My dad: Superhero. Many little kids think their dad is a superhero. They want to be like him and they copy what he does and what he says. Then the kid grows up and often the flaws they see in their dad outweigh that early superhero status.
Not my dad. Oh, he wasn’t perfect, but he loved me unconditionally, he was smart and funny and happy and caring and committed to his personal values and to telling other people that God was real and Jesus loves us all. He was competent at so many things: he’d been a master plumber, airplane mechanic and tested rocket fuels. I’d seen him repair cars, build church buildings, build a brick fence, fix plumbing problems, handle electrical breakdowns, repair the roof, transplant trees, maintain tomato plants and harvest fruit from all the fruit trees in the yard of the Pomona house and help Mother do the canning. He was the one who got everything stored in the freezer. In the garage there are four different type ladders and he used them all for various tasks. There’s an entire network of shelving in the rafters of the garage and he knew what each box held and what was stored up there in the boxes we could and couldn’t see. His handiwork is all over this old house.
This house ran so smoothly under his care that it seemed a simple thing to me to tell him that I would be here to see that Mother was ok and could stay in her home after he was gone. In about three months’ time he’d gone from busy and capable, a sharp thinking and productive 88 year old, to thin and weak and desperately tired from the ravages of liver cancer. He sat in his recliner watching me one day as I struggled to flip the queen size mattress on his and Mother’s bed and then put on fresh sheets. I probably wouldn’t have even thought of flipping the mattress but Daddy had done that twice a month and kept it marked on the schedule of his Daytimer for at least the last twenty years. That must explain why that mattress is still uniformly even. I left the bedroom and walked across the living room to where he sat.
“How are you doing, Daddy?” I laid my hand on his shoulder.
“I’m tired.” He said. “I want to go home to God.”
My eyes full of unshed tears, I said, “Then maybe you should go, Daddy.”
“Your Mother’s not ready.” He spoke softly, his eyes closed, his head back on the headrest.
“I’ll be here Daddy.” I said. “She won’t be alone.”
He nodded, almost imperceptibly.
Easy promises made out of my need to reassure him. He was the rock of our family and of my life but it was clear he wasn’t going to beat this. He was going, and soon, to the place without pain, without suffering. I wouldn’t let him down. I’d pick up the load he’d carried here and he could go without concern.
In the nearly four years since that day, Mother and I have continued on. This old house has needed a new breaker in the electrical box, new fuses (with regularity), the dishwasher died, the freezer died, the garage door got so bent out of shape it no longer worked, the garage was burgled and all Daddy’s tools were stolen, the shower stall and the toilet in Daddy’s bathroom both leaked and were starting to destroy the floor, the rain came in through the old roof, the lawn and gardens and trees needed care, much of which I wasn’t strong enough to provide, Daddy’s car had to be sold and mine was so old more money for repairs made no sense, the nearly thirty year old forced heat/air unit kept breaking down, the cooking range took a sabbatical then miraculously worked again, the ceiling heater in the back bathroom died, the kitchen desperately needed painting, the bedroom-cum-storage room where I sleep needed an overhaul and the thirty-plus-year old red carpeting in the main rooms had to go and the underlying hardwoods needed work.
I’ve kept the promise I made to him. Through all the minutia of maintaining a house, through all the times Mother has driven me crazy and in the times of fun and laughter we’ve had together as I learn to accept that she will never have his optimism or his joy for life. They say opposites attract and they were truly opposites. Daddy loved her and I try to do the same. She dreams of Daddy every night she says. I look around me and see him in every detail of this old house and in the legacy of God’s love he passed on to his family. He lived by God’s grace and by God’s grace I’ll be the best I can be, my heart looking forward to the day I’ll see my Daddy again.