Friday, June 9, 2017

Men Who Hit All the Right Notes

I attended the funeral of an old friend this week. He owned the funeral home in the last town where I was a minister for the 14 years I was there. Several years ago he retired. I so admired him. He knew how to comfort people caught in some horrible grief. He had a calming presence. He was professional in every way. He chewed on these great dark cigars and one day I asked for one. He smiled and gave me three and from then on anytime I wanted one he handed them over. On the way back from cemeteries we often talked about God and death and the people we loved. He was an amazing father and grandfather. He taught me to listen, to observe, to not be so concerned with comments or answers for hurting people, but to just be a presence for them. He was my friend.

I was not close to my father. He was a good, moral man. He provided for our family. But he was often indifferent to his children. I knew he loved us, but he seemed incapable or not interested in really knowing any of us. He shared so little of himself. He missed out on so much from his children.

When I left home there were other men who stepped in to become father figures for me, like the funeral director above. And, my father-in-law, and his father, were great men to me. Heroes in many ways. They were not religious men, but I admired them and looked up to them. They were hard working, rugged men who shared their wisdom and their life experiences with me. After my divorce, they remained as loyal to me as ever. I knew they loved me. And I loved them.

My own grandfathers were gracious, wonderful men. My paternal grandfather smoked King Edward cigars and to this day I love the smell of a good cigar and enjoy one myself now and then. He was a baseball fan and I love baseball because of him. He was quiet, reserved, with white hair and wire-rimmed glasses. I revered him.

My mother’s father was totally opposite. He was a big man, a hugger, who told amazing stories and had a beautiful low-pitched gravelly laugh. When he laughed big tears would roll down his face and he would take out a white handkerchief and remove his glasses and wipe his eyes and blow his nose. He was openly affectionate and possessed such a gentle soul. He would fall asleep in his easy chair with his socks on and as a boy, I would take his socks off and trim his big, thick toenails and comb his hair. He would sometimes stir and just laugh and fall back to sleep. He let me drive his old Ford station wagon when I didn’t even have a license.  He cherished my grandmother and I saw in him how a man is supposed to truly care for his spouse. He often brought her flowers after a long day of working as a parking attendant. He was kind and patient with her when she started losing her memory and when she grew weak and ill he did all he could until she had to go to a nursing home. Separated from him and her home she died not long after that. I loved him dearly and learned so much from him.

As a young minister, there were older more seasoned ministers who took me under their wing. I later realized that for most of them I had little in common with their theology, their philosophy of ministry. But they befriended me, listened to my concerns, and tried to answer my questions about faith and suffering and life. I felt a connection with them.

There were men in the churches I served who became great friends, who were wise and caring and patient with my often unconventional ideas and interpretations of scripture and thoughts about God and church. I learned to be a better father myself watching them, and a better minister.

And, I have had some terrific mentors in my secular work since leaving the ministry. Men who respected my limited gifts and worked with me anyway. Men who showed me how to manage the grind of the corporate world, the non-profit, and government work, how to be a responsible leader, how to work with diverse people, how to survive the politics of things. 

What I saw in all of these men and what I loved about them was their humanness, their authenticity. Some of them drank too much, some of them worked too long of hours, some had serious faith issues, some struggled with their own demons. But all of them were loving, good, and kind. They adored their families. They were great with children. They respected women. They knew how to make money without cheating anyone or taking advantage of people. They helped their neighbors. They helped me.

We mostly hear today in the news and elsewhere of men who are arrogant, self-serving, greedy, bigoted and cruel. But the truth is, there are so many fine men around us. They do good work. They are honorable employers, or they are loyal, hardworking employees. They love their spouse and their children. They are human and humane. They are mentors and role models for the rest of us.

In Markus Zusak's brilliant and sad novel, "The Book Thief," the main character Liesel, whose father is taken away by the Nazis, is placed with a foster family. The new mother is a nightmare, but the father is a dream. Liesel learns to love him and much later at a crucial moment says, “Sometimes I think my papa is an accordion. When he looks at me and smiles and breathes, I hear the notes.” 

That's the calling of all men and all fathers, biological, adoptive, foster or otherwise--to love and care and hit all the right notes for those they cherish.

I have known many just like that, and they have made me a better man and father.


© 2017 Timothy Moody

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