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An Appreciation of Fathers

The surprising passing of Tim Russert, and the concomitant tributes to him, gave me pause last night.
Besides his well-known qualities as a newsman and an interviewer, Russert was perhaps best known for his effective use of a mini-whiteboard during the 2000 and 2004 elections. He would have been integral to NBC’s election coverage in the upcoming elections.

I wasn’t much of a Meet the Press viewer, as we were usually at church or on the way. I occasionally caught his interview show on CNBC, and enjoyed that when I watched. I saw more of Russert in conjunction with NBC/MSNBC’s election coverage. He came across as someone who clearly enjoyed his work. He seemeed to be straight with his audience, and his audience respected him for it.

Besides his estimable interviewing/broadcasting skills, Russert was also an author. His tribute to his father was famous as a paean to The Greatest Generation. Seeing his interviews with Charlie Rose further reinforced his admiration for his father. It was especially poignant seeing those interviews reprised last night, as various outlets broadcast retrospectives on Russert’s career.

As a father and a son, these were meaningful. I lost my father five years ago, and not a day goes by when I don’t find myself thinking of him. Hard to believe that he’s not around to chat with. However, our sadness is just because we miss him. He know that he’s in Heaven right now, and he’s doing just fine, thank you.

I scribbled some remarks that I delivered in tribute to him during his memorial service. What follows is are some excerpts.

I don’t think it’s possible to do justice to the memory of my father in the few moments that I’ll take. What I’ll attempt to do is to convey my sense of the man that I knew, the man that you knew, the man whose life we’re commemorating today. Not only have I lost a father, and grandfather to my kids, I have also lost the source of perhaps 90% of my Email.

I’m the third generation of stolid, stoic Scandinavian men. We’ll see how stoic I am today. Neither my grandfather, nor my father, nor me, were what you would call demonstrative. The primary method of expressing affection to one another was the hearty handshake. Even though we weren’t a “touchy feely” bunch, this didn’t diminish the fact that we loved one another. Rather, it sort of went without saying.

Although I always liked my father, we weren’t all that much alike. While we did share some of the same sensibilities, and viewed many things in the same light, we were quite different. As I grew older, however, I found myself growing more like him. He also became much smarter as I grew older.

In his sermon on Sunday, the Pastor of our former church spoke on leadership. He mentioned that my father was a leader. The Pastor was correct. Time and time again, my father was called upon to be a leader, and time and time again he responded. In high school he was a leader, or, perhaps more fitting, he was a ringleader. While he was there he and his cronies engaged in numerous high crimes and misdemeanors. Fortunately, the Statue of Limitations had lapsed for most of them. Suffice it to say that he probably spent most of his high school years on “Double Secret Probation”. It was there, however, that he made the friendships that endured to today. Many of you first met my father in high school, and counted him a devoted friend, friendships that were cultivated and endured for more than 50 years.

In the political realm, my dad was also a leader. He became involved in local politics, and was appointed to the City Council. While he was on the Council, he was selected to serve as Majority Leader. He also developed friendships that carried on to this day.

After my dad left politics and we moved to the suburbs, we moved into a development that had a Homeowner’s Association. Naturally, he became involved in this, and, also naturally, he became President of the Association. As it turned out, I live in an area with a Homeowner’s Association. In contrast to my father, I would rather set my hair on fire than be on the board.

Many years after he left politics, my dad was called for jury duty. We would have been surprised if he hadn’t been selected Foreman. I continually kidded my dad, that no matter what he was involved in, he became a leader.

His family was very important to him. I’ll never forget the family gatherings at my grandparents/his parents’ house. Invariably, the conversation would turn to politics. This discourse was usually carried out at a decibel level roughly equivalent to that of a 747 at takeoff. My poor grandmother was concerned at the rather spirited nature of the discussion. She didn’t want anyone to be mad. My dad always found that to be amusing. “Who’s mad?”, he would ask. Even though my dad and my aunt, in particular, would have these vigorous discussions, this never damaged their relationship, and everyone parted friends. One classic technique that my father employed was to say something extremely outlandish, and to wait for the inevitable reaction. He delighted in stirring the pot.

He was a wonderful father, although I often exasperated him because I fell down a lot. I also beat him in chess. I could regale you with some of our vacation stories (We saw Mount Rushmore and the Grand Tetons at 55 MPH; He didn’t really slow down, but at least he wasn’t accelerating), but time doesn’t permit.

In 1990, when my father was 57, he was presented with an opportunity to take an early retirement. He was in a quandary over this, as he loved his job. Nonetheless, he opted to take the retirement, and, after one more year as a contractor, he essentially retired at 58. I fully expected him to find another job, and start another career. He never did. He said that the reason he never went back to work was that he didn’t want to wear a tie. I, however, know the real reason. He wanted to spend time with his true pal, his wife. As I mentioned earlier, my dad had a huge reservoir of good friends built over a lifetime, from a number of different sources. His one true pal, however, was my mother. They were married 43 years, and for the last 12, they have been virtually inseparable, and had more fun together than any other couple that I know.

My father was a devoted grandfather. He loved to take the grandkids out to eat, at a place where the kids could play games and have a good time. We became frequent visitors to Fuddruckers, where my kids helped him go through many, many quarters. He was forever holding games and contests, especially for the grandkids. One Christmas, we went to their house. Sitting in the Family Room was a brand new Air Hockey Table. My dad had a contest to see who would win the Air Hockey game. My sister’s kids won the contest. They were ecstatic. My kids were crestfallen. It was at this time my dad opened the door to the garage to reveal 2 more Air Hockey Games, still in their boxes. He took care of both families. His Air Hockey game was given to the church, and is in a Youth Room upstairs.

Two years ago, my family was at Family Camp. #1 Son fell and broke his arm. I quickly discovered that a trip to the Emergency Room is one of the most wrenching experiences that a parent can endure. I called my parents from the Emergency Room. At the time, I wasn’t necessarily looking for anything from them, but I wanted to talk with him, to let him know. I had mentioned that before he fell, #1 Son had a wonderful time fishing off the dock at camp. The next day, when we returned home from camp, our nerves were thoroughly frayed from this experience. #1 Son, My Bride, and I were all fairly well wrecked. As we approached the front door, we discovered a brand new rod and reel and tackle box that my parents gave to #1 Son. This helped brighten the mood. This past Sunday, when we were visiting my mother, #1 Son was using the same rod and reel to fish off their dock.

Two Christmases ago, my parents arranged for our families to spend Christmas with them in Florida. They rented a beach house right on the Gulf. It was tremendous to be able to listen to the waves all night long. While we were there, my parents wanted us to attend a Christmas Eve service at a church up the road. When we arrived for the midnight service at this tiny church, we found the place packed. People were sitting cheek by jowl, and we were unable to breathe, let alone move. My family, my sister’s family, and my parents were scattered throughout the
Sanctuary. While the service was outstanding, it was difficult to fully enjoy it because of the cramped conditions. After the service ended, and we started to get the feeling back in our extremities, we were trying to reconnect with everybody. My family was accounted for; my sister’s family was accounted for; my parents were nowhere to be found. They snuck out of the service and left early. To this day, I’m not entirely sure where they went. I choose to believe that they went to hang out at the Waffle House. Despite this, we had a wonderful time with them in Florida.

My parents purchased a condo in St. Petersburg, and spent their first full winter there. They had a delightful time. He said that it was more fun than he could have ever expected. He was so pleased that my mother liked it there. He said that he had so much fun furnishing a new place that he was tempted to buy another one just to start the process anew.

While I was glad that my parents found a place that they so enjoyed, I had some selfish misgivings when they left and would be gone for so long. I thought that I would miss them terribly. I did miss not seeing them. However, we certainly didn’t lack for communication. We would talk at least 3-4 times a week. He would call when he was on his walks, or when he was at the beach. He would sometimes gloat, especially when he was experiencing 80 degrees and Sunny, and we were not. He called during Spring Training, as he was watching the Twins play the Rays. He was having the time of his life. He so wanted us to come down to be with them. We couldn’t arrange it this year, but we were hoping to do that next year. They found a Church “Home away from Home” while in Florida, and developed new friendships. Some of you did get a chance to spend time with them down in Florida. He said that every time they had company, they would see dolphins. When they returned home, my parents didn’t miss a beat. They were greeting here at church on their first Sunday back.

I would be remiss in not covering a key component of my dad’s life. My dad was a fervent believer in prayer. Our church publishes a Missions Prayer Calendar, a list of missionaries to pray for by day. In my dad’s inimitable lexicon, this was known as a “Missionary Machine”. He would forever hector us for a new “Missionary Machine” when the new ones came out. If you knew my dad, he was praying for you. Each day my parents would start with devotions and prayer. They became proficient at Scripture memory, and would work on this each day.

This has been an extremely difficult time for my mother, my sister and her family, my wife and my family. We miss him so. The one thing that we can hang our hat on, however, is the assurance that he had assurance. We’re sad for ourselves, and not for him. We know that he’s spending Eternity with his Lord and Savior. This is what sustains us.

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