He was a little man, 5′ 4” and 125 pounds, but when I was growing up he was strong and I never thought of him as other than the main man in my life. Families were still largely intact and back then roles were more clearly defined than they are now.
He came to Canada from Lancashire, England, at the turn of the twentieth century, and long before I was born, homesteaded in southeastern Saskatchewan. There, he was first and always an immigrant. In his Lancashire dialect he could speak about “the ‘air on his ‘ead” in one sentence and in the next about “the hair in the hatmosphere.”
But he was also a coal miner, a market gardener, a Watkins traveling salesman, a merchant, and especially for me — a father.
My father was not a cultured man. He had five weeks of formal schooling. That is, he didn’t even finish grade one after he was quarantined at home during an outbreak of Scarlet Fever. Why he was not sent back was never explained.
At 13 years of age he went into the coal mines as his father’s helper. He had horror stories to tell of those years – of fights underground with other boys over filled coal cars, of the hardship of seeing daylight only on Sundays during the winter months, etc. But from his coal mining family and village society he absorbed solid Victorian values that worked well then, and might add something worthwhile to the values we have today.
He worked hard at whatever he did. He stood by his family through thick and thin. He had vocational ideals for his children. For example, he once told me that when I was born he envisioned that someday he might provide for me a little service station in town where I could pump gas for a living. I honor him for that long-distance plan.
Even though not an active believer until late in life, his values always included church attendance and he sat with the family faithfully Sunday after Sunday. At 61 years-of-age he had a Christian conversion.
When, at 19-years-of-age, I made public that I would go into some form of Christian ministry, he was supportive of the idea and without any fuss, put aside the arrangement he had made for me to manage a clothing store he had bought in our home town.
I don’t recall that when I was growing up he gave me a lot of time, but enough. I recall the time when he took me out north of town to the fairgrounds where he helped me fly my homemade kite. He took me and my younger sister out to the open spaces near the high school to play catch. He had done a lot of boxing in the coal mining communities of his youth and hein turn taught me a little about boxing, passing on what he himself was good at. Such memories survive the years.
I still think of him nearly every day because my attention to the importance of fatherhood has been cultivated through a lifetime of ministry. I’ve gone to the maternity ward of hospitals often to congratulate new parents – and in some cases especially a starry-eyed father. I’ve visited in homes where things were not going well between a father and son. I’ve preached often on the Fatherhood of God and the light God’s fatherhood casts on human fatherhood.
Most sadly, I’ve seen the fading of the vision for fatherhood, in society and even in the church. Young men who lack the courage to marry and embrace the challenge of fatherhood suffer from a lack of imagination. At the same time, I’ve watched new fathers take over the assignment with clearly inborn fathering instincts.
My father would probably be graded a B by today’s standards. He didn’t do for me everything a father could do, but no father ever does. But he did the things that matter. He showed me the value of hard work. He taught me early (and with some fear that the lesson wasn’t sticking) that “money doesn’t grow on trees.”
He valued honesty. He had respect for God. As I grew up and after I left home he showed quiet pleasure when I succeeded in getting the education he only vaguely saw the value of.
And for all of these simple reasons, even though he has been gone for 46 years, I revere his memory and thank God almost daily for what he gave me.