Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dad's Shoes

On behalf of Mom and our family, I’d like to thank you all for coming to honor Dad and to show your support. Needless to say, we’ve gone through a difficult time ever since Dad was hospitalized last fall, and especially during the last few weeks after he was diagnosed with cancer. Although we sometimes feel like we were robbed of time with him, we’re thankful that he didn’t suffer more than he did.

Rather than dwell on that, however, I’d like to reflect back on the many lessons I learned from the man whose life we‘ve come to celebrate.
Dad was a hard worker and he was meticulous in everything he did. One image of childhood that I remember clearly is of him standing behind an old surveying instrument as he surveyed a vacant piece of land. I--the oldest of his children--had the pleasure of holding a long stick upright and moving a pointer up and down until he told me where to stop. Another memory--and this is probably why I used to wish for an older brother--was of me on the apex of the guest cottage, holding the top end of the roof facing. Dad kept yelling at me to hold it while he nailed. I tried my best, but I‘m not sure the board was ever still enough for him. Another time when I had to use all my strength, was the day Dad--who was Branch President then--decided to put up several boards in the church’s hallway to show all the home teaching assignments. They were accompanied by tags that were red on one side and white on the other. Red meant home teaching hadn‘t been performed yet, while white meant the task was done. Well, someone had to help Dad attach those heavy particle boards to the wall and it became my great joy to do so. They were so heavy that, while Dad drilled and tightened the screws, I wondered if I would pass out.

Dad was a strong leader and I’m sure he’s already been assigned some position beyond the veil. Throughout my teenage years, he was a stake president. Then later, as a regional representative, he was asked to speak on the topic of leadership at a student gathering at BYU Hawaii. Standing before a roomful of young adults, he began by asking this question: What’s the most important prerequisite to being a leader?”

Immediately hands went up and several students offered opinions. One of them said prayerfulness was the most important attribute for a leader. Another said it was knowledge of the scriptures. Someone else said it was a relationship with God. After each reply my father nodded, but said was looking for another answer.

After several minutes he finally responded to his own question. “The most important prerequisite to being a leader, is…BEING IN THE LEAD.” I can honestly say that regarding his service to the church my father was always in the lead. Not that he was constantly barking out orders or handing down judgments. Instead, he led by being the first to his meetings and staying past the benediction to stack the last chair.

He was, in my opinion, an example of what Christ spoke of in Matthew 20:26-27.

Whosover will be great among you, let him be your minister: And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.

After Alan and I were married, we received numerous congratulatory cards from friends in Hawaii. My father sat with us as we opened each envelope and offered details about the life of each sender. He spoke of the people’s aspirations and achievements. So much pride was in his voice, a casual listener might have assumed he was talking about his own accomplishments. It was evident that he not only knew, but deeply loved the people he served. Then, from one of the cards, a five dollar bill slipped out and Dad 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. That’s when 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, but I have no doubt that in some quiet way he did make it up to her.

Our Dad was compassionate and believed everyone was important. Those who knew him well, knew that he was opinionated (a trait that my sons and I inherited). And although Dad and I often disagreed on issues, I couldn‘t help but appreciate his love and empathy for others. As the leader of a ward or stake, he did all he could to be in the chapel as members arrived. He wanted to greet them with a handshake and ask how they were. Dad especially sought out those who migrated toward the back of meeting areas. Dad never judged. He always tried to understand our problems. And he was forgiving.

Don’t get me wrong: He certainly believed in corporal punishment--there‘s no question about that. Once I was caught cutting classes for what I thought was a good reason. It was at the end of the school year and a couple of us wanted to gather flowers for a seminary graduation that was scheduled for the following night. I was busted because Dad was home with a broken toe when the school called to ask where I was.

To make a long story short, I received a message that I was to wait at the Stake Center and that Dad was coming to get me. I knew enough about his punishments to be terrified. But I got a little giggly when I remembered that he had a broken toe and wouldn’t be able to kick my hind end at least. In the end the punishment was worse than I‘d thought possible: He grounded me from Youth Conference, which I’d really been looking forward to. So I begged and pleaded for forgiveness, but Mom told be to back off. Eventually Dad gave in and let me go, as long as I entertained Elder Groberg’s two daughters who were going to be there. We had a blast, but I guess you can say it’s an example of how Dad spared the rod and spoiled the child.

Dad taught us the importance of family. Recently I was reading a journal I kept as a girl and came across this entry:

While Mom, Annette and I were living in my grandmother’s cottage, Dad was still in Japan finishing the building of a church. We all missed him terribly. I had no idea when he’d be coming so I just waited patiently. One day, after returning home from school, I saw my father’s shoes on the porch. I was so excited. Mom was trying to trick me by saying that he only sent some of his clothes home and he didn’t come yet. I wouldn’t believe her for one minute and I went ahead into her bedroom. Well, there was Dad. I was so happy to seem him, I cried. Even now as I write of this experience, tears still fill my eyes.

We love our family. We love hearing the stories of the past and going to Fairview where dad grew up. We love that Dad was our dad and we miss him terribly, but we also know that there’ll be a time when we‘ll see his shoes on our porch again. On that wonderful day, we’ll hold him close and let tears of joy mark the reunion.

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