“When our parents die, we may think the relationship is over, but the fact is, it is just beginning.” (NPR)
“The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.” – William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun
In 1999, novelist Paul Auster and the hosts of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered asked listeners to send in true stories to be read on-air as part of the National Story Project. Auster received more than 4,000 submissions; the 180 best were published in I Thought My Father Was God, the title coming from one of the submissions. I was always struck by the title, for I always thought my father was God: I had no idea anyone else had the same perception of his or her father.
My father had an imposing presence, not because of his physical size – he was only 5” 10” and weighed a mere 125 lbs. – no, he had an aura and presence about him that projected his confidence, his self-assurance, his intellect, his awareness, his authority. And all that made him seem as though he were ten feet tall and that he spoke with the voice of God. In fact, my father was the most devoted, dedicated Christian I’ve ever known, and I viewed him, not like the Pope, God’s chosen representative on earth, but God himself. He was always in control and in command; I never heard him raise his voice or curse; in fact, he wouldn’t even say “Oh my Goodness,” for as the good Calvinist he was, there was no inherent goodness in man. When it came to discipline, his command of the English language enabled him to do more with a word, than with his hand, although there were certainly times he did not spare the rod.
My Father Was as Big as a Tree [Carroll Cloar, 1955]
In my mind, he was not only the smartest man on earth, trained in the pharmaceutical sciences and medicinal chemistry and a student of reformed theology and educational philosophy, but he could do anything! He ran track, taught me to throw and catch a football and baseball, and understood the intricacies of single-wing football. My father was skilled in carpentry and basic electricity and plumbing; he read music, played the cornet and the marimba, and thought season tickets were for the symphony. When it came to yard work, he understood matters biological and botanical. In some respects (or in many respects), he was not unlike a Gilbert and Sullivan character:
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;[a]
I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I’m teeming with a lot o’ news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.
I’m very good at integral and differential calculus;
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.
Writer/s: W. S. Gilbert, Arthur Sullivan (1879)
It would be an understatement to say life with him was fairly intimidating, and so it was no wonder, that even till this day, twenty years after his death, I thought (and perhaps still think) my father was God and found so much of my life was spent trying to measure up to both his expectations and his legacy.
Yet despite the very nature that made my father seem so powerful, there was a side of him that demonstrated both a father’s love and the Father’s love. I was adopted but never felt anything less than loved and valued in my father’s house. He embodied I John 3: 1a –
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are . . . and so I was.
One of my father’s favorite hymns was “This Is My Father’s World,” and while I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy that hymn, there were times it would bring a wry smile to my face: this is my father’s world and I’m just living in it. But as I grew, in knowledge and experience and maybe even in a little wisdom, I came to learn and appreciate How deep the Father’s love for us, How vast beyond all measure [Stuart Townend,1995] as well as the truth of Psalm 24: 1 –
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it . . . and in doing so could recognize – This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought.