Saturday, June 18, 2011

Happy Father's Day to my Dad

Let's put aside the NonPubls for a moment.  I'd like to tell you about my Dad, Fred.  He was a preacher and the son of a preacher, and last of a line of preachers way back before time almost.  He was proud of the fact, but at first he didn't want to be a preacher.  I have to put names to these people or you'll lose track of who is who.

Fred's father, Heinrich, came from Germany via Canada around the turn of the century.  That made Fred a first-generation American.  Though both parents spoke German and English, Fred spoke German as his first language, only learning English when he began to go to school.  His mother died in the flu epidemic of 1918.  Fred was 5 years old.

A few years later, Heinrich married Christina - a first generation American herself.  Christina took on the job of raising a spoiled little boy (so she told me) and soon brought her baby son Carl into the family.

Fred had lived the life of being the preacher's kid (PK), and he'd found it difficult.  He thought he'd be an engineer.  He did like to tinker with things.  But before he could get his engineering degree, he changed his mind and went to Theological College.  He just couldn't be anything else, but a preacher.

Sometime during college his father, Heinrich, became very ill.  He was dying of cancer.  His mother, Christina (step-mother, but truly a mother to him) took Heinrich home to care for him.  She sometimes ran a care facility and she knew what to do.  Fred, my father, came home and took over the preaching so there would be an income.  Whether it was this experience that made him decide to be a preacher or something else I never knew.  When you asked him, he would tell you he'd had a call.  To him that meant that he felt God calling him to the ministry.

So, for a year, Fred took the pulpit, visited the congregation, and did whatever it is that preachers do while his mother, Christina, took care of Heinrich.  Soon it seemed the end was near because the tube that drained Heinrich's stomach stopped up and quit.  But the end wasn't near at all.  After that happened, Heinrich began to get better and slowly he began to take back the work Fred had been doing.

Fred returned to school, much strengthened to know Heinrich, his father, had recovered against all odds.  He continued to work his way through Theological College and became a preacher in his own right.

While all this was happening, the US was in the midst of a depression, or climbing out of it.  Somehow Fred managed to stay in school.  When he graduated from school, he was offered his first church in Canada.  Actually, he had two churches there and served them both.  Good Start.
My father made our Christmas Cards.  Here's one when I was 10 or 11.

Now jump ahead in time and Fred is my father.  He has one girl (me), the oldest, and three sons.  My mother, Dorothy, also came from a family of many preachers and others in service to the church.  I was the first child and the only girl.  My father and I bonded early.
Two brothers more to come.  My father loved to take pictures.
 As a preacher, Fred was what I think of as a shepherd preacher - one who takes care of his flock.  When he wasn't doing that, he was taking care of his family.  Well, my mother often took care of the boys while my father and I went out to do things, things like visiting parishioners, visiting people in the hospital, going searching for liturgical supplies.  I was spoiled by the people he visited, but I also learned about death and dying at an early age.  My father felt that good things happened when sick people were visited by children.  Almost everyone was diverted and forgot their troubles for a moment or two.  As a child, I also stood by the bedside of sick people while my father offered a prayer.  Sometimes afterward he'd tell me he felt that person would die soon.  I accepted that because it was a part of what he did.

Don't think my mother and brothers were totally left out.  No, there were church dinners with singing after supper, picnics in the park, and trips to historical places.  We had fine times on Sunday afternoons.  We even went camping a few times.

My mother didn't like camping a lot, but, think about it.  She was responsible for cooking and keeping the campsite tidy, she watched us kids, she slept on a cot and worried about wild animals attacking us all.  Dad set up the camp, took us on hikes, and helped my mother with the propane heater and things of that sort.

One time when we were camping, a police car came and took my father away.  We were terrified.  Our father was going to jail!!!!!  In our limited experience, that's all a policeman did - take people to jail.   My mother explained that someone had asked the police to find us and bring my father to the phone.  A member of the congregation was dying.  My father had to go back.  He left us there at the campground.  We told him we'd take care of our mother until he came back.  I'm sure he was only gone a day or so, but it was scary to be there without him.

Dad and I were good buddies most of the time.  When we fought, things could get loud.  By the time I was a teen, I was openly defiant.  My father didn't know what to do about it.  When I wasn't arguing, I'd kiss him on the top of his bald spot and call him Daddy-O.  (An old song.)  He complained, jokingly, that the bald spot was there because I was always kissing it.

I remember telling him he was so mean I was going to run away.  Since I had already held a job or two, I thought I could manage it.  He challenged my thinking.  I told him I had enough money in the bank to live on for a while.  He told me he'd confiscate it.  I hid my bankbook so he couldn't get it - though he never tried.

When I graduated from high school, he sent me to his old college, Pacific Lutheran.  He forgot to send any money with me, but then he'd gone to college himself with very little.  His old professors would tell me how well my father had done and tell me they expected as much as me.

I didn't handle college very well and was soon home again.  I was allowed to mope for a month.  Then my father told me to get a job or go back to school.  I'd been to school with no money.  I decided to get a job.  My father gave me a list of opportunities and expected me to land one.  I did.  He drove me to and from work for a month or two (an advantage of a preacher's loose hours), then took me to a dealership for a car.  He had already discussed this with the dealer and they had selected two cars for me to choose from:  a little white Chevy coupe, and a bright red, new Triumph (TR3) - a snazzy sports car.  They explained to me that I could afford both of them.  If I bought the Chevy, I could pay it off in a few months.  If I bought the Triumph, it was a couple years.  I could choose either.  I chose the Chevy.

My father didn't think he was overbearing, he thought that was what a father should do.  Never mind, I loved having my own car and soon it was paid for - along with repairs, insurance and gas.  A lot of gas.

So, in high school I worked baby sitting and helping out on a farm.  In college I worked for the phone company and made more money than my grandfather, who was still working.  I learned to work.  I learned to live up to his expectations.  I learned to take care of myself.  That's what a father does.

In his dying, I learned how to die.  I came to stay with my mother and drive her back and forth between home and the hospital.  I learned that you care for the living as well as the dying.  In the hospital my father just lay there quietly, waiting.  We'd think he was asleep, then he'd say something that showed he'd been listening to the conversation.  My mother sat by his side for hours.  I took her to meals and home to sleep.  We were at home when he died.  I am so glad I was with my mother at the time because she also needed me.  Dad didn't need me any longer, but she did.

Like my father, I found the life of a preacher's kid difficult, but he helped me through it.  If no one else was my friend, he was.  I miss him.  There's still a warm spot in my heart that belongs to him.


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