My Story, Installment 2

*At our elder meetings the last year, they’ve been taking 15 minutes per person to talk about their journey of walking with Christ. They’ve done it in, more or less, a time-line fashion. It’s been highly enjoyable, especially since I’ve known most of these folks for a decade or more and spent a great deal of time with them…but, yet, in this forum, we’re discovering so much that’s encouraging in our own walk. While I’ve given snippets of this in various ways here at The Diner, I thought I’d give it a shot the way the elders have been doing it and get it all in one spot.

Priest: “Congratulations. Your father is with the Lord now.”

Nice lady: “God has a plan, and this is a part of it.”

Family Friend: “He’s not in pain any more.”

The details blur after nearly 30 years. The heart attack. The doctor from next door who worked at the hospital coming over on Wednesday to tell me that he wasn’t going to get better. The Friday night with my mom telling me that heroic measures would stop some time tomorrow. The Saturday going suit shopping with my great aunts. Listening to the Auburn game on the radio at my grandmother’s house waiting for a phone call from mom. The phone call from mom…she’d be home later and this was all over. My aunts heading back to the hospital and arranging details.

My dad: Coach of little league. Quarterback for both teams or all-time pitcher, with his handicap keeping the after-work beer is his left hand from spilling. Keeping me up on Monday nights until halftime so we could watch the NFL highlights from the day before. Deep-sea fisherman. Hunter of dove, quail & deer…until his son showed little proclivity or desire for those things and he shot hoops. Taught me to mow and then exorcised that chore from his life. Showed me how to change a tire and then let me do it. Climbed into the boat with his brothers (back in the day when it was okay to drink beer and drive a boat) and my cousins and tried to throw us off the inner tube from his driver’s seat. Attender of games & plays & the kind of guy who was okay with basepaths in the front yard while the neighbor won yard-of-the-month. Danced with my mom to Sam Cooke and kissed her, really kissed her in front of me (more than once) and didn’t seem to care. Right there in our kitchen, to boot.

Gone.

As in, “not there.”

He died when I was 13. I had more of a dad in 13 years than many get in a lifetime.

And, as you’d expect, my life changed. I went from a homemaking mom and dinner around the table every night to what folks would deem a “latchkey” kid. Mom got a job as a teaching assistant and went to school at nights to renew her teaching certificate.

And, as you’d expect in the 70’s, well, let’s just say that any type of therapy had a different stigma attached to it than it might today. My mom’s therapy was to keep us moving. I went to school the day after my dad’s funeral. She got me a pass that gave me unlimited pitches at the batting cage a bike-ride from my house. She let me know that I could always talk to her if I needed to. A nice gesture, to be sure…but I’d hate to interrupt the crying that went on behind her closed door to chat about missing my dad or asking questions about exactly how it was that a 36-year-old can just die.

So, while I was still involved in the benefits of a happy childhood, which included days at school with lots of laughs because my friends didn’t necessarily take school that seriously. And lots of sports, which were fun. And lots of activities like going to movies and basketball games and dances and having girlfriends and riding around in my car with Hal and toilet-papering houses and being president of my class and anything else that might be construed as a relatively well-adjusted high school experience…

…I understood that those things that people say at funerals are well-intentioned…

…and maybe even theologically accurate…

…but they don’t do anything for a 13-year-old who doesn’t feel like being congratulated.
…they don’t do anything for a 13-year-old who isn’t really a big fan of God’s plan at that moment.
…and they certainly don’t do anything for a 13-year-old in pain whose dad isn’t in pain anymore.

So, I just didn’t think about how a 36-year-old can just die. I went about the business of living my life.

And if my brain ever went to thoughts about how a 36-year-old can just die, I’d hop on my bike and head to the batting cages. Later, driving the car two blocks to the batting cages. Which had the distinct advantage of lifting the trunk open and rolling the windows down and turning the music up…

…which started out with the gateway drug of AC/DC & Ozzy which later led to the hard stuff of Black Flag, Fear, X and Social Distortion. And that’s just for starters.

So, I was drug-free.
I was alcohol-free.
I was sex-free. The curse of dating nice girls, I guess.

But none of that was due to large spiritual connection with the God of the universe. It was part mixture of just being a good kid who hung out with good kids. Mischievous, to be sure, but good. Part due to coaches who were able to keep tabs on us. And part due to the reality that if I’d do those things and got caught (which was highly likely in our small suburb in a time when parents teamed up and let the village raise us)…well…my mom would cry more.

I was an angry young man. Yeah. I’ll just be angry, too. And fend it off with music or baseballs, or a combination of music and baseballs once that tape-deck was installed.

And that anger was firmly directed at God. But, I never went through some dark night of the soul where I doubted his existence. Nope. His existence never was in question. My reality was that I understood that God’s plan involved me without a quarterback/guard/pitcher/hunter/fisher/dad.

So, I cut a deal with the God of the universe: Just stay on your side of that universe and I’ll stay on mine.

It seemed fair enough and worked very well until 1983.

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