A Gift From My Father

The one time my dad came to visit for a week, my family was living crowded into a small condominium.  For five days dad worked like a crazy person:  he tacked down the carpet, replaced the sliding back door, stopped the leak in the kitchen sink, and repaired the drippy bathroom faucet.  He even fixed the cuckoo clock so that the bird would come out and cuckoo again.  Then he turned to my car.  He spiffed it up and got it ready to sell. 

On the sixth day there were no jobs left to do, so we talked.  My family had just lost our home in a fire.  We had been away and were not able to save anything.  I felt desolate, lost, confused. 

My dad took my hand in his big calloused ones.  “I understand,” he said.  For the first time, he told me about a fire that had destroyed his family’s home when he was eleven years old.  He had worked and saved to buy the one thing he wanted most in the world–a 12-string guitar.  He’d only had it two weeks before it burned in the house.  He didn’t get another one until I was grown. 

“My collection of stuffed lambs,” I said through my tears.  “They are all gone!”  Such a silly thing.  I knew it even at the time.  But it hurt, and it felt good to say so.

Dad nodded.  He had just been five-years-old, he told me, when his father and older brother had built that house.  Little boy dad had played in the wood frame, running  his toy truck up and down and in and out.  When his mother called him for lunch and a nap, he hid his truck in the two-by-fours.  But by the time he got back outside, the wall was up and his truck was sealed inside it.  “I begged my father to take the wall down so I could get my truck out, but of course he couldn’t,” Dad said.  “When the house burned six years later, I cried for that silly truck.”

We talked about fears and loss and disappointments. But that day Dad also told me about his faith in God, and of God’s faithfulness to him throughout his life. 

“But what about all the hard times?” I asked, because I knew for certain there had been plenty of those.

“We never went hungry,” Dad said.  “We always had a roof over our heads.  We were always together.  There are many people who cannot say that.”

As far back as I can remember, my father has been a doer who rolls up his sleeves and gets things done. (That’s still true, and dad is now 91 years old!)  I grew up watching him demonstrate his love through his work.  His example serves me well.  But that day, sitting together at the kitchen table in the rented condominium, my father taught me something else:  Sometimes the best way to convey a meaningful lesson is to openly share yourself.

Thank you, Dad.  Happy Father’s Day.

“He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” 

Clarence Budington Kelland


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