It’s amazing how quickly life can change.
On Tuesday evening, July 23, I received a call to tell me that the man who was my first pastor, a personal mentor and friend passed away.
Shortly after that call, the phone rang again. This time it was my mother informing me that my father had been rushed to the hospital with congestive heart failure.
I couldn’t believe that I might lose two of the men who had most influenced my life on the same day. My father lasted four days and passed away.
To make matters worse, five days after my dad died, we had to put our family dog down. She was a sweet little Shih Tzu that had been with us since our children were small. There has been a lot of sadness in our family.
Many people have kindly asked me how I am doing in the wake of these events, but I still have to tell them that I am not sure. I still feel too numb to know what I feel. Does that make sense? My wife, who lost her father 10 years ago, tells me that the emotions will come with time.
A few hours before my mother called, I sent my column to the Sunday News, not realizing that by the time it appeared in the paper the reference I made to my father would need to be past tense. Life in this world is vulnerable to unexpected changes. Even expected changes can catch you off guard when they arrive.
In my previous column, I credited my father for raising me in a way that did not include any racist thinking. At Dad’s memorial service, I was reminded of this when a tall African-American man came forward to share a memory. Among other things, he said, “We’re not represented in many numbers here today, but I want all of you to know that your dad was loved in the ‘hood!” Applause broke out, as we all knew exactly what he meant.
My father was born in Philadelphia on Sept. 5, 1936, and grew up in North Hills, Abington Township. He served as a ship’s radioman in the United States Navy, and later was employed as an Abington Township police officer. After leaving the force, Dad started his own painting business, where he worked for the next 40 years.
One of the most enduring memories I will carry about my dad is his perseverance under trial. He grew up with a father who had a volatile and unpredictable temper. Because of this, he did his best to stay as far away as possible from his father.
When my dad was 27 years old, his father died, and more than once he recounted to me how terribly empty it felt to realize that he never knew him. My dad then had 11 children, seven of whom are sons — with me being the oldest. It took courage and determination for him to be a good dad to his children because he had no idea what it was like to have a good father.
When I was 11 years old, my father came down with a severe case of rheumatism. It wasn’t long before it attacked every joint in his body. But this didn’t stop Dad. Fighting through years of pain and crooked hands, Dad kept working all the way to the end of his life. Along with his arthritis and diabetes, he survived a number of heart surgeries, and it seemed like nothing held him down. Most significantly, we rarely heard Dad talk about his pain or limitations.
One of Dad’s older grandsons wrote, “I remember him (Grandpa) almost always being pleasant, and almost never remember hearing him complain about any of his physical ailments — I only knew they bothered him from hearing others talk about it; I remember him always seeming to accomplish a lot, but never seeming to be in a hurry; I remember his great commitment to his faith and, maybe because of that, I remember him almost always seeming to be relaxed and self-assured.”
Dad’s favorite verse of Scripture is the words Jesus Christ spoke to the apostle Paul when he said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (II Corinthians 12:9)
I will always remember Dad holding out his crippled hands and quoting this Scripture as he told the story of God’s grace in his life.