid down the first two and more on the alter of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The fortunes and positions they offered up for freedom were not inconsiderable. Half were lawyers or judges. The others were merchants, doctors, ministers, politicians and landowners. All but two had families. This was by no means the typical revolution of the have-nots against the haves. These men had much more to lose than gain by signing this document. The Declaration was their death warrant if their bid for freedom failed.

A few names we may remember. Most we don’t. John Hart gave not only his own life, but his wife and his 13 children from the effects of the war.

Of the 55 other signers, nine died of wounds or hardships. Five were captured and imprisoned with brutal treatment. Several lost wives, sons or entire families. All were driven from their homes by British manhunts. Seventeen lost everything they owned.

Journalist Lee Davidson summarized some of their sacrifices: “Hart, 65, slept in caves and the woods. When he was finally able to sneak home, his wife had been buried and his children taken away. He never saw them again. He died a broken man in 1779.

“Francis Lewis of New York had his home and estates completely destroyed by British soldiers. He wife was captured and treated brutally. Although later freed, she died from the effects of her abuse.

“Dr. John Witherspoon was president of the College of New Jersey, later called Princeton. The British occupied it and burned the finest college library in the country.

“Judge Richard Stockton of New Jersey was betrayed by a Tory sympathizer and was brutally beaten when captured with his family. He was deliberately starved in jail. He was finally released but was an invalid. He returned home to find his estate looted. His family was forced to live off charity.

“Thomas Nelson was from Yorktown, Va. He was there as U.S. artillery started shelling British forces trapped in that town. The British commander, Lord Cornwallis, had set up his headquarters in Nelson’s own palatial home.

“At first, U.S. forces spared his home. Nelson asked commanders why and was told it was out of respect to him. He is said to have then fired the first shot himself at his own home — which was ruined in the battle that finally won the war.

“Nelson’s sacrifice was not over. He had raised $2 million for the Revolution by pledging his estates as collateral. When the loans came due, a newer peacetime Congress refused to honor them. Nelson forfeited his property and died impoverished.

“Two of the sons of Abraham Clark were officers in the U.S. Army. Captured and sent to a British prison ship, they were beaten brutally, and one was slowly starved to death. With the end almost in sight, few would have blamed Clark if he had renounced his pledge to save his sons. But he refused.

Lives + fortunes + sacred honor. Calculating the formula for freedom shows us that liberty is a costly commodity. It also reminds us that the sum of the inputs is not a constant. The total is enlarged or diminished by every generation. How does our commitment and contribution stand up to theirs?