Today is the first anniversary of my father’s death. When I woke up my first thought was of dad. I didn’t feel sad. Rather I felt incredibly thankful. No other man has left as big a mark on my life as my father. He showed me what it means to be a man and a father, the nature of love and the importance of living with conviction.
Dad showed me love in a myriad of ways, but the one that sticks out for me was the two years we sailed together. As a child I loved sailing. The sound of sails flapping in the breeze; the feeling of saltwater spraying in my face; the taste of saltiness in my mouth; the thrill of a dinghy on the plane, rigging humming, capsize ever imminent; the cracking tension as boats hurled toward each other, avoiding collision by mere centimetres; the emotional rewards of a well-completed race. These held my spirit captive.
For Dad these things signaled dread. When I was 14 I had a serious heart condition. One of the consequences was that I might feint. Mum and dad didn’t think it fair to ask anyone else to assume responsibility if I happened to feint while on the water. So the only way I could keep sailing was if one of them sailed with me. Dad drew the short straw. Every Saturday from September to April (the sailing sesson) he sailed with me. Not once did he let on how much he hated it. The close quarters of boats locked in combat made him anxious, as did the thought of sharks beneath him when we capsized. And then there was the humiliation of being the crewman while your teenage son was skipper, the reverse of what happened in the other boats.
It was only in his later years I can recall my father saying “I love you”, but he communicated that message powerfully to me in other ways…like sailing with me so that I could keep doing something I loved. From dad I learned the way of love is to care for others, even at cost to yourself.
One of the other big impacts Dad had on me was to show me the importance of living with conviction. Dad was one of those people who stood up for what he believed in. When he became a Christian and started attending a Baptist church dad decided he should give up smoking and drinking. Back then our church taught these things were outside God’s will. So, difficult as it was, dad gave these away. It caused him great grief at the office, where sharing cigarettes and alcohol was a bonding ritual. That resolve was typical of dad. He was not one for turning his back on something he believed in. It might be difficult, might be embarassing, might be costly, but if you believed it you lived it.
However imperfectly I image my father, these are two of many legacies he left me. They have shaped me as a man, a father and a follower of Jesus. Maybe that’s why today, on the anniversary of his death I don’t feel sad. I feel incredibly thankful that he was part of my life.