Remember Dad this Father’s Day

It was June of 1964 and less than a year remained on my three-year enlistment in the United States Army.

My father had died unexpectedly, at age 48, nine months earlier and being so young and all, Father’s Day that June came and went without too much thought on my part.

Although, come to think of it, the memory of his death at such a young age was still something I thought about that day and every day for years to come.

These, and many other thoughts, came to me a few nights ago as I watched the conclusion of the concert at Buckingham Palace in London that signaled the end of a celebration of 60 years on the throne for Queen Elizabeth.

What prompted those thoughts as Father’s Day approaches was something that Prince Charles did when talking about his mother, the queen.

He exhorted the crowd to give three cheers for “Your Majesty – Mummy.”

“Hip, hip,” he said, and the monstrous throng responded with “Hooray.” He did it two more times and the crowd responded loudly each time.

What does that have to do with Father’s Day?

My father was a Lutheran minister and quite often, it seemed, he would close a gathering of sorts, either outdoors or in the church basement, by praising someone and asking for the “Hip, Hip, Hooray” acknowledgement.

I always wanted to crawl under the nearest bench, or slip around the corner, because I was embarrassed at that old-fashioned way of cheering for someone.

And here they were last week in London, more than 50 years later, doing the same thing.

Maybe the British are a bit staid, although I thought their celebration of the monarchy was heartwarming to watch. But what it brought home for me was that I shouldn’t have worried those five decades ago about how old-fashioned my father was.

It wasn’t many years after his death that I figured out I had been wrong. But I wish I had figured it out better while he was alive, and told him so.

Losing a father that early in my life, unexpectedly, while serving in the Army, was something that it took years and years to accept.

I felt cheated, and still do, but life does go on. And you realize, as many of us have, that most of the time your parents had your best interests at heart.

Oh, we had our moments. I didn’t do as well in school as I should have, I complained too often about chores I had to do, and I’m sure there were days and nights when he might have wondered how a son of his could behave the way he did.

But when I think of the things he did, and the support I got, it becomes even more clear that he thought he was sending me down the right path.

I attended a Lutheran high school 120 miles away and a few times each winter, once in a blizzard, he drove our large family all the way to Mankato to watch me play basketball and then drove home that night. That’s commitment.

When I was only seven years old and hadn’t yet been bitten by the baseball bug that remains today, he virtually forced me to listen to the World Series, although he wasn’t a big baseball fan himself. Little did he know what he started back in 1949.

He and my mother, who outlived him by 47 years, gave us a love of music that remains today. I remember once, on a steamy summer night, walking the two blocks to church and hearing him playing the pipe organ. I stood outside and listened, amazed at his ability.

I had to cut the grass at that church, and at the church near Santiago in rural Princeton after we moved, and I didn’t want to do that. He insisted and I got used to mowing the church lawn, the cemetery and the parsonage lawn in one fell swoop.

He knew the wheel base of every new car each fall, he was an expert on tractors, and he could drive a team of horses. I tried to learn about cars but wasn’t interested. He never criticized me for that.

Unlike many of my fellow PKs (pastor’s kids), he never put the pressure on to become a minister. He asked a couple times and then let it go.

A few years ago, after my mother died and I was looking through some old letters, I came across one I had written from Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1962. It was addressed to my parents and in it I called them the best parents anyone could have.

There I was, finally coming to my senses, and a few months later my father died.

I wish, as many of you no doubt have, that I had said more. But that letter provided a small amount of comfort.

I’ll think about him on this Father’s Day, as will many of you about your fathers, and be thankful that he cared as much as he did.

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