My dad died in October 1997, just a month before his 83rd birthday, but the legacy he left still enriches my life every day.
After I married and wasn’t with him all the time, I wondered just when did his hair get completely white and when did his walk slow. Some things never changed — the twinkle in his eye and his always welcomed, nonjudgmental wisdom.
To other people, he was a preacher, carpenter, furniture building and farmer, but he was my teacher, my friend — my father. He taught me many things as I grew up in the rural area outside High Point, N.C.
Since I was the only child, I was both son and daughter, and being on the rooftop driving nails along with Daddy was just natural. It was also natural to tag along when he went to the blacksmith shop. Sitting somewhere out of the way on a piece of scrap iron, I drank in the wonderful smells of greasy dirt and the exciting sounds of iron, cool moist air and sizzling hot coals.
On summer evenings, we’d lie in the front yard looking up at clouds as they teased us by changing shapes as we competed in naming the identities they took on. In the fall, we tramped through the woods kicking the fallen leaves as I would run laughing trying to match his long stride.
When he applied for work as a carpenter, he went to a local contractor. “What can you do?” asked the foreman.
“I can saw a board in two, bore a hole and stick my finger though it,” Dad answered. He got the job and went on to be a finish carpenter who could handle any building job. It was he who taught me the fun of building and how to draw my own plans.
I remember when he bought his first car — a 1929 Dodge with a tar roof. He couldn’t drive, but he went to get a license so he could drive to work. When they offered him a learner’s permit instead, he simply said, “I don’t have time to learn, and no one to teach me.” He got his license and began driving to work the next day.
But he taught me to drive. Trips to church through the country were the usual times for driving lessons in his next car, a 1939 Dodge. On my 16th birthday, he took me to take my driver’s test. He had never taken one and never had a ticket.
But he did run a stop sign‚ hidden behind a tree — in Los Angeles once. The police pulled him over and told him how many cows were in the county. Finally, Dad looked at him and said, “I know you didn’t stop me to tell me how many cows are in Los Angeles. What did I do?”
The answer was, “You ran a stop sign back there, and I just wanted to tell you if you were going to stay out here, to learn to drive a little better.”
The most important things Dad taught me, however, were intangible. He taught me to love God and with that, how to pray and how to live. He stressed family loyalty and was my example in patience and unselfishness. He showed me how to look for good things, but to also be thankful for things not so good.
He gave me confidence to be anything I wanted to in life and to always make it my best. He encouraged me to enjoy life and be happy, but not to marry until I found somebody I loved more than Mama and Daddy. He taught me it was better to love than to hate and everyone deserved respect.
‘His love for God and people was proved when, during our years of evangelistic work, he sold light bulbs from house to house to pay our travel expenses. And in the dead cold of winter, he worked at a sawmill to get a mission started in a little Pennsylvania town.
It was there one day that the town drunk staggered by the little church house. My dad asked how he was doing and he said his feet hurt. Dad asked him to sit down, then took off the man’s shoes and saw his toenails had grown out and under — the man could hardly walk. He couldn’t get to his feet, he said, to cut his nails or to even wash his feet. Dad walked with him to his room over one of the town’s two bars, prepared a pan of warm water, washed the man’s feet and cut his toenails.
That was my dad. There was no task — however unpleasant — he would not do out of love for his God. He was serious about the Lord’s commandment: “Love the Lord God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.”