Friday, April 24, 2009

A Son-in-Law's Appreciation

My first contact with Evan was through a phone conversation we had the winter of 1980, when I called him to announce my intention to marry his daughter. That conversation remains clear in my mind, mostly for the disconcerting quiet that followed my announcement. I let a few seconds tick away, hoping he would offer me his blessing, but he said nothing. Meanwhile, a dozen thoughts tumbled in my head, among them:

  • Maybe he doesn’t even know who I am.
  • Maybe he's heard of me and thinks I’m an idiot.

Desperate to make a good impression, I commenced to prattle about my plans for the future—how I intended to go to business school and work diligently to provide a good life for his daughter. I waxed on and on. Still he said nothing and the silence was like a fart in an elevator: suffocating and uncomfortable. Expecting the worst, I finally asked him outright: “How do you feel about all this?”

That’s when I heard the sniffles and jagged breathing that must have been there all along. With a pinched voice that couldn’t hide the emotion behind it, he answered: “I always hoped my girls would marry good guys.” Hallelujah, I thought, but in the next instant Evan gathered his composure and drew a line in the sand in a way that we laughed about in the years to come: “But if you ever hurt my girl,” he said, “I will hunt you down and beat the hell out of you.”

Despite that inauspicious start, I would learn to think of Evan as the second-best reason I married Lori. In fact, on more than one occasion I was so moved by his fierce loyalty to family and everything decent that I would tell him: I married your daughter so I could be your son-in-law. There were so many reasons to feel that way.

At one time, Evan was a regional representative for his church, a role that made him responsible for the spiritual welfare of many thousands of people. In that role he was asked to speak on the topic of leadership at BYU Hawaii. Standing before a roomful of students, he began his address by asking a question: “What’s the most important prerequisite to being a leader?”

Immediately hands went up and several young people offered opinions. One of them said humility was the most important attribute for a leader. Another said it was spirituality. Someone else said it was wisdom. After each reply Evan nodded, but said there was another—more obvious—answer. In the end, he responded to his own question by saying the following: “The most important prerequisite to being a leader is BEING IN THE LEAD!”

And that’s Evan in a nutshell: He was first to begin a group task and the last to put a broom away once the work was done. Yet, it’s what put him in the lead that makes his life so compelling. After Lori and I were married, we received numerous congratulatory cards from friends in Hawaii. Evan sat with us as we opened the envelopes and he offered details about the life of each and every sender. He spoke of their aspirations and achievements, and so much pride was in his voice, a casual listener might have assumed he was talking about his own accomplishments. Suddenly, from one of the cards, a five dollar bill slipped out and Evan got misty-eyed. The money, he said, had come from a widow who lived on a fixed income and couldn’t afford the gift without cutting something important out of her budget. He wiped away a tear and said in a resolute way, “I’ll make it up to her.” Now, I don’t know what he did—whether it was to buy her a sack of groceries, or perform some chore she would have had to pay a handyman for—but I have no doubt that in some quiet way he did make it up to her.

I also have little doubt that we will see him again. Noble men like Evan are bigger than death. In a way, he’s only graduated to something far grander. I look forward to walking good dogs along oak-lined trails with him once more. I look forward to hearing more of his stories and laughing with him again. I look forward to speaking the words of thanks I didn’t express in time: Thank you, Dad, for the example of love and loyalty you exemplified with your every deed and spoken thought.

And I love you tons.

1 comment:

Emi said...

I love this! Made me laugh, made me cry.:)