Monday, June 21, 2010

Words for Dad

One of the greatest gifts our Dad has bestowed on us is words.

Words he speaks. When we were very small, we would ask him please to tell us a "Johnny and Sam" story - about Sam, the hired hand and Johnny, his nephew, living and working on an old widow lady's farm. Dad would make these tales up as he lay down with us swarming all over him at our afternoon rest time or in the evenings when we were "camping" under our carport in front of our Range View home in Coonoor; through the stories we learnt much about his life as a farmer in the bleak badlands of Alberta. We learnt about loyalty and perseverence. We learnt about friendship and discipline.

He taught at the Bible College for 40 years, and his words have guided many students to life-altering pursuits throughout India: orphanages, deaf schools, work with HIV sufferers, other colleges. Now in his so-called retirement he preaches and teaches every week, challenging and changing people's perspective, showing them God's love and encouraging them to do the same for others. 

Words he reads. Dad loves to read. He has often said that one of the gifts God has given him is is love of the printed word. And we reaped the benefit of this. He would read us children's stories. He would read us Shakespeare (okay, maybe he was reading Mum the sonnets, but we were eavesdropping!). He would not only sing hymns but read the words to us. He would read to us from the Bible - not just the "kids' stories" parts but the poetry of the Psalms; the history of the generations through the Pentateuch; the dampening Ecclesiastes; the romance of Canticles; the great women Ruth and Esther and Rahab and Sara and the noble woman of Proverbs. He studies words -etymology fascinates him and we have spent wonderful times discussing shades of meaning. He loves getting mail: the written word has been a lifeline to him many times in his journey when he was travelling away from the family, and even now a trip to the post office is an important part of his daily routine.

Words he writes. Later, as we grew older and he saw less of us than he would have liked because the schools we went to were in one state and the college was a day's travel away, he would write us letters - individual letters to each of us. And when Bronwyn and I had to go to boarding school for a short spell when we were very young, he showed us that poetry wasn't just in the elusive realm of books: out of the depths of his pain at the parting he wrote a poem entitled "Two Empty White Beds". He wrote a poem for Mum almost every year. And he writes exquisite cards to this day, for Christmas, birthdays, other special events. He has written his memoirs, with the opening page customized for each of us, telling us of the first day he met us. He got Mum's edition completed for her 70th birthday in February, 2007.

Words he sings. There was always music in our home, and some of my earliest memories involve music, involve my Dad singing to me. I am told that when I was quite small and sustained a rather nasty hot-water burn, at the hospital I asked him, "Daddy, sing Jesus Loves Me." I recall so vividly, after he had put third-grade Allan into the boys boarding school located in another town, how he would pace the living room and dining room in Coonoor of an evening and sing:

Where is my boy tonight? Where is my boy tonight?
My heart o'erflows for I love him he knows
Oh, where is my boy tonight?

And then there are the cowboy songs ... those old ballads of lonely, dusty men - tough as leather on the outside but with poet's souls buried deep within them, every one of 'em - riding the range, mourning their dead horses. We learnt all about the sad fates of the brave horses starting from when we were very small. All it takes, to this day, for me to choke up is for Dad to start singing, "A bunch of us cowboys sittin' on the corral, Talkin' about Strawberry, a real cowboy's pal ..." And he knows it too: he always glances at me with a twinkle in his eye as he begins ...

Of course, he is well known in our family and circle of close friends for singing to Mum. He set the tone and provided such an example of love between a husband and wife when he sang to her. Even at her funeral he sang

Have I told you lately that I love you?
Can I tell it once again somehow
Have I told you lately that I love you, I adore you?
Then, darling, I'm telling you now

Words he leaves unsaid. How many times he must want to say something to us, to caution us and to guide us! But my Dad is a very wise man. He listens more than he speaks. If someone asks him for advice, he will share his wisdom and experience and insights. However, he does not judge people and he does not like other people's shortcomings to be discussed and gossipped about. "Tell it not in Gath!" he will plead, echoing King David's plea after the ignominious deaths of Saul and Jonathan. I learnt an enormous lesson from him after Mum's funeral. We were in the post office and a complete stranger came up to Dad and was talking about how she had met my Mum a few times and the impact on her life that had been. She was quite tearful and my Dad just gently patted her right forearm and all he said was, "Yes ... yes ... yes ..." hearing her out until she was done, not interjecting any of his own great sorrow into her story. It was her story, and he let her tell it her way. This happened many times too when we were in India earlier this year. I could see how his quiet, attentive listening to a person's narrative would give them confidence and comfort. It is a great comfort to know you are being heard and understood. And I realized that to listen is one of the greatest gifts I can give.

Words he prays. It might sound like our Dad is extremely gregarious; but in reality he is a shy, reserved man who has overcome a lot of his natural reticence to become the confident, courageous person he is today. And the secret is in the words only God hears. My Dad is a pray-er. My Dad's life is a prayer. I can say with absolute confidence that there have not been many days in my life that my Dad has not prayed for me, for each of the six of us. And I believe with all my heart that his prayers have sustained us and protected us and guided us. Even when he would discipline us as kids, the session would end with us kneeling down and talking to God. (Those sessions were harder on my Dad than on the culprit!) Speaking for myself, I know that often what would govern my behaviour was that if I did something questionable, "Dad will be hurt" - I dreaded the reproach of his looking at me sorrowfully and simply saying, "Oh, Karyn ..." And I knew that he would go and pray for me, pray that I would do the right thing.

And so, on this Father's Day, I want to say thanks for the words, Dad. In your generation of reticent men uncomfortable with expressing their thoughts and emotions, your words are like apples of silver in pictures of gold. Because of them I never doubt, even for a moment, how much you love me.

Happy Father's Day.


  1. This is beautiful, K. Thank you for sharing, with your own gift of words, a glimpse of a great man whom many know and love, but whom we get to call Dad.

  2. wisdom [ˈwɪzdəm]
    1. the ability or result of an ability to think and act utilizing knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight
    2. accumulated knowledge, erudition, or enlightenment

    sagacious (s -g sh s)
    Having or showing keen discernment, sound judgment, and farsightedness.

    Karyn these two words apply to your father.


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