A Lesson for Fathers
It was just a few weeks into my senior year in high school. I was sitting in Advanced Math class when the door opened and the school secretary motioned for me to come out for a minute. Oh, of course, that form, I thought. “Sorry, I totally forgot about that form! I’ll bring it tomorrow, I promise.” She shook her head as she again motioned for me to come out in the hall. “It’s not the form.” I got up and left, a little embarrassed in front of all my classmates and wondering what kind of trouble I was in—it was still pretty early in the school year for anything major.
Crossing the threshold from the classroom into the hallway, I saw my dad standing there. And as soon as I saw my dad, I knew I wasn’t in trouble. Yet I suddenly, sincerely wished I were, because the look on his face told me that whatever had prompted this visit was much worse than any trouble I could’ve been in. Today, I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I think it might simply have been, “Poppie’s gone.”
We had been quite a threesome, Poppie, my dad and I. Hunting, fishing, cookouts, football games—you name it. No grandfather was in better shape than mine. He was tough as nails. Exercised every day. Not afraid to stand up to anyone, in the right way—like the time he stood toe-to-toe with a man twice his size who had a reputation of being less-than-nice to his wife. No blows were struck, but none were needed. He knew the difference between a real man and a coward, and the coward backed down. His leaving us in his mid-sixties was a completely unexpected shock to everyone who knew him.
Why do I write this story? The idea came to me on Father’s Day. I wanted to write it because I believe my grandfather was the kind of man that any dad would do well to aspire to be. Poppie was the pastor of a small church in rural Pennsylvania until the day he died. In fact, he left this earthly home for his heavenly one on the rear steps of the parsonage upon returning from his daily walk. His life had not been an easy one, but maybe that helped hone and strengthen his character. (Were his biography to be written, it would be a worthwhile read.) Whatever it was, no one ever doubted where he stood on anything. He held his convictions and beliefs firm. But in his dealings with others he also knew where the line could be crossed from standing firm on his principles to simply being obnoxious, and he stayed on the right side of that line. He never compromised for the sake of making friends or looking the “right” way to some peer group. In the role of Pastor, he made many friends and enemies along the way. I suppose anyone with that job title realizes a similar experience, but it always seemed to me that it was magnified with him. Most people I knew loved him, but others couldn’t stand him. There wasn’t much middle ground. Regardless, though, everyone respected him.
Let me skip to the end, because that’s where the real lesson lies. His funeral was held at a local establishment uptown. The somewhat still-dazed family members met with the funeral home’s director early, about an hour before the first viewing. Our meeting ended, and shortly thereafter the doors were opened for guests. I began milling around, talking with friends. Families from our church arrived first. Other friends and more distant family members showed up during the course of the evening. At one point, as I recall, one of the moveable walls that divided the space into smaller rooms had to be opened to accommodate the growing number of guests, but I really wasn’t paying much attention at the time. Later in the evening, I was asked to retrieve something from the car. It was the first time I left the room since the viewing started. Stepping into the hallway, a torrent of thoughts flooded my mind—I paused for a few seconds to collect them. The sight that greeted me in that hallway was special indeed. Down the hall stretched a line of people from the entrance to the viewing room to the intersecting hallway, where it snaked around the corner out of sight. Thinking back, I realized that there had been a line at the casket since the viewing opened, without a break. There had been a nonstop flow of people the entire time, and the line still stretched down the hall with no end in sight.
I followed the line back the hallway, the pride I had in my grandfather growing with each step. When I reached the point where the line took a 90-degree turn down the intersecting hallway that divided the building into two distinct wings, I couldn’t help but smile as I saw the line stretch down the length of that hallway and out the door into the parking lot. (I also couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for the folks at the viewing being held in the other wing of the funeral home. They appeared to number only about a dozen or so, and they were mainly standing around gawking at our crowd, no doubt wondering which celebrity’s funeral was being held in our small town.) Mixed with my pride in my grandpa, though, was a bit of surprise as I noticed the people making up that line. Sure, there were many dear friends and family members, but there were also people that I’m sure did not like him one bit. They wouldn’t have been caught dead in our church, and any words they would’ve had for him just a few days ago probably couldn’t have been repeated with children present. Yet here they were, paying their respects. Friend and foe alike came together that night to honor a man of character.
Do you see the lesson, dads? As a 17-year-old teenager, I didn’t quite comprehend it at the time, but I do now. I believe it’s two-fold. First, be comfortable with creating both friends and enemies. I’m not saying that you should be one of those obnoxious jerks who likes to get under people’s skins. I’m saying that if you stand firm on your principles, there will be people who resist and fight you on them. You won’t be loved by everyone, and that’s OK. Second—and this is an important follow-on from the first—live out your principles in such a way as to earn respect and honor from both friend and foe. There were people in that line who probably disagreed with my grandfather on just about everything. There had probably been many heated conversations over the years. But in the end, the way Poppie had conducted himself in all those relationships had earned everyone’s respect. To sum it up: Strong character coupled with sincere compassion commands respect.
|Nathan Lentz earned a B.S. degree from Bob Jones University with concentrations in Marketing and Technical Writing, and he is currently finishing a Project Management certification program from Penn State University. He works as a Business Analyst at Frontline Placement Technologies in Malvern, Pennsylvania, leading international and new market initiatives. Nathan is married to Amy (Eldredge), who stays busy with their two boys, ages 8 and 5. As time permits, he blogs at www.lentzfam.com.|