Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A father's wisdom

For about the past year or so I have been mourning once more the loss of my father who died of a heart attack at the age of 46 when I was nineteen. I missed not having him at my ordination, at my wedding, and at the birth of my children. Recently it has felt more acute. I don't know if it is because I have begun to work again or what. All I do know is that every now and then small waves of grief wash over me and I just need to feel his loss.

Perhaps it is because my mother is getting older that I now grieve the loss of my father's senior years. He would have had his 71st birthday this year. I long for the wisdom he might have shared with me. I mourn the loss of just being able to talk with him about how ministry is indeed a good way for me to live my life and to give of myself to others. I guess I could imagine what he would say to me, and there are times that my imagination can be very healing. But I really didn't know my father well enough to imagine what he might have said. So I miss what he might have actually said to me, about his daughter serving as a pastor.

My father was also a UCC minister, but it was not a joyful or fulfilling ministry for him. He was an alcoholic. He began his ministry serving in the Air Force as a chaplain, first here in the U.S., then in the Philippines during the Vietnam War. He was given a medical discharge because his alcoholism was so severe. After some time in a VA hospital, he then served as Minister of Christian Education at a UCC church in Massachusetts. He was asked to leave that position because of his drinking. My father then sobered up and not long afterward began counseling others with addictions and other crisis situations.

However, he was still smoking. The counseling took a toll on his already worn-out body and psyche, and he went on permanent disability around the age of 40. He moved to the mountains of North Carolina with my stepmother and her three children to be a 'gentleman farmer'. But congestive heart failure had already set in--it was just a matter of time.

So, at the age of fifteen, when I told him that I was thinking about becoming a minister, he replied, half tongue in cheek, "Why would you want to ruin your life?" So you can see how I might be curious as to what he would think now about what I am doing. I can imagine he would be proud of me, that he would see the sense of it. But I wish I could know how living another 24 years, in relationship with his daughter, would have influenced his opinion. And that is what I grieve.


Andy said...

Its the unanswered questions that haunt us, isn't it?

I would like to think that your father would look at the life you have created within ministry and be proud of the fact that you were able to do what he could not - find peace and solace there and share it with others.

The child surpassing the parent; isn't this what we all hope for?

Cynthia said...

Yes, indeed, my friend.

That is my hope. Thank you, Andy.

It takes a certain amount of humility and desire as parents to allow that to happen. I have to want that for my children but also be willing to admit where I went wrong as well.

Jan said...

Like Andy wrote, I remember that Scott Peck said that healthy children surpass their parents and that this continues to occur as time goes by. That's what I hope for.

I think your father would be pleased with you. He is.