You Gotta Meet My Dad!

Several weeks ago my Dad celebrated his 81st birthday. Right about that time he cut his hand with a power tool, slicing through a tendon, a ligament and a nerve, and leaving bits of metal buried in the cartilage surrounding his thumb joint. After delicate hand surgery, he’s on the mend, but hands take a long time to heal. Sadly, he won’t be able to ride his motorcycle at all this summer. That’s right, his motorcycle. Two years ago while surfing the web he came across a motorcycle that was an exact replica of the one he and my mom rode on their first date, sixty years previously. Romantic that he is, he had to have it. My mom told him she absolutely would not ride it, but he modified the seat and made it so comfortable that she couldn’t resist. For their sixtieth wedding anniversary my brother and I got them matching motorcycle helmets and new biker boots.

Speaking of surfing, I think my dad went surfing the
day I was born—surfing the swells off Waikiki Beach, as he did each day after fulfilling his duties at the naval base in Honolulu. My parents lived there for three years, but I arrived toward the end of their military tour. Yes, I too have a Hawaiian birth certificate, just like our President. Although when I was born Hawaii wasn’t yet a state, so maybe my birth certificate is a fake. Oh well, nobody seems to care.

When I was growing up my dad was into anything with wheels—cars, bikes, motorcycles, even a unicycle, which he taught both me and my brother to ride. These days, in addition to the motorcycle, he and my mom ride a tandem recumbent bike; Dad is really pleased with the trailer he made to transport the bike.

Dad was seriously into watersports, skiing barefoot back in the 50s when that was definitely not something the average person did. My brother and I thought he was very cool.

He was also into horses, so for one year—the year I turned 10—we lived on a farm. We had a Shetland pony named Tiny Bit who didn’t like to be ridden and managed to send every rider flying through the air. I also had a cocoa-colored quarter horse named, interestingly, Cocoa; I have rarely enjoyed anything as much as riding Cocoa across an open pasture after school each day. We also had a goat named Esmeralda Ferdinand; my dad was enamored with the perported health benefits of goat’s milk. One time Dad brought home 300 chicken eggs and incubated them in our basement. Amazingly they all hatched. I’m not sure why he did that; I mostly remember chicken feathers rising through the ductwork and settling throughout the house.

In his twenties Dad was a used-car salesman. He was successful because he loved the “game” of helping people determine what they really wanted and needed in a car. His goal was to find a win-win solution that pleased the buyer and made a healthy profit for himself. Unfortunately, while he enjoyed the game, he didn’t like what working evenings and weekends did to family life, so he gave up selling cars. For nearly a decade he hopped from job to job in search of a satisfying second career. He finally settled into sheet-metal fabrication, a skill he had employed during his navy years. For his paying job he created custom ductwork for commercial heating and air-conditioning systems. But for fun he got a bit more artsy. This is one of his “sculptures” that I love most.

My dad first heard the Gospel of Jesus when he was 29 and from then on he followed Jesus as best he could. For years he served in a prison ministry. On two occasions offenders were released from prison on the condition they would live with our family until they could re-establish themselves in society. One of those men came back years later and stole my dad’s extensive (and expensive) collection of tools. That made Dad sad, but didn’t discourage him from continuing prison ministry. In recent years Dad has found his ministry niche in refurbishing wheelchairs for an organization that provides medical supplies to low-income people. His injured hand forced him to quit volunteering, but he was so disturbed when he learned about the massive pile-up of broken wheelchairs that he enlisted help from his friend, Ken. Dad will examine the chairs and determine what needs to be fixed; under Dad’s direction Ken will provide the hands to execute the repairs. You go, Dad and Ken!

Politically, my dad is pretty much on the opposite end of the continuum from me, though he carefully listens to my perspective on things like immigration and the Middle East, and he takes the stories of what I’ve seen on my travels very seriously. Theologically, he’s a tad more conservative than I, but during the last year he’s become obsessed with the writings of George MacDonald, the Scottish preacher who had such an impact on C.S. Lewis. You can’t read George MacDonald without being overwhelmed by the love of God; Dad has been overwhelmed and we have had a great time talking about it. I feel so blessed to have a dad who, at 81, is allowing God to lead him on a journey of fresh understanding. I love you Dad. Happy Father’s Day!

(My mom will turn 81 on Father’s Day, so you can guess what my next blog will be about.)