Legacies of Fathers

“If writing is thinking and discovery and selection and order and meaning, it is also awe and reverence and mystery and magic.”

Toni Morrison, Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir

Writing is the full experience of getting hit with an idea — or image, or sentence — and then getting all the way to the place where you put those items down in some sort of coherent order such that others might also see them. I write every day, if writing is thinking. I think about what I might write in my Sunday blog most every day of the week. And guess what? Just like other plans that we feeble humans make, the plans I have for my blog rarely turn out to be that which ultimately unfolds once I sit down after church to write. And church has a lot to do with that.

We have just started meeting in person at Friendship Pasadena Church. It’s such a gift to assemble again in a sanctuary. But, being a only a humble human being, I am already feeling some kind of way about having to wear a mask in the church. Not because I necessarily think they are wrong for keeping that rule, but just simply because I. Don’t. Want. To. How quickly we can move from gratitude to wanting more. Or at least I find myself doing that. It happens a lot because I have soooooo many things to be grateful for; I can always imagine how things could be even better. Now that could be a positive trait in some fashion, keeping me striving and all that. But if two weeks ago you were praying for a job, or a partner, or a new pair of shoes and then that thing came and you found yourself wanting more money, more attention, or more shoes then maybe you need to stay in Gratitude Arena just a little longer before heading over to Desire Destination.

So what am I writing about today? Well, Father’s Day. And Church. And Legacies. And the Bible. But not necessarily in that order. And as the best Baptist preachers say, I’ll keep it short. (And then they/we don’t). So it’s Father’s Day and some beautiful family portraits are showing up on Facebook and Instagram. There are old-time black and whites, colorful images of recent celebrations, and grainy pictures of loved ones long departed. But what I notice most are the posts that don’t appear today. And this connects to a point Pastor Smith made in today’s sermon, in my opinion anyway. (I have been known to draw connections between things that make some folks wonder what I really think a connection is). Pastor Smith was preaching some “Father’s Day Advice” this morning that included a point on listening to the hearts of our children. As in, look not just at what they do — or don’t do — but also pay attention to what may well be brewing below the surface.

Like jazz music, made up of the spaces between the notes as much as the notes themselves, our lives often speak volumes in that which we refrain from saying and doing. So today I noticed that my friends who usually post quite regularly on social media are not doing so today. And I am one of them. Sure, I thought about sharing another photo of my late, handsome father, but I did that on his birthday in December. I think about him a lot on his birthday. Father’s Day is different. I think of him today, too, but as with so many people, his fathering was a complicated experience. It’s easier for me to think of him as an admirable individual than perhaps that Dad you buy a tie for every year. My friend, Tish Hamilton, wrote a lovely piece about complicated fathering if you’d like to read it. https://anothermotherrunner.com/fathers-day/?inf_contact_key=31c423551adbf3e482f0e29e044bd6dc680f8914173f9191b1c0223e68310bb1&fbclid=IwAR20oVKD43Mfj_9N7LEdE7NqpeqRa4tioD7ihQ0f5OGHPUocBAsRfbh_YPg

There are a lot of fathers in the Bible. Makes sense, of course. And the story featured in today’s sermon, about the prodigal son, reminded me of the story that we looked at last Sunday, that of King David and his son, Adonijah. In 1 Kings 1 it reads, “King David never corrected his son Adonijah, and he never made him explain his actions.” That’s not much of a dad, most of us would agree. While we have to “let them learn,” as Pastor Smith advised us today, kids can’t learn anything if we don’t teach them something in the first place. Well, King David suffered the consequences of his passivity: some of his kids were brats. They lived easy, played hard, and wanted everything. David had a lot of kids (that’s a lot of ties) and didn’t seem to care too much what direction they took. But of course, some children always make it in spite of things: Solomon turned out pretty well, after all.

Now when we look at the father in Luke 15, told as a parable by Jesus (now there’s a man who looked after his “children”), we don’t know exactly how that father raised his kids but we do know he “let them learn” by giving them their inheritance early (their legacy, as per the sermon today). One of them took the money and run. But as most of us know, this son came back, tale between his legs, and was rewarded for his repentance. But his bro got jealous, complained that the squeaky wheel always got the grease whilst he was quietly toiling away in the fields with nary a fatted calf to show for it. His Dad explained the situation to his angry son, and things hopefully fell into place eventually for that family. (We don’t know how it turned out exactly, Jesus kept the disciples in suspense about that). My dad probably would have taken me back had I wanted to return. But I took off (sans monetary legacy) and didn’t look back for quite some time. Sure, I’d go visit now and again, but I was living my life intentionally distanced from family. And I think that served me well at the time.

Now, I said I’d write about Father’s Day, church, legacies and the Bible. Today is as a good a day as any to think about my father, to be grateful for much that he did for me, like keeping a roof over my head, which if you read Tish’s abovementioned piece you’ll see is not to be taken lightly. Dad did not “believe” in church, deriding religious folks in general as weak. But I still went off with the Thompson family each Sunday morning to their toaster-shaped Protestant church downtown. That was actually part of my father’s legacy, that doing of something I believed in no matter what. It’s really the gift I think I am most grateful for from my dad, following and speaking truth. I said as much at his memorial service, between tears. I mean that is really worth more than a financial inheritance — which it did not occur to him to provide. I have invested my legacy of truth, sometimes less wisely than other times, and it has paid off in dividends.

My father’s name was David, and he was probably named after that king in what would have been for his parents the Torah. But this David corrected his children non-stop, and we were made to explain actions we sometimes didn’t even know had been enacted! He was on us —not necessarily gently — but certainly we must have known he cared if he spent all that energy training us up. And believe me, it was a lot of energy. I learned from my father, and my mother, many things not to do as a parent — and a couple of really important things to do. I walk this life with my father’s legacy as a thinker, activist, and truth-teller, and for that I am grateful. And, because I’m growing up a little more every day, I do not even wish for more.

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