Today is Father’s Day, the day we think about and honor our fathers. I think about my father often, not requiring any holiday to remind me of what he means to me. And, he means a great deal. Although I enjoy my relationship with him, our journey hasn’t always been the smoothest. We’ve had a few bumps. I think most people could say the same. Nevertheless, I rather think about the joys we’ve had on our journey together. The ruts, bumps, and detours in the road have merely made us stronger.
As a young boy growing up in Glen Burnie, Maryland, a town just south of Baltimore, I knew my father as a hard-working and passionate man. I also feared him. With that, he presented for me the first recognizable paradox in my life. How could I, on the one hand feel free and comfortable with him, while on the other hand, feel the great sense of fear toward him? Like most children, they would want to feel completely safe and care-free with their parents at all times. I didn’t have that. It wasn’t that my dad was abusive; he just didn’t spare the rod as much as I wish he had. I thought he was too tough on me.
My first recollection of my father’s vocation was that he was a steelworker. I was kind of proud of that and in awe of what he did and where he worked. He was employed by Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point in Baltimore. At the time, Bethlehem Steel was the largest producer of steel in the world. (see http://wapedia.mobi/en/Sparrows_Point_Shipyard) I remember that he took me to the plant one time (maybe more) and I was in awe of its size and extent. It seemed that somehow, my father’s stature was linked in some measure to the size of the place he worked, and it was huge.
One of the benefits of living near Baltimore was that my dad would take me to see the Baltimore Orioles play at Memorial Stadium. What a thrill. All my heroes were there. Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Jerry Adair, Stu Miller and a host of others. There was, and is nothing better than going to a big league ballgame with your dad. I was very fortunate to be with him on such occasions and still relish those experiences to this day. But baseball games were not the only things I got to do with my dad. We went fishing, visited museums, went on cool vacations, and a host of other things that made my childhood blessed. My father did a lot for us beyond providing a roof and all the essentials.
Like a lot of boys, I thought my old man was pretty smart. He seemed to be able to give an answer for everything and I didn’t think there was anything that was beyond his knowledge. He also seemed to be up on what was going on in the world and I was always under the impression back then that he was some kind of financial wizard. He would, from time to time, mention how some stock price was doing on the New York Stock Exchange. But he really confused me with all that finance talk, especially when he would mention the price of certain shares. I was only confused because I thought he was saying, “chairs”. You can imagine the confusion. I couldn’t understand how millions of chairs were being traded someplace in New York almost every day of the week. Why would people be trading chairs? Fortunately, that issue cleared up before I asked anyone how this could be.
Other than working at the steel plant, my dad had started a church in Glen Burnie and it became a large part of our lives.Church is still a critical link in our relationship. It is something I cherish deeply. As you can imagine, having a father who is a minister is a unique situation. I was keenly aware that my behavior was to be held at a higher standard than most of my friends and other kids. I’m not so sure I did so well. God is my judge.
As the years went by and I began to hold to and voice my opinions about the world I was living in. It was apparent that my dad and I were not so much in agreement about a lot of things. Nothing exemplified this difference more than the Vietnam War, politics, and the 60’s and 70’s culture. We definitely had a generation gap between us. It was during that time that our differences became more distinct and what we had in common was under pressure. My dad was beginning to appear more adversarial (as I was) and in my view, hypocritical. He was a minster of the Gospel, but I felt he had become a minister to others and left me out. Why wouldn’t he give me the same respect he would give to a total stranger? It was during my high school days that I just wanted to get out and prove him wrong. I could do better.
Fast Forward….By 1983, I had been to college, married and had two children, had a few jobs including a pastorate of my own, and was now in the US Navy, attached to a nuclear submarine. It was during that time that my relationship with my dad was really in the pits. We could find almost anything to argue about and frequently did. People did not enjoy being around us when we were together. Now mind you, I still loved my dad, but I could barely stand to be around him. Then one day while I listened to a guy talk about bitterness, it hit me. Although I was an eternal optimist, I was becoming bitter about my dad and I felt that something had to be done about. I’ve met a bunch of bitter people in my life and they’re not fun to be with. I’d rather eat lint than to be with a bitter, cynical, and sarcastic person. They can cause a total eclipse on a sunny day. I knew one thing. I was moving in that direction and something had to be done. Now, the dilemma. Who was going to make this thing right? Surely, my old man should apologize for all his wrongs and stupidity and then things would be better. Somehow, even though it seemed like the thing I wished would happen, I knew the odds weren’t good. But that really isn’t the point here. I needed to take some responsibility for this relationship. I needed to do something. I knew it would take a paradigm shift in my thinking to move beyond anger and bitterness. I needed to have some self-respect and do the right thing. It didn’t take long before I did something.
On a weekend just after I had been assigned to the USS Shark (SSN-591), I and my family took a trip to New Milford, CT to visit my folks for the weekend. When we got there, the folks weren’t anywhere to be found. They were out shopping. So during that time, until they arrived home, I stacked a cord of wood and cleaned up around my parent’s garage which was an ongoing project. When my folks got home, the tension began building. You could cut the tension with a knife. First my mother came into the house and like all grandmother’s quickly embraced my kids and gave me a quick kiss. Then, in what seemed an eternity, my father walked in. He looked at me, paused, and then asked, “did you stack that cord of wood?” “Yes,” I replied. The tension thickened and I noticed that everyone in the room got quiet and almost froze. Then my dad asked about the garage too. I figured that he was going to let me know that I did something wrong. Then after these questions he made a comment that I could have jumped all over in rebuke. His words, “It’s about time” where the kind of words that I could have thrown right back at him, with relish. Nevertheless, I wanted a change in our relationship and I knew that this was the moment of truth. The truth is that we are all responsible for our own actions and character. We have choices in the matter. There will always be those who point to circumstance as a reason t deflect responsibility in these situations, but I have found that those who live under the circumstance will always be living “under” something and never finding any peace or success in life.
So, what happened ? How did I respond? Well, I did what Solomon said. Agree quickly with your adversary. I looked my dad square in the eye and said without hesitation, “You’re right!” The silence was deafening. It seemed as if I could have read “War and Peace” in the time he took to respond. At first, I expected he would continue to provide commentary on my response, but he did something totally unexpected. He changed the subject. When he did respond, he asked me if I would look at some plans he had been working on (I can’t remember what they were. I was in such shock). After that moment, things changed for my dad and me. We started to respect each other and have become very good friends, not merely a father and son.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot about my dad. He’s bared his soul and told me things I wish I had known 35 years ago. I realized that my dad, like me, has been disappointed, scared, and scarred. He’s human, not Superman. That has made him stronger and bigger in my eyes than any pretense of invincibility or bravado could ever do. The knowledge of his weakness, disappointments and fears has put him and me on the same level. I see that, like me, he’s been working out his life like we all do. As fallen humanity. That’s important for all of us to remember. We all deserve a little grace and mercy and we should try to give some, too. In fact, you’ll find that in this regard, it is better to give than receive. See: http://www.joycemeyer.org/OurMinistries/EverydayAnswers/Articles/art48.htm
Today is Father’s Day and I thank God that He’s given me the dad I’ve had. No regrets. Even the bumps in our road have taught me the value of having a good suspension system. The road doesn’t much change, but your ability to absorb the imperfections in the path helps you last longer and arrive at your destination intact. These days, when I look in the mirror every morning, I see more of my dad in me. Thank God. Being able to see him, gives me hope and a peace for the day.
Thanks Dad for everything!
What Makes A Dad
God took the strength of a mountain,
The majesty of a tree,
The warmth of a summer sun,
The calm of a quiet sea,
The generous soul of nature,
The comforting arm of night,
The wisdom of the ages,
The power of the eagle’s flight,
The joy of a morning in spring,
The faith of a mustard seed,
The patience of eternity,
The depth of a family need,
Then God combined these qualities,
When there was nothing more to add,
He knew His masterpiece was complete,
And so, He called it … Dad
Filed under: Childhood, Father's Day, Forgiveness, Life's Lessons, Robert Hallquist | Tagged: Christianity, Father's Day, Fathers, Forgiveness, Golden Rule, Parents, Reconciliation, Responsibility | 2 Comments »