May 2011 will forever be etched in my memory. Only eight months after being diagnosed with lung cancer, my father moved into full-time in-home hospice care. After receiving his phone call informing me that his prognosis was not good, I left my family in the UK to fly to the western shores of the USA with the intention of spending as much time as I could with my dad before he left this earth. Little did I realise that God had a different plan, and after only two days of being with him, the cancer had taken hold of him in a new way and he was unable to function normally. What followed was six intense weeks of serving and caring for my father until he died.
Those first two days we had together were like gold; a real blessing. We shared in moments of laughter as we recalled memories of my childhood and he shared stories from his early years. Many of which I had never heard before. There were also tearful times as we discussed faith, forgiveness, and the realisation that we wouldn’t be able to make new memories in the future.
He lived a hard life. Most of his years were filled with his dedication to military service. He was tough. Yet his love for me, as his only child, was clear. Strong, steady, and sure are words that come to mind when I think about my father. These qualities oozed from his bones, and together they made a man who provided security and safety. It’s what any son would dream of in a father.
Dad held on to a lot of guilt throughout his life, but what is important is that he left this earth in peace. Peace with himself and others. He displayed incredible bravery in facing mistakes, with humbleness as a guaranteed return. He showed me in a very tangible way how important it is to not wait and leave things unfinished or unsaid.
Life wasn’t all business for him; he had a great sense of humour. He was the king of the ‘groaners’. And his laughter…how robust and rich…communicating deep joy. That sound of laughter is engraved in my heart and mind.
He loved it when I would ask him questions…and I could always be assured of an answer. I was in awe of his general knowledge; sure that one day he would win the grand prize on a television trivia game show. However, his knowledge of the general was deeper, moving into wisdom as a result of his experiences, mistakes, and successes. During the last year of his life, he had often encouraged me with little nuggets of wisdom. A week before he passed away, he was able to feebly communicate some words of wisdom to my own son over the phone, “If you grow into a man like your father, you will be alright. Listen to him and learn.” I’m grateful that he passed on his wisdom to me and taught me the importance of passing on wisdom to my own children. In his final days, he was able to rest in the knowledge of God’s grace and peace through Christ Jesus; the best kind of knowledge to have…eternal.
Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me and said to me, ‘Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live.’ – Proverbs 4:1-4 (ESV)