Jun 19, 2011 0
Theodore Roosevelt, about whom I currently am writing a biography, began his own autobiography – the story of a crowded life and successful careers – with the sentence “My father was the best man I ever knew.”
Surely, no man could desire a better epitaph. Such an assessment by one’s children is worth more to one’s soul than material success or inventories of accumulations. Even the plaudits of peers or hoped-for “posterity” are fickle and, in the end, worthless. Fathers who have earned the loving respect of children do not need such things; and without the sincere regard of one’s children, other things seem meaningless.
These are universal truths. It matters little whether you meditate on them from the perspective of being a father or being a son or daughter; whether your father has passed on or is still with you. I believe I can say without fear of contradiction that if you are reading this, you have a father. And let’s say that you cannot quite quote Theodore Roosevelt about your own dad, think for a second about words attributed to Mark Twain: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to be around him. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
There is, in the Bible, a concept called the “Scarlet Thread of Redemption,” where the person, and the work, of Christ, is seen in countless prophecies, references, allusions, allegories, types, numerologies, before His coming, apart from His immediate incarnation. So it is – or should be – with our families, and our fathers. We cannot be free of examples and influences, words and advice. We cannot even escape what every generation of human history but our own has believed in: bloodlines, tendencies, inherited talents. “We are our fathers’ children” is meant to convey the inevitable patrimonies we inherit.
In the rare and sorry cases where fathers are not the role models we wish for – like some Dickens characters – it is still wise for us to learn and know about our families’ pasts. For correction, for reproach, as curatives. In my own case, I can state a variation on TR’s tribute: my own father was the best friend I ever had. Every project I do, I wonder how he would like it; every week, I start to reach for the phone to share something he would find interesting. But he has been gone for more than a dozen years.
But this is not about my father, or me as a father; or your father; or – stick with me – even on Father’s Day, any mortal fathers. God did not put any qualifiers on the Commandment. “Honor your father and your mother.” Nothing about “if” this or that; or “after” they have proven themselves. Think of another famous Father in the Bible – remember when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac: a father should sacrifice his son??? God intervened, of course, when Abraham showed his obedience, and then our minds rush forward – along the Golden Thread of Fatherhood – and realize that we had a picture of our Heavenly Father willing to sacrifice for the sake of history’s children, all of us, uncountable numbers except to Him, “for He so loved the world.”
As good a man, as good a friend, as we have in this world; or try ourselves to be, or ever hope to be, is nothing compared to the love of Father God. In this regard, every day of the year should be FATHER’S Day. And at the end of our days, if our children can say (doubly paraphrasing), “Well done, good and faithful father,” then we are blessed indeed.
I have chosen a memorable and beautiful song, “Going Home,” to illustrate this message. It has been a Negro spiritual, hymn, and folk song; its tune is taken from, of all things, Antonin Dvorak’s 9th Symphony (which, in turn, had relied on American folk melodies). Clearly, it sings of death… but in the context of that precious tradition I spoke of, of family-generations not being separate things, but close parts. One day we shall not only share eternal life, but be reunited with mother and father who, the song says, “are waiting there; expecting us.” The performance is by the astonishingly impressive London boys’ choir called Libera. This will move you.
Click: Going Home