Things My Father Taught Me
I am keenly aware this Father’s Day that I am the same age that my father was when he died. Although he was a man of few words, he taught me three profound lessons.
My father was an inscrutable mystery to me. Born from stoic Swedish Lutheran parents, he was a man of few words. With my love affair with words, he often irked me by his spare and modest approach to life.
When I was 12, my mother informed me that the T-shirt I was wearing was no longer cutting it, and I needed a bra. So on a Saturday Mother told me to ride along with Dad to town and get a bra at J. C. Penney’s. Dad drove along in characteristic silence, and I was in a dilemma. How could I hit him up for money for such an unmentionable item? He knew my mission, but I was going to have to ask. “Dad,” I began. “I need some money for—um, for some stockings for Mom.” He reached down inside his overalls and pulled out a few bills. Then he looked at me and asked, “And how much for that other?” The man knew! I breathed a sigh of relief and pocketed the money.
It was not until I was a young mom of 29 and Dad was dying of cancer that I began to understand the profound lessons from my father’s simple life.
Life Has Seasons
It is early summer right now and I am savoring new life—fresh flowers, things growing again. I vividly remember my school days at home in Montana in early summer. Sunlight streamed into the schoolhouse as I tried to keep my mind on my book, knowing school would be out soon. Through the open window I heard a yellow-breasted meadowlark as well as the far-away drone of my father’s tractor as he plowed, getting the ground ready for seed. Winters were long—harsh at times as storms swept across the rolling wheat fields of northern Montana. But in late spring, the Rocky Mountains off to the west somehow looked closer, gentler, and the glaciers glistened with fresh snow. The trees around our house began to leaf out and dandelions brought cheery splashes of yellow.
On Saturdays, Dad would enlist my brother and sister and me to go with him in the field to throw out the biggest rocks so they wouldn’t choke the wheat he would soon plant. As I bounced along on the flatbed of the pickup, I wondered at the big rocks that kept turning up from somewhere deep in the earth. Every year there were more. Where did they come from, I wondered. Spring plowing (summer fallowing, we called it) was dirty business. Dad would come in from the field covered with dirt, but happy.
He seemed to have a special feeling about spring—the breaking up of the hard ground, the preparation of the soil to receive the seed. He was the eternal optimist: Forget last year’s drought; Forget the hail that wiped out the winter wheat. Here was another spring, a new chance at harvest.
See the Beauty in Each Season
There was a deep well of emotion inside my father that only occasionally leaked out. He passionately loved his family, his God, his land, and especially my red-haired mother. We joked that Dad loved Mother so much he considered telling her. Never did, at least in my hearing.
When I was a very little girl, I was astounded one evening in church when my Dad stood to give his testimony. He had just returned from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains where he went to get our cattle to bring them back to the ranch for the winter. It was October, and the aspens were in full glory. It was rare that Dad spoke in public, but he stood, trying to describe the beauty. Tears choked his speech as he tried to tell of the beauty of the seasons, the faithfulness of God. He sat down, and though I was embarrassed, I understood his painful emotions. I thought, “Yes, Dad I too see the beauty. I too am so overcome at times by the sky, by the colors, by the sound of the meadowlark. At times I too am overcome by simply the gift of being alive.” I have spent much of my life trying to capture in words that beauty that my father saw.
Faith in God Holds Us
Shortly after my father died, Mother gave me a black-and-white snapshot of Dad holding me when I was two years old. I cherish that picture, as there is something infinitely precious about being held by one’s father. Dad’s life showed me that having faith in God is like being held by Him. Our earthly fathers fail us at times. I have failed my own children at times. But faith in God transcends our humanity and we look to the perfect Father that never fails us, never leaves us.
Not long ago, I found a little Bible my father had given to my mother. He had written in the flyleaf, “To my beloved wife, Harriet. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.” His angular writing with a blue fountain pen leaps out at me and it seems as if his words are meant for me, too.
I am keenly aware this Father’s Day that I am the same age my father was when he died. Although he had difficult expressing his thoughts, his life taught me profound lessons. What has my own life taught my children? I hope I am able to pay forward what I have been given by my own father. On this Father’s day, I remember my father’s optimism: Here’s a new chance at life. Forget past failure. Till the soil again. Get the rocks out, again. Plant the seed again. Anticipate another harvest. It will come.
- What have you learned from your father?
- What has stayed—and what have you rejected? Any “rocks” you need to get rid of?
- How are you investing now to reap a future harvest?