Father's Day put me in mind of my own Dad, a Lutheran minister, guitar player and compulsive hobbyist, who gave me a lot and enriched my life. I've posted before about how he instilled in me a love of Science Fiction. He was quietly conservative in his politics, but many of the values he instilled in me guided me to the other end. He died a couple years ago on Christmas morning. This is something I posted about him at the time.
Saturday, Dec. 25th, 2010
We got a phone call from Mom last night around nine. Dad was back in the ICU; his lungs were still filling with fluid and they had put him back on a respirator. For a while it had looked like he was improving. They'd moved him out of the hospital and to a nursing home in Oelwein, the small Iowa town Mom and Dad live in; but about a week ago they had to take him back to Waterloo. Ever since his heart surgery last month it's been a case of one step forward, two steps back. He was in a lot of pain and often seemed confused and agitated.
At about 1:30 am Mom called again. Dad was definitely failing. The doctor did not expect him to last out the night. My brother Steeve and his wife were on their way to Waterloo.
The final call came about 7:00 am. Dad passed quietly in his sleep.
It's hard to think of Dad as an old man. Sure, these last few years he's suffered a lot of problems with his breathing, (the results of a life-long smoking habit; he managed to quit about a decade ago, but not soon enough), and he tended to tire very quickly; but he never seemed frail to me. I guess in my imagination he'll always be the young man with the sunglasses perched on top of his head with a guitar bearing the slogan "Socketh it Unto Me".
He started out studying to be a music teacher. He always had a fine voice and an interest in music. He met my mother in a college production of "Brigadoon" where they played opposite each other as the musical's secondary romantic pair. Somewhere along the line, Dad decided to enter the ministry and went to the Lutheran Seminary in Springfield, Illinois.
His first parish was a tiny town in the middle of the Colorado plains. After a few years he moved the family to a town in southern Minnesota where he spent several years. Hs next parish was a rural one in southeastern Wisconsin, near the Kettle Moraine State Forest; he and Mom loved that parish and he used to say that the Holy Spirit would have to tug him awfully hard to persuade him to leave it. Eventually, he did though; accepting a call to Ames, Iowa, where he spent much of the 1980s. He spent the final years of his ministry in Northern Wisconsin in the town of Thorpe; and then retired to Oelwein.
Dad enjoyed camping, and our family took frequent camping trips during the summer. He designed storage boxes for our pantry and to stow our camping gear. When we camped, he did the cooking and Mom did the dishes. My brother Steeve and I would trade off on which one we'd help. After breakfast every morning, Mom and Dad would take a walk around the campsite with a couple empty cups and teabags looking for hot water and an excuse to chat with some of the other campers. Then at the end of the week, Dad would invite the new friends we'd made to our site for a vat of chili. And at one point or other on every camping trip, Dad would bring out the guitar and we'd sing songs around the campfire.
In his Wisconsin parish, Dad was part of a campground ministry program. Every Sunday during the summer, after his regular service, he would drive up to the campground at Long Lake and conduct an informal worship service with his guitar. He had a liturgy that he had found and adapted based on folk songs that he used for the services.
A lot of my memories of Dad involve music. When my brother and I were invovled in 4-H, he led our club's entries in the county 4-H Music & Drama competitions. I remember the family singing together on car trips, and the time he puzzled our conservative Minnesota parish by using "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" as a sermon text.
One time I remember Dad driving me home after some school event when I was in High School. He mentioned that he was selecting hymns for a funeral that was occurring that weekend. I began to make a joke, saying, "Oh, you mean like..." and I was going to name an inappropriately happy hymn; except that I suddenly realized that the most joyous hymns I could think of were Easter hymns and ressurection hymns which actually are extremely appropriate for a funeral. Dad saw me floundering, understood the joke I was trying to make and knew exactly what I was thinking. He chuckled, and agreed with me.
When he was a pastor, Dad often was in the position of consoling a dying man and his family. This time, Dad was the one in the hospital bed. It was very trying and frustrating for him, but now he has release. He's in the Lord's hands now, and as my brother Geoff's wife, Wendy said, that's the best Christmas present he could recieve.