I’m not an expert on my dad, but I can tell you a few stories that will give you a pretty clear picture of what we have lost and what heaven has gained with his passing.
First of all, we know that dad and mom had the most perfect of marriages, and never had an argument in 64 years, one month, and one week of wedded bliss—or at least, not one that they would admit to. Their marriage was a union of best friends, and they always presented a united front in parenting us five kids. This meant that sometimes they were both wrong.
Dad had some fun dating an identical twin. You’d have to look pretty close at mom and her twin, my Aunt Jean, to tell the difference. Somebody once asked dad, “When you go to pick Joyce up for a date, how do you know you’ve got the right twin?” and dad said, “Who cares? They’re both cute.” Mom hated that story. Probably still does.
Dad was not a believer when he first started dating his cute girlfriend, Joyce. After they had dated awhile, mom told him she could not go out with him any more unless he came to church with her. So he did, and he fell under the spell of the great preacher Donald Grey Barnhouse at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He heard the gospel, and believed it, and turned his life over to Jesus.
Dad loved to tell the story of how Pop-Pop, mom’s father, gave his permission for dad to marry her. Pop-Pop said he would not give his permission until dad went to Bible college for one year, so mom and dad both enrolled in classes at Philadelphia College of Bible. Dad ended up continuing there not for one year, or two, or three—but for nine years. That nine years laid the foundation for 40 more years of Bible study, and an unshakable faith.
Not only did mom’s influence bring dad to the gospel, but she took good care of him in every other way as well—and even at the very end of his life, as he held her hand in the Intensive Care Unit at Grandview hospital, he wanted to make sure she knew how much he loved her. “I love you, Daddy,” she said to him, and even though his voice was weak and blocked by a tube down his throat, we could all hear him say, “I love you, sweetheart.”
Dad was not a perfect parent, and each of his five children is messed up in his or her own way. But we don’t need him to be perfect to remember him with deep love and admiration, and miss him. He was ahead of his time as a hands-on dad who changed diapers and did housework. He would load all of us into the car on a summer Saturday morning, pack the cooler with sandwiches, fill the thermos with sweet iced tea, and drive us to Ocean City for a day on the beach. Every time he’d bring his garden spade and dig a giant sea turtle in the wet sand, and kids would come from up and down the beach to admire it and climb on it. The day on the beach would be followed by an evening on the boardwalk with bumper cars, skee-ball, Taylor’s pork roll, and salt water taffy.
I’m grateful for these kinds of growing-up memories of my dad. There are other images of dad emblazoned in my mind as well: Dad pulling weeds out of the yard, muttering about “bodacious dandelions” the whole time. Dad playing ping-pong with us in the basement. And then, in December, setting up what we called The Platform—that’s Platform with a capital P—a flat plywood table, with trains and winter scenery and battery-powered racecars with hand-held controllers. Dad setting up the artificial white Christmas tree year after year until it was actually sort of yellow, controlled by the kind of frugality comes from living through the Great Depression.
If you knew dad for very long, you learned that his faith was his top priority. I often found him, in his bedroom, on his knees, praying. Or he was sitting in his chair, reading his Bible, and perhaps referring to a devotional guide. He made some notes about his preferences for how we would remember him after he was gone, and these notes included a reference to I Corinthians 15. This chapter contains an eloquent summary of the gospel: Christ died for our sins. He was buried, and he was raised on the third day. And then this: “By the grace of God I am what I am,” Paul wrote, “and his grace toward me was not in vain.”
Maybe dad was thinking of this chapter in his last hours. He was resting peacefully; his eyes were closed. Mark said, “I wonder what he’s thinking about.” I leaned over Dad and asked him, “Hey Dad, Markie wants to know what you’re thinking about.”
He opened his eyes and looked in mine and said, “The cross.” Maybe he was thinking of these verses in I Corinthians 15:
For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
Later that same day I asked him, “Dad, are you looking forward to seeing Jesus?” and he answered without hesitating: “Amen.”