My Father, my Friend

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My dad, Robert Hallquist. This picture, taken in the early 60's was taken at his workplace, Bethlehem Steel in Sparrows Point, Baltimore, MD when I was just a kid. He turned in his shipyard duds for a pastor's suit and has been in the ministry for nearly 60 years. Good move.

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!

Bob and NBA Trophy

Dad, holding the NBA Championship trophy won by the Boston Celtics in 2008. Taken in Martha's Vineyard.

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

Of dads and Tim Russert

I made sure that I wouldn’t miss this Sunday’s segment of “Meet the Press” with Tim Russert. Sadly, Tim Russert would not be hosting this week’s show. Russert, the 58-year-old host of NBC’s Meet the Press and NBC’s Washington, D.C., bureau chief, died Friday afternoon of a sudden heart attack. At the age of 58 you would have thought he would continue to be an abiding political media presence for many years to come, but one of life’s distempers begged to differ. That’s the thing about life. It is full of surprises, not only good ones.

As many have poignantly observed, Russert died only two days before Father’s Day. Given that he had authored two of the greatest books honoring fathers (Big Russ and Me and Wisdom of our Fathers). His recounting of his father’s influence on his life is heartwarming, instructive, and motivating. Obviously, his father, “Big Russ,” had cast a long shadow over Tim’s life and that of Tim’s son Luke. By all accounts, the impression his father made on him leveraged a serious, impulsive ideology regarding his own responsibilities about being a father. Apparently the lessons took root and bore fruit. In 1995, the National Father’s Day Committee named Tim Russert “Father of the Year”, Parents magazine honored him as “Dream Dad” in 1998 and in 2001 the National Fatherhood Initiative also recognized him as Father of the Year. That’s some serious affirmation.

For me, Father’s Day reminds me of how important my father has been in my own development. As a matter of balance, the good has far outweighed the ill and the sum of all parts is one of thanksgiving. I love my dad and am blessed to still be able to call him, talk to him, and see him from time to time. Others are not so lucky.

Like Russert’s dad, my father has demonstrated by his life some important values that have molded me positively. He reflected many important principles such as hard work, loyalty, compassion, responsibility, creativity, and a sense of thankfulness. I am also fortunate to have a father that is really funny. No, I mean hysterically funny. He’s always been ready with a joke or funny story to break the ice or lighten the moment. But the main thing I’ve loved the most about my dad is that when he gets transparent with me about how he feels and thinks about his life, I see a guy who, like me, is just doing the best he can, with what he has, and doing it with gratefulness. Despite not having all the benefits of position and privilege, my dad has never let that get in the way of helping people in whatever way he can. Like his initials (RAH) suggest, his life has been a demonstration of bringing cheer to others. If as the Good Book says, “a merry heart is good like a medicine” then my dad has been like a pharmacy. He just keeps on providing effective remedies.

Related Articles & Links:

Big Russ and Me – excerpt (MSNBC)

Quotes on Fatherhood

National Fatherhood Initiative

Tim Russert, Dead at 58 – NPR

“The older I get, the smarter my father seems to get.” – Tim Russert

Youth is definitely wasted on the Young.

Last night my heart took a pounding. I’m still not over it. Over the weekend, my wife Amy, trying to wind down from doing real estate deals, decided to take in a movie. Like me, she will often look for those films that don’t get the billing of the likes of the latest Indiana Jones, or “Sex In the City” gig, but nevertheless are true artistic masterpieces. She found another one in the likes of “Young@Heart,” the story of “a group of senior citizens called the Young at Heart Chorus. Their repertoire is varied; their average age is 80. Over the past several years they’ve toured internationally, acclaimed for their renditions of modern pop and rock songs, all under the guidance of their musical director Bob Cillman.” Read more…

Maybe it’s because my parents are now at an average age of 79, and still on the go (enough to make me covet a nap just watching them), that I found the story so heartwarming. The film is a feel-good chronicle of overcoming life’s ups and downs and flush with misty-eye-maker vignettes. A few of the chorus member’s stories overloaded my heart with heaps of tenderizer. It was not a movie for the dispassionate.

One particular segment of the show that really touched me was a song sung by Fred Knittle, a guy who reminds me alot of my dad. He sang the song in dedication to one of the chorus’ late members who had recently passed away. It was a tough moment. ( that’s guy talk for, “I was choked up). The song “Fix You” by Coldplay is a poignantly transcendent statement that resonates with varied interpretations. It means many things to many people. Nevertheless, under the circumstances of this movie, it appealed to my thoughts of mistakes and failures, disappointments, tragedies, and some bad luck. But like all that moves us, we find encouragement amidst our sadness and loss. This is what I experienced listening to Fred Knittle. Closure, hope, and peace.

Like I said before, my parents are in the same age group that the members of Young@Heart are. They are amazingly young. As the movie’s screenplay moved toward the credits, I could only think about how lucky I’ve been to see my own parents living young-at-heart! God Bless them with many more years and many thanks to my wife, Amy for telling me about this wonderful film.

Fred Knittle with the Young@Heart Chorus

Fred Knittle with the Young@Heart Chorus

“Fix You”

When you try your best, but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep
Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

And high up above or down below
When you’re too in love to let it go
But if you never try you’ll never know
Just what you’re worth

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

Tears stream down your face
When you lose something you cannot replace
Tears stream down your face
And I…

Tears stream down on your face
I promise you I will learn from my mistakes
Tears stream down your face
And I…

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

My folks, Bob & Doris Hallquist – Young@Heart