Father’s day feels different after your dad has died.
Last year, I wrote about my father’s last week on earth in this post. There is nothing easy about death but life has been giving us some pretty hard and crappy fast balls lately. Guns. Shootings. Soviet era tensions. Ukraine. Oil. Gas. Inflation. Suicides. Physical pain. Psychological pain. Generational pain.
My daughter has a swim meet this weekend. Sitting in the heat for 8 hours, in metal bleachers, in a heat advisory with an index of 110, in a full flop-sweat, I thought of two things. First, if I had known I was going to be in a sweat induced wet t-shirt contest, I would have worn a better bra. Second, the blazing hot stands were FULL of other parents, equally miserable, cheering on their kids.
Sharing the suck is quite bonding.
I love people watching. You can learn so much about others by just sitting back and observing. We don’t do enough of it. We are quick to respond, add our own antidote – missing half the conversation because our egos are three steps ahead preparing our rebuttal.
In the stands I saw people at their most miserable. Some dads were cheering and high-fiving their kids over the barricade. Some dads were standing, brooding, willing their child to win. Then there are the yellers, the angry men ready to take an official out to the alley for a fight. My favorite are the 80’s dads – the guys with their socks up to their knees, old golf visors and bulky Nicons around their necks, smiling a waving no matter the outcome.
Occasionally, grandparents attend and that’s when you see fathers and sons in a new light. You hear the inside joke that doesn’t quite make sense, shrouded in decades of use. You see love and respect and protection trickle through each generation. You also see remnants of strain – of grown men (and women) straddling the line between parent and child. It’s an uncomfortable strain even for the bystander.
I love watching track and field. Relays are my favorite because I find tremendous symbolism in the passing of the baton. You have to run your own leg of the race – all out – and then surrender all control to the teammate waiting to take it on. You can’t slow down coming into the relay zone. You can’t hesitate – wondering if the runner in front of you can handle their race. You have to trust that the preparation going into this moment will be enough.
The hardest part of the relay is the handoff. This is where races are won and lost. Some of us are at that age where we are taking the baton. It’s scary. I’ve been running that lap for the past few years. I think, will I be good enough? Am I worthy? Will I make them proud? Am I capable of making the best decisions for them? In the midst of these questions, we’re faced with the physical and psychological drama of aging parents. As people age, we see their worst traits personified. Seeing your mother and father as truly human – seeing all their faults on display – can disrupt the soul. Those moments also bring us back to childhood wounds and suddenly we’re children again – struggling with the juxtaposition of childlike emotions emanating from an adult-formed mind. Responding in the present while being washed with waves of the past is a challenge with no equal and no blueprint. I didn’t always get along with my father. I wanted more of his attention and to get it, I took on the challenge of questioning everything he thought and believed. In the end, after a 40 year battle, we called a truce. We were able to come to some bottom line truths that we could both agree on. I see a lot of relationships get stuck in the battle. Work hard to find the common truths. Politics, religion, world views – ultimately they don’t matter.
Love and be loved. In the end, that’s what counts.
For those caring for aging parents or just starting to see the signs of decline, I see you. You’re having to make decisions about your parents future. You’re seeing them at their worst, the facade of the parent role model fading. You’re seeing their faults and their wounds as their protective exterior deteriorates. Don’t lose hope. Stay strong. You’re still running your race. Make the adjustment to your race as you lead the next generation. Keep going.
For those parents and grandparents and great grandparents who have run their race, well done. For those still in the relay zone, I see you. It’s frightening to lose your freedom and independence. Change is hard. There is no model for transitioning from total autonomous, independent parent to having to rely on your children. You may have to reflect on parts of your race that you would like to do differently. You’re not sidelined, you still have a purpose. You still have an impact on the generations ahead. Have hope and peace that all will be well. Hug the grandkids harder. They’re cheering for you.
My father passed his baton. It had some tarnish and chips but he ran his best race. In his absence, I read his letters and musings. Even in death, we can still learn from our parents. Here is my father’s Eight disciplines for a well-lived life:
8. Never Stop Learning.
I have spent my life as a Pastor, a teacher of Jesus and the Scriptures. To be a teacher, I first have to be a student. I still read fervently about things I enjoy and things I should know. Keep your mind sharp. Exercise it.
7. Love Extravagantly.
Never stop learning about your spouse/partner. You grow and change, they grow and change. Make time to know them and love them as they are today with all their wrinkles and faults. If I performed your marriage ceremony- don’t screw it up.
6. Practice Grace.
Grace is not a blue eyed blonde. “Justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve”. Live graciously. Pray for more grace—God is extravagant!
5. Be A Person Of Character.
At West Point they teach the honor code which says, “A Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” We need to learn integrity in a way that is tangible to our flawed human nature. We need to exercise personal responsibility. At the end of our life we aren’t accountable to our roommate or teammate but to God alone. Character is how we act when the world is watching –or when no one is watching.
4. Seek Counsel.
Seek the counsel of wise, godly people. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 12:15
3. RUN TO WIN!
Be physically and spiritually fit. Keep your body in shape. You could be facing the Boston Marathon, a mountain in Afghanistan or Parksinsons Disease. Whatever it is, be ready for it. One of my favorite verses is 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 I quote it often. It says, “You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.” It’s not talking about going out for a jog or beating the competition. It’s about making the effort to honor Jesus.
2. Be a Relationship Builder
Relationships are important. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself – give unto others – love each other as Christ loved the church’… The bible and all religions are deeply rooted in relationships. The first is with our Creator, the second is with ourselves the third is with those around us. Cherish your best friends; love the rest. Encourage, strengthen, build them up.
1. Practice Thankfulness.
Say ‘thank you’ more often. Live a life of thanksgiving every day.
Cherish your best friends; love the rest.
Just Love One Another.
My mother on the other hand, at 87, is clutching her baton tighter than a bear trap.
Thankfully, she’s a hoot with a great sense of humor. Although, knowing my mother, her baton says
“THIS WILL SELF DESTRUCT IN 3…2….1...”
Wherever you are in your journey this Father’s Day, have Hope.
Have Love – unconditional Love !
And Run to Win.