This is article is part of a series of daily articles celebrating Father’s Day 2009. You can find the rest of the articles at: http://thefatherlife.com/mag/category/fathers-day-2009.
I have been a Dad now for nine years. First Austin, then about six years ago, Adam. Beautiful boys. They crawl all over me, watch me, run to me when they are hurt, and of course, I am trying hard to become the man they think I am—the man my father was. Sometimes, I wonder if I will live up to the example he set for me.
“You remind me so much of your Dad.” I still hear that often from people who knew him. It is a compliment. Though appearance is a factor, I believe it to be the similarity in our personalities to which they are referring. My father was a nut. Not a “professional nut” like I have become—but a nut nonetheless.
He was a minister—the minister to all the kids in town. My friends loved him. They had no choice; he made them laugh! Coming home from a date on any Friday night, I might find as many as twenty teenagers at our house. They would all be gathered around my Dad—all listening to him talk.
“Speak French, Mr. Andrews,” someone would say. And he would do it.
“Speak Russian now!”
He “spoke” them, too. My father had never actually learned a foreign language, but he had a way of pronouncing individual syllables that seemed incredibly real. Using facial expressions and hand motions, he could convey his crazy thoughts—though no one ever understood a word! To my friends, it was the funniest thing in the world.
A local newspaper reporter once asked to interview Dad during what he termed “an unusually slow news week”. When word got out about the upcoming feature, our whole church and neighborhood was in a frenzy of anticipation. Everyone knew that “Brother Andrews” wasn’t very tolerant of people who couldn’t take a joke. It was also a common theory in our town that the reporter conducting the interview must have had her sense of humor removed as a child.
No one was disappointed with the article. It included the reporter’s comments about how fortunate the Baptists were to have a minister who not only spoke fourteen languages, including Swahili, but also to receive guidance from a man who often fished with Billy Graham! I have wondered many times if Dad ever asked forgiveness for those lies. I doubt it.
I was proud of the fact that even the “non-churchgoers” considered my father “an okay guy”. I’m certain that part of that feeling stemmed from the fact that he quite often (and sometimes quite publicly) denounced hypocrisy in its many forms. He could be extremely direct.
Early in his career, he spoke to a group of women who made up the Women’s Missionary Union (WMU), one of the most vocal (and volatile) forces a Baptist church ever generated. As local legend has it, he said, “Ladies, I have three things to tell you. Number one is that there are a lot of hurting people in this world. Secondly, most of you don’t give a damn about any of them. And thirdly,” he added, noting the shock on their faces, “it is a shame that most of you are more concerned about a minister having said the word “damn” than you are about all those hurting people!”
Purely as a father, he was relatively simple. He only had a few hard and fast rules. I very clearly remember the Top Five.
Number one: “You will stand when a lady walks into the room. This includes your sister and your mother.” Dad was sure that my wife would appreciate him for that rule one day. He was right—and my boys now do the same for their mother.
Number two: “You will eat some of everything that is being served. You will eat everything on your plate.” Dad, having been raised during tough economic times, was a stickler about this one, but I was such a picky eater that this rule was no longer in effect by the time my sister arrived. I think “The Big Liver Stand-Off of 1965” must have worn him down.
Number three: “Do not hit your sister.” This was (no contest) the hardest rule to obey. My sister never had a “do not hit your brother” rule in place, and as a result, did so quite often.
Number four: “Never play in the living room with firecrackers, water balloons, skates, mud, a yoyo, bullwhip, or the dog.” This rule actually started out a plain old “never play in the living room”. All the other things were added in time.
Number five: “Always tell the truth. Half the truth is a lie.” My father believed that the truth was like a wild animal—just let it loose and it will defend itself. “It doesn’t matter if a thousand people believe something stupid and untrue,” he once told me. “It’s still stupid and untrue!”
My Dad. He had grown up in the South during the forties and fifties—a product of that place and those times, but without many of it’s prevailing attitudes. He publicly dined with Wilma Rudolph, a black athlete, on several occasions in the early 1960’s—both before and after the infamous church bombings in his own city. Dad was a Baptist minister in Birmingham, Alabama at the time.
He didn’t have the means to pay for my college, but he saw that I went. And he saw that I worked and paid for it myself. And when I left school to “be a comedian or a speaker or something”, he and my mom were the only people who didn’t publicly declare that I had lost my mind. Dad told me, “Son, I’m behind you. The measure of a man’s worth is not in what he does—it’s in what he is becoming. I don’t care if you want to dig ditches for a living—just dig good ones! Then I’ll bring my friends around and show’em the ditches my boy dug. I am proud of you now and of what you are becoming!”
Daddy died in an automobile accident about a year after Mom lost her battle to cancer twenty-eight years ago. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt at the time. But that is, honestly, the only thing I hold against him. He loved my mother. He loved my sister. And he loved me. What a great Dad!
Last night, I watched Austin and Adam sleep. I said a prayer for their future and one for their father’s part in it as the night-light cast a shadow over their sweet faces. I thought about how proud I am about what they are becoming. And in awe of the feeling that often comes over me lately, I whispered quietly to them: You boys remind me so much of my Daddy.
Image credit: Theophine Sebastian, SXC
Andy Andrews is author of the NY Times best selling book The Traveler’s Gift (featured on ABC’s Good Morning America as a book-of-the-month selection). His new book, The Noticer, has just hit the New York Times best seller lists and is available in bookstores nationwide. For more information visit www.AndyAndrews.com.