Earlier this week, my wife noted that she’s never heard my dad say anything bad about another person–and she’s known him for over 22 years. I’ve known him twice that long, and I barely remember him getting mad at anyone, much less saying anything nasty.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have strong ideas and a deep sense of right and wrong, or that he doesn’t play to win. On the contrary, dad is well read, a man of profound faith, and still plays golf and softball competitively at almost 81.
Despite the tolls time takes, he’s strong intellectually, morally, and even physically. He just doesn’t show it off very often. And he never uses his own strength to put other people down.
Just the opposite: whenever he can, dad uses whatever strengths he has to help–with his mind, his emotions, or his muscles. Rather than quickly spouting advice (like his youngest son!), dad listens. Rather than wagging a moralizing finger, he extends a helping hand.
And that’s how he’s always been. Each Sunday when I was a child, dad volunteered as a deacon, a treasurer, and/or a Sunday school teacher at our church. Most Saturdays, he pitched in as a furniture deliverer for the local shelter, a can-sorter at the local food pantry, and/or an unpaid cabbie for people who couldn’t otherwise get to the doctor. And that’s not to mention serving as a timer at our swim meets, a chaperone on our scout trips, and basically anything else we needed to enable our endless activities.
It never really dawned on me then that all of that was in addition to working a full-time job, helping to run a household, and being an involved father who showed up for every soccer game, piano recital, and even woodblock solo. (Seriously, I had a 20-second woodblock solo in an 8th-grade band concert, and dad showed up to hear it.)
When I was a teen, I used to tease dad about dozing off at night while reading in the easy chair in our living room. But in hindsight it’s a miracle he ever read any words at all. He worked, fathered, volunteered, and only then found time to read. And he did it day after day, year after year, without complaint.
Too often in our culture, we equate a man’s strength with his ability to impose his will on others, which really comes down to his ability to cause or threaten harm. That’s a bully’s definition of strength. We ought to equate a man’s strength with his ability and willingness to help. After all, the strength that really matters is the sort that makes others stronger. And it often looks like kindness and gentleness and patience.
That’s my father’s sort of strength. It’s quiet, unassuming, and solid as a rock. Exactly the sort of thing you want to build a life upon. I’m eternally grateful that my dad has shared his strength with me for all my years. And I hope he won’t mind that I’ve shared his secret here.