May 9: A Day to Remember My Father


A few days ago a post about Great Courses reminded me that one of the Great Courses had led me to the Blasket Island Writers and then to a visit to the Great Blasket Island on 1 May 2019. I had recently written a post on it for another forum and thought I should polish it up a little and post it here as a May topic. It would be easy, and I would get it posted on time. Unfortunately, after I had already committed to writing a post for May 9, I remembered that I had already done that topic here.

What to do? What to do? May 9 is a big holiday in Russia, marking the end of the War in Europe. Here in the United States V-E day is May 8, but the time zone difference made it May 9 in Russia. But I don’t have anything to tell about that topic, other than to note that a young woman vlogger from Russia was recently complaining that International Woman’s Day had degenerated from a celebration of progressive Feminist Ideals to a generic celebration of women and femininity, and Victory Day (May 9) had degenerated to a generic masculine men’s day.

That reminded me: May 9 is Mothers Day, but it’s also the day my father died in 2015, at home in his bed, at age 96, with his family gathered around. So even though today is Mother’s Day, I’m going to tell you a few things about my father.

Dad was a Lutheran pastor in rural, midwest communities. He was not a particularly good preacher, but a good pastor. Every Saturday night he would be typing away on his sermons late into the evening, which I knew because long past midnight I would still be reading the books I had gotten from our weekly visit to the public library and would hear Dad typing away at the other end of the house. I think it has something to do with why I still tend to be at my computer well past midnight most evenings, and why one of my sons is also a night-owl.

Dad always preached from his written text. But a brother recently told about the one time he gave an exceptionally good sermon. It happened shortly after I had left home, so I hadn’t known anything about it. One Sunday morning Dad was anxious, asking if anyone had seen his sermon text because he couldn’t find it. But nobody knew. So when he got up into the pulpit, he just faced the congregation and spoke to the people directly, without a printed text. My brother thought it was the best sermon he had ever heard from our father, and he remembers other people saying the same afterward. When asked why he didn’t just do it that way from then on, my brother shook his head and smiled, “His nerves wouldn’t have been able to take it.”

This shows that my brother understood my father in a way I never did, even though I’m the oldest. I would never have thought of my imperturbable father as a person who could have any kind of nervous anxiety.

A mouthy, teenage son such as myself could get him plenty perturbed, but Dad was calm and steady when most people would get over-excited.

A couple of years ago this brother (we are the two oldest siblings) asked what I had thought about Dad as a catechism teacher. Back when I was that age (Lutheran children generally get confirmed around 8th grade, though it varies) I wouldn’t have chosen to spend Saturday mornings at confirmation class, but we both agreed that Dad was pretty good at it. Not very dynamic, but a good teacher. I remember raising my hand and asking questions about apparent contradictions in the Bible, and Dad would give a little smile that suggested to me I wasn’t the first person ever to ask those questions, but that he was kind of pleased to have his son asking them, and then explain the distinctions to be made.

The only example I remember, though, and it’s not exactly a contradiction, was the one about the words, “Slaves, obey your masters.” I remember it because it later came up in a high school history class. I explained (following my father) that those words were addressed to slaves and not masters, so they weren’t an endorsement of the institution of slavery. It made perfect sense to me and still does, even though the teacher and the whole class (including another Lutheran pastor’s kid) broke out into laughter. The laughter was good-natured enough, and I didn’t mind too much. I no longer think that answer is quite the final word on the subject that I thought it was back then, but I still value the distinction and value the experience of making it.

Dad’s teaching (and not only in class) was a good education in hair-splitting, for which I continue to be grateful. Here on Ricochet we have @saintaugustine who is a hair-splitter par excellence. If there are any hairs that need splitting (and often there are) call on Auggie. I think of my father every time he goes into that mode.

I don’t know if Dad would ever have persisted in a long exchange the way Saint Augustine does, though. He could be stubborn enough, but he usually preferred to give people something to think about, and perhaps they would eventually present it as their own idea. He didn’t get into arguments the way his hot-headed son did.

What he would have done on social media, I don’t know. A couple of times in his last couple of years told me that he regretted not having taken me up on my offer to teach him to use a computer. But his macular degeneration had reached a stage where he no longer thought he could do it. If he had done it at an earlier stage of that disease, I think it would have been helpful and enjoyable for him.

Dad liked teaching confirmation classes, both for children and sometimes for adults or whole families who were joining the church. I’ve heard several Lutheran pastors say that the part of their work they like least is teaching confirmation class. I find that sad. Yes, kids can be obnoxious nowadays, but we could be obnoxious back in our day, too. After Dad retired at age 62, he and Mom did a little travel but he quickly decided that he didn’t like being retired as much as he had expected. So he continued doing pastor work for another twenty years in retirement until he was in his mid-80s and his macular degeneration made it too difficult to get around. He didn’t take on the full slate of responsibilities he had before, but one thing he continued to do until his final retirement was teach confirmation classes. And as best I could tell, the children in his classes appreciated him, and their expressions of appreciation were genuine.

Here is a photo of Dad at an earlier age. It has nothing to do with the month of May or confirmation (though there exist confirmation photos that were taken on the south side of the church whose roof can be seen beyond the car) but it’s one I like.

Dad’s typewritten reminiscences (from a time when his macular degeneration already made typing difficult) refer to a good duck-hunting outing in 1950. I think he was mistaken about the year. In 1949, he sold the car pictured here and bought a new Chevrolet, the first car that didn’t give him constant trouble. Most likely this was taken in 1947 or 1948.

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  1. Percival Thatcher

    Well done, Reticulator.

    The Reticulator: Not a particularly good preacher, but a good pastor.

    There are those who aren’t either. Of the two, pastor is more important.

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  2. Headedwest Coolidge

    Purely coincidental, but my father (a Lutheran layman) also died on May 9. My birthday is May 8, so even though Dad died 53 years ago, my birthday is an unfailing reminder of that loss.

    It was hard in this way: I had graduated from college a year before, and he and I were just in the early stages of transitioning from Dad/kid to an adult/adult relationship. 

    I agree with the point that between preacher and pastor, being a good pastor is the most important part. And anybody who puts up with kids of confirmation age for many years might well be called a saint.


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  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    A lovely testimony to your Dad. Thanks for telling us about him. 

    • #3
  4. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos

    Great stuff.  Thank you.

    • #4
  5. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator

    Headedwest (View Comment):
    It was hard in this way: I had graduated from college a year before, and he and I were just in the early stages of transitioning from Dad/kid to an adult/adult relationship. 

    Yeah, it was hard enough to become orphaned when I was in my mid 60s.  It would be hard to lose a father at that age. Our transition to an adult/adult relationship was pretty easy, perhaps made easier by my getting married right after college and Dad and Mom being busy with my younger siblings. 

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  6. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    This fine remembrance of a father on Mother’s Day is part of our May group writing project: “May Day, Mayday, May Days.”

    There are two major monthly Group Writing projects. One is the Quote of the Day project, now managed by @she. This is the other project, in which Ricochet members claim a day of the month to write on a proposed theme. This is an easy way to expose your writing to a general audience, with a bit of accountability and topical guidance to encourage writing for its own sake.

    Stop by and sign up now for “May Day, Mayday, May Days.”

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

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