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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Happy Birthday Dad

Tomorrow would have been my dad's 70th birthday. I can hardly believe that he's been gone for almost six years now, but at the same time, I really can't imagine my dad ever being 70. He was always so active. He didn't watch a lot of television, except for golf. He read quite a bit, but I think he did that to fill in the gaps—when he had nothing else going on.

He was a fixer-up kind of guy, always piddling around with something—much like his dad was. (I'm not sure what happened, but that gene skipped my generation.) And he was just as likely to help others with projects as he was to be working on his own. I can't tell you how many family members he helped by installing shelving on their walls, or fixing broken door hinges, or various other things. He drew energy from helping people.

When I ruptured my Achilles tendon in 1997 and was confined to a recliner for several weeks after the surgery, he brought his laptop over to me so I could write. He didn't have a PC or another laptop that he could use and he loved surfing the net and keeping in touch with people via e-mail. But he gave that up for me for a brief period as I began my writing career as a singles columnist.

And then a couple of years later, as my writing career entered the walking stage, I needed a laptop to take with me on the road, but I didn't have a lot of money to spare. Dad and I attended a computer show and he offered to give me several hundred dollars to purchase a laptop. I suspect that it was every penny he had. The transaction didn't work out because the computer didn't have the software I needed, but I never forgot his willingness to make such a huge sacrifice.

He was the type of father who figured out what his kids were interested in, and then he did all he could to enter their world. I've already told you about how he purchased a top of the line tennis racket for me in high school when all I thought about was tennis (well, okay, maybe girls and tennis). That type of thing was common for him. After I became a Christian, he went into a Christian bookstore, bought me an expensive leather-bound Bible, and had my name embossed on the cover. When I became interested in fishing as an adult, he bought me a fancy tackle box. I could go on and on, and I suspect that my siblings could tell you many similar stories as well.

In 1990, my niece was born with cerebral palsy. Whenever something like that happens, it tends to change people in the affected family. In my case, it made me infinitely more aware of how difficult some people have to struggle just to do the most common routines. It made me value life more. And it made me appreciate those organizations that help people like my niece. One day, as Dad and I walked toward the front doors of a Kmart during the Christmas season, I told my dad that seeing what various charities had done to help my niece made me never want to pass up the chance to drop money into the red kettle, or any other kettle.

I'll never forget what he said to me. "You don't pass up the opportunities son. You just don't." That was a speech as far as my dad was concerned, and frankly, it's just about the right length in my mind. I remember every word of it and it became part of who I am.

Dad was an introverted man who felt life deeply, but you had to know him quite well before he'd ever let you see who he really was—meaning, the things he struggled with or the things he enjoyed—and even then, I'm not sure anybody ever really could say they knew him. At times, he seemed to be looking for his place in a world that never really seemed to notice him. That was always a sad thing for me to see.

Dad had his faults. Some of them were quite glaring, and if the truth be told, one of them claimed his life. But for me, his birthday isn't about remembering his faults. It's about remembering the man who attempted to conquer them, and in spite of his human struggles, he left a legacy of concern for others that I'll never forget.


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