I was just a kid, but wasn’t it my duty to defend my dad? I sure thought it was….
I will admit something I have never said in public. I grew up with a man whom I was immensely proud of and who I loved beyond measure. My daddy was a good person, a truly good person. He was a christian man who lived his faith at all times and for all persons. He was not the type of person who prayed on Sunday and cussed on Monday. He was the kind of person who did the right thing when no one was around to notice. He was the genuine article. I loved him dearly.
He was overweight all his life and he gave off this kindly and gentle sort of vibe. He was quick to smile and slow to frown. I remember on more than one occasion when he was doing the baptism of a small child during the morning service. The child was squirming and being grouchy at the whole unfamiliar situation. Daddy would usually hold the child in his arms. On more than one occasion the child calmed down and quieted as if they knew the love that was around them.
In many ways I guess I was living with one of the 12 disciples. Except that he was the lesser known follower of Jesus named “Wilbur”, who drove a used 1971 Chevrolet station wagon, owed money on his Sears card, and couldn’t type to save his life.
Daddy was a heavy person like his mother and father before him. He didn’t seem to let it define or limit him because he always seemed to be out there on the run, helping folks and getting things done.
So what is it that I’m admitting?…
Given all the positives I’ve told you about Dad, it might be surprising to know that I was embarrassed to be around him. To know that when we went into a store I would intentionally walk down a different aisle. That when we were having a school concert or event, I would avoid being seen with him. I didn’t want my schoolmates to know he was my father.
So a major contradiction developed in my little head. How do I love and respect a person whom everyone around me says is a wonderful soul, while at the same time feeling shame and anger toward him. How does a child process that type of inner contradiction?
I grew up in the time of John Wayne and Steve McGarrett of Hawaii 5-0. Everything was black and white with the good guys winning. I desperately wanted my own life to be secure in the knowledge that I was one of the good guys and my life was anchored within clearly marked lines.
Dad was obviously one of the good guys, so it was my duty to defend him and his honor. Our family, our team, that was worth fighting for……Wasn’t it?
The worst knock-down drag-out fight I ever actually got into was in front of the United Methodist Church in White City. I was playing with another boy on the brick and stone message sign in the church front yard. We began calling each other names, which was fine with me at first. I could handle the usual smack talk back and forth between kids. But then he crossed the line….. He said…..”Your dad is FAT.”………. Oh buddy,…It was on. I remember jumping off the side of that sign and onto the boy.
I went at him like a spider monkey on a sugar high. There were fists flying. I got hit in the mouth a couple times and tried to give back as good as I got. We ended up rolling around on the grass, throwing punches, and kicking each other.
Suddenly, amid the mayhem, a hand reached down and firmly grabbed me by the upper right arm. I was then yanked to my feet and staring up at my big sister. She then proceeded to drag/march me back to the parsonage where Dad was.
I made that trip with pride. I was covered in dirt and grass stains. I even had a little blood coming out of the corner of my mouth from a busted lip…just like John Wayne after a good brawl. In my mind I had met the enemy and defeated him. Just like John Wayne, I had defended the family honor with my very life and limb. I even had the injuries to back up my claim. I just knew that Dad, being the representative of all that was good in the world, would be elated that his son had faced a bad guy and not backed down.
My big sister took me into the house and sent me into the room where dad was sitting. He was watching the evening news on tv. I just stood there, ready for the accolades to begin at any moment. He’d be so proud of his son. I was so sure.
Dad looked me over and asked if I had been fighting. I proudly told him yes! To which he asked, “Why were you fighting?” I said with great conviction. “I fought him because he said you were FAT!”
There was a rather long and quiet pause before Dad replied in a very matter of fact voice,… “but I AM fat.” I just stood there in disbelief, completely crushed. All the air just seemed to leave me as I completely deflated emotionally. I was speechless. I was at a loss.
It became apparent in that moment that I was the one who had the problem, not him. I learned a hard lesson that he was going to live his faith, even to the discomfort of his own family. He would never make fun of someone for being heavy, nor would he fight them for saying he was fat. Apparently he expected the same of me.
That was a hard lesson for me to learn. I wanted him to get mad at the boy because that would mean that he truly cared about me. I needed proof, somehow, of my own value to him.
There was a big disconnect between proof of value and faith in value. I was looking for the proof and what dad had was faith. His faith in Christ gave him all the evidence of his own self worth that he would ever need. He found his value through faith.
I never felt that I could measure up to that level of faith. I continued looking for affirmation of my own value. Its been a rough road at times. I had to take him as he was and not get mad because he wasn’t living up to my expectations. He was who he was and not who I thought he should be.
The search for proof of my own value felt like a big hole in my soul, which I never could fill. If I’d had faith that I was valued from the very beginning, I could have saved myself a lot of hurt over the years.
It turned out that I was embarrassed by how my dad looked and when that boy in front of the church said my dad was fat, I wasn’t defending the family honor or something pious in nature. I was mad at my own embarrassment, my own shallow thinking.
It took dad telling me in a manner short and to the point that he WAS fat, to show me I was worried about my own bruised ego and not about him. He was fat and he was living with it. I was the one who needed to learn to live with it. I was angry at how his looks reflected on me. When he dismissed my explanation for the fight it forced me to face the true reality of why I’d done it. I had experienced the fall that followed the pride.
I felt insecure and this worry deep within my soul. It was a deep hole in the middle of my being that I desperately needed to fill. I didn’t know where it came from or why it was there. I yearned to feel affirmation of my own self worth. Dad provided a wonderful example of faith. I wanted to believe as he did all my life, but always felt I missed the mark he’d set.
I still loved him. I was still amazed at his steadfast devotion to this one they call Christ.
I suspect dad would say faith is not a mark or score you try to achieve. Faith is not a finish line, but an effort. It is sometimes hard and often slow. A journey and not a destination. He would tell me that I was worried about things which just didn’t matter.
Yes, he was fat, but Jesus didn’t care and that was all he needed to know.