Father's Day

06.22.12 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[4]


Father's Day was on June 15th in 1980.  CNN had been launched just two weeks before.  Mt. St. Helen’s had exploded less than a month earlier in Washington state, killing 60.  The Mets had just drafted Darryl Strawberry.  And it was nine days after my father died of a massive, unexpected heart attack.  It happened on a Friday evening while I was out and since there was no cell phone or texting then (things we take for granted today), he was already dead by the time I reached the hospital.  They wouldn’t let me see him so the next time I did was at the funeral home three days later, dressed in his favorite brown suit in the walnut casket my mother and I had tearfully chosen the day before.  It was my dad.  But it wasn’t.

That was 32 years ago.  I was 25 years old, working my first job in broadcasting, six weeks from my wedding day.  My relationship with my father had always been good but in the year or two before he died it was maturing into something more than what it had been when I was just a kid or a teenager.  We were beginning to relate as two adults.  The tone and subject matter of the conversations were becoming more mature, more philosophical.  I was learning interesting things about him; his upbringing in Ithaca and Rochester; his family, which for reasons I never did discover always seemed distant and elusive.  His love for music, piano in particular, which led him to years of studying and associations at Eastman School of Music.

He loved flowers and rock gardening and was an avid horticulturalist.  He reveled in growing plants and hybrids native to faraway places like Switzerland and (what was then) Czechoslovakia.  While in his 30’s, before he and my mom met and married, he earned a degree in Electrical Engineering.  (Being a professional musician has never been a consistently lucrative career choice.)  He worked for a subsidiary of General Dynamics and for years shuttled between Rochester and Groton, CT developing communications systems for the George Washington and Ethan Allen class nuclear submarines. 

He was equally at home playing Rachmaninoff or Brubeck; discussing some obscure plant he was developing or the latest on the Knicks or Nationals.  He was an early advocate for civil rights and took stands that were not popular at the time.  He didn’t care.  He wasn’t trying to make a provocative statement or be a hero.  He just knew who he was and what he believed in.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “You’re just like your father.”  Sometimes it’s said as a compliment and sometimes out of exasperation.  My mom used to tell me that after Dad died until she died nine years later.  I don’t know whether she really thought that or just missed my dad a lot and tried to see pieces of him in me.  Either way it made me smile.  There’s not a day that passes that I don’t think about him; in the things I see and hear and read he’s never far away. 

What I hope for on this Father’s Day is that I will have the same kind of place in my son’s heart as my dad has in mine.  Justin called me Sunday afternoon.  I was sitting on our patio, nursing an iced tea and reading “December 1941” by Craig Shirley.  It was a beautiful, warm sunny afternoon with the hint of a breeze, just enough to flutter the leaves on the tall trees that surround the patio.  Justin recently moved to Kansas where he’s starting a new phase of his life and career, his second job coaching football at the collegiate level.  He’s moving up the ranks and pursuing his dream and I dare say he’s doing pretty well at this point in his life.  He’s 31, an adult himself, six years older than I was when my dad died.  I tell him I’m proud of him, not because of his accomplishments because, let’s face it, a lot of great coaches are jerks.  But I’m proud of the person he’s becoming. 

We talk for about an hour and get caught up and when he has to go he says, “I love you Dad.”  I tell him I love him too and say goodbye.  Every time I see him or we talk on the phone I thank the Lord for being able to say goodbye.  I never had that chance with my dad.

We don’t know what the future holds.  It’s all in God’s hands.  I didn’t know when I stopped by my folk’s house and saw my dad that Friday afternoon thirty-two years ago it would be the last time I’d see him alive.  My son didn’t realize how close he came to losing me when I had the heart attack almost three years ago.  (http://www.fln.org/media-blog/the-most-interesting-month-of-my-life-part-i/)  Life is, indeed, like a vapor.  It’s here for a little while then it vanishes.

So how then do we live?  Do we allow uncertainty and doubt to grab us and hold us hostage?  Do we abandon our faith because some days we face more unknowns than knowns?

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  (Romans 8:37)

Verses like that aren’t meant to be shouted out, loudly; they’re more to be whispered.  Because his strength is perfected in our weakness and truth be told, I’m ok being the weak one.  There’s no shame in that.  Being more than a conqueror is not about triumphantly marching in lockstep, trampling the enemy with the army of God.  It’s a quiet victory, something we can neither take credit for nor claim as our own.  It’s the subtle diplomacy of the Holy Spirit calling us to live in deeper truths that transcend our everyday existence and enable us to take one step closer to the heart of God.

On this Father’s Day, dads, love your sons and daughters.  Sons and daughters love your dads.  Life’s too short to let things get in the way.  And may our heavenly Father, in whose image we were created and by whose grace we stand, fill your hearts and lives with his love and peace, now and forever.  Amen.


Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 06.29.12 Sue Erwin commented

Thank you for this. This was my first Father's Day without my Dad. He passed away from cancer in March. Your words are very encouraging. God bless.

on 11.16.12 Anonymous commented

my mothers name is cecile vann

on 11.16.12 Anonymous commented

my mothers name is cecile vann

on 11.16.12 Anonymous commented

my mothers name is cecile vann