A Tribute

[This is one of the posts telling a story from the life of my Dad. Click here to see the others.] I wrote this on behalf of my two brothers to be read at my Dad's funeral service last Tuesday:

Our family would like to express our deep gratitude to each of you for being here today and for the words and acts of kindness that so many of you have shown to us during my Dad’s illness and in the days since he passed. Whether you are relatives or friends, your presence here today is of unspeakable value to us.

The experience of you all being here and the things you have said to us about my Dad have reminded me that I’ve had to admit to myself that I was sorely mistaken some years in the past. I used to fear that, when this day would come, there would be very few people who would have know my Dad well and been impacted by his life. I have always counted myself fortunate as one of the chosen few who was able to know him closely and have a lot of time with him, but my fear was that others had no way of recognizing what kind of man he was.

Yet it is truly remarkable how someone of so few words, who spent 90% of his time alone (and loved it that way) and had a deeply seeded aversion to writing letters or making telephone calls could still manage to influence such a number of people. He certainly had an effective way of communicating things that go beyond words; things that many of the rest of us are left grasping at, trying to convey with forceful words or strained actions, somehow he was able to get across making use of nothing more than who he was and how he lived.

Many of you have shared your stories of these things with us over the past days- of his kindness, his integrity, his love, and his wisdom, and these have very rarely had anything to do with words. For example, one of my wife’s favorite memories of him is of going to the ranch after he had been to the feed store to stock up on feed for the cattle in the winter. As we unloaded the feed sacks from his truck, Dad realized that the feed store had given him one more sack of feed than he had requested or paid for. Rather than writing it off as their mistake, as most of us would have done, he made the hour-long round-trip drive back into town to pay for the extra sack of feed, commenting that he hadn’t been helping them count like he should have when they loaded the feed into his truck.

As much as all of us who knew him admired things like that which we saw in my Dad, we also have admired him for the things that we did not see in him- like the fact that I have no memory of him ever being in a hurry or treating another person badly, neither with his words nor his actions. I honestly have no recollection of him ever speaking negatively to me about anyone (with the exception of politicians he disagreed with.)

Think with me for a moment how many troubles would be left in our world if these characteristics of my Dad were the norm rather than as exceptional as they are. What kinds of problems would be left to solve if, as he did, we put aside our need to be angry with others and treat them harshly in order to teach them a lesson? Or if we were always resolved to do the honest thing, by instinct doing whatever our equivalent would be to returning to pay for the sack of feed? Or, how different would we all be if we shared his commitment to leading lifestyles that we love and that are good for our souls rather than giving in to the hurry, hustle and bustle of the world around us?

I will always celebrate these things about my Dad, and in the midst of our pain it has been a joy to celebrate them together with you during these days.

Yet I want to caution us against making a mistake. It’s common for us to praise a quality that we admire in a person, or even as I am doing, to thoroughly praise a person’s character, without taking into account the things done by them that formed that kind of character in them. In my Dad’s case, it would be a mistake for us to recall his integrity, wisdom, patience, and love and not also speak of the role that his faith played in shaping those qualities in him.

Many people were surprised to see our family together in worship here at this church this past Sunday morning, after my Dad’s passing on Thursday. Although I understood their surprise, the ones who said anything to me about it simply had not known my father very long. In his house, if it was a Sunday, we were in church. Again, he never had to lay this rule out for us verbally. It was just in him, and he, in his indescribable way, simply gave it to us. Even on the last Sunday that he was alive, he was here in worship only 14 hours prior to being admitted to the hospital’s hospice unit where he would spend his last few days. His faith was nurtured by the church, and his faith led him to an extraordinary degree of commitment to the church. Being in worship each week, reading the Bible that he had sitting on his desk at the ranch, and all of the hymns that he knew by heart were simply such a large part of how he chose to shape his life that we cannot dare to separate them from his other qualities that were so admirable.

My Dad was never one for telling others what to do, and doing so is no way my desire in sharing this with each of you today. He would have simply kept going about his business, letting every one of us make our own decisions. But, as he always did, he got his point across to me and my brothers without having to say much, and that is a large part of why we will always continue to serve God, and to be faithful to the church, so that, hopefully, we will also always have what it takes to return to pay for the sack of feed.

Again, on behalf of all of our family, our sincerest thanks for being here.