My father would turn ninety-six in a few days. Fifteen of us; sons and daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, travelled from around the country to be with him on his birthday. We would be four generations in the same room at the same time, a rare occurrence in our family for sure.
I wondered – “What kind of gift is desirable to a ninety-six-year-old?” I usually just get him a gift card to the Hefner Grill, his favorite restaurant. But this year I wanted to give him something better, something with meaning. I remembered the Bible verse that says to “Honor your father and mother…that your days might be long upon the earth” (Eph. 6.2). (Actually, I think of that verse quite often since I would like to hang around for a while.) So that’s it I decided…I would give dad “honor” for his ninety-sixth birthday.
I let my mind drift back through the years to a time when all the kids played in the streets. I considered the many things dad taught me about being a (little) man and getting along in life. Some of the lessons seemed pretty harsh and even unfair to me at the time, but they have served me well as an adult.
The big day came and we were all there at the Hefner Grill. There was a lot of laughter, a lot of joy and good food. There was the customary birthday cake, candles and the (off key) happy birthday song. There was the giving of presents, some serious and some funny. So when all the presents were given and the laughter died down, I stood up and told dad there was one more gift to be given…and that was for me to thank him for all the things he taught me as I was growing up. There were seven things in particular that he successfully conveyed to me, albeit took a lot of work and a long time on his part.
1. HONESTY – Dad exampled truthfulness and honesty and he expected no less from me. When I lied, I got the backside of his belt. It wasn’t child abuse, it was wisdom. God reproves all of those whom He loves and so did my dad.
2. WORK & RESPONSIBILITY – Dad never missed a day of work. When I was young, he gave me the responsibility of keeping the yard mowed and manicured and taught me to take pride in accomplishment.
3. SELF RELIANCE – Dad taught me how to deal with bullies in the street and how to start my first business. He gave me the new power lawn mower to use and I sold lawn service to the neighbors for $1 a yard. That was big money back in 1956.
4. FIX STUFF – Dad taught me how to work with wood, how to lay bricks, how to pour concrete, how to paint the house and how to fix small electrical appliances, light switches and lamps.
5. ORGANIZING COMPLEX JOBS – Dad taught me how to completely disassemble, repair and rebuild a 1949 Chevy straight six-cylinder engine. After the Chevy, I had the confidence to tackle any complex job.
6. THE IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION – Dad came home at the end of WWII and didn’t have the luxury of going to college. Yet he continuously encouraged me as I grew up to get a college education. Nothing less would do he said. He also sacrificed and borrowed money to provide an education for my sister and me.
7. CRITICAL FINANCIAL SUPPORT – Dad taught me the difference between wants and needs. For instance, dad wouldn’t buy gas for my car, because I could walk to school if necessary. But he would buy tires for my car when I couldn’t afford them, because he wanted to keep me safe.
Thanks dad for all you have done for all of us, I said. Everyone smiled and clapped in appreciation. Dad just grinned and said “Well, I often wondered if I was getting through to you, it wasn’t always easy.” Then dad went on to say, with some emotion, that he was truly honored that all of us came to his birthday. “I expected that a few of you would come, but I never expected that all of you would come at once. I love you all.” he said.
You know, I think dad was happy to get a bit of public appreciation from me, but I think the real honor was just the fact that his entire family took the time out of their busy lives to come and spend time with him on his birthday. So, I just learned another thing from dad. You don’t really have to say much of anything...
You just have to show up!
So there you go, just spend time with your mom and dad. Then you will bring “honor to your mother and father and your days will be long upon the earth.”