My Dad remains a source of love and inspiration. Over 58 years he taught me many valuable and enduring life lessons. Let me name a few that are especially important.
First, Dad taught me how to be vulnerable; or rather he modeled it for me. Early in my life I learned that it’s okay for a man to show emotion in private and in public. Tears shed in an unassuming way are a wonderful gift. I learned that being strong isn’t measured by how stoic and brave one can be but rather by the depth of one’s love and capacity to empathize with others.
Lesson two is being content with what you have. I’m sure that Dad often wished he could have accomplished and accumulated more yet he never seemed discouraged by his circumstances. While our family income was limited, I never felt deprived or in want of anything. Dad didn’t complain about the material things in life. I have long ago exceeded his annual salary, the size of his largest house, and how much money he had in his retirement account. None of that is important if I can simply live with contentment like he did.
Finally, there is the faith factor, Dad’s most important life lesson. Knowing that your father is praying for you, watching him lead our family devotional time, and sitting next to him in church while he sang hymns of the faith has left a deep and lasting impression. My own faith commitment and interest in serving at my church is fueled by those images and experiences. Knowing I am loved and accepted by a Heavenly Father is Dad’s legacy to me and to our family.
I sometimes wonder what legacy I am leaving for my son to learn from and pass on. When Rembrandt painted his famous interpretation of the biblical story depicting the return of a prodigal son he placed the father in the physical center of the painting. It was his attempt to focus attention on the important role of the father in this story of greed, selfishness, and rebellion by a younger son. Many of us who know this story long to be loved and forgiven the way this son was, even after he had squandered the father’s inheritance and lived a wild and raucous lifestyle. Others prefer to jealously resent the attention given to a sibling and angrily denounce our father for not appreciating our loyalty.
But who wants to be the father, or should I say, like this father? Here is a man who grieved the pain his wayward son caused him, who shed tears in his absence, who never lost hope that he might someday return home. Our legacy as fathers is to model compassion, to prepare our hearts to receive our children wherever their journeys may take them, and forgive them from the heart. The forgiveness modeled by this father was unconditional – no apologies were needed, no excuses offered. The father isn’t looking for some indication that his son now realizes his mistake and is admitting to his dad “You were right after all.” Instead the father is generous – generous by giving his departing son what he asks for, generous in offering a welcome home celebration upon his return, and even generous with his resentful eldest son.
It’s humbling to consider offering a similar legacy to my son. There is a certain level of emptiness when our children, regardless of age, disappoint us. It is hard to be at home waiting for them to find their way. Yet fathers (and mothers) must model compassion in our grief, forgiveness in our disappointment, and generosity that is extended without strings attached. When we behave in this way our sons and daughters will have a legacy of love to sustain them and to pass on. Thanks, Dad, for the memories and legacy lessons you shared with me!