No effort is required to picture the love between my parents. The pictures and scenes were constant companions as I grew into manhood. And continue still. Hands held, kisses given, kind words and the acts to back them up were plentiful.
An example. Christmas mornings were genuine magic in the life of my family. But the presents are not the memories I return to. (Though I remember handing out packages from my dad to my mom with tags saying “To my lover.” I wasn’t ever grossed out. Par for the course.)
After the presents were opened, every year my mom would invariably tell my dad he had done too much. Then he would take his hand, scratch at the white stubble on his chin, grin, look around and get up before saying something was missing. Mom would feign surprise. He would hand it to her and she would place it in the lap of her robe. Now her hands are moving slowly to carefully open the package. Her eyes get misty. She then throws her head back with a gasp. Looks longingly at my dad and then puts her hands to her face – one on each cheek. Almost always it was something she pointed out six months earlier, he had remembered and she had forgotten. Dad Just sits there and smirks enjoying her being loved.
As a young man still trying to fit into the clothes of manhood, all these scenes became focused like a laser on my dad. Watching his ways with mom. Taking them in as some kind of relational vitamin hoping for the very health I beheld.
I have no memory of my father being unkind to my mother. I’ve flipped back through the tattered pages of memory and have come up empty. Nothing is there. This is probably hard for some to believe. And I’ve navigated the rough seas of this culture enough to doubt my memory. Surely, he would laugh at such an idea. No question, my dad is not perfect. At some point in the long line of points they have shared, he most likely was unkind to my mom. But is it not amazing, I remember nothing? The tenor of their relationship has the consistent ring of kindness throughout.
What really struck me early on was how much they liked to be together. By the time I was old enough to notice, they were on into their fifties. And they wanted to go places without me. Just them. They still dated and went on vacations to the beach without the kids. They sat close always angling to be with the other. This lovingkindness has never waned. They still love to be together.
Whatever failures of mine as a man towards my own wife can be traced to my ignoring my father’s example. Whatever kindness, any goodness and dignifying treatment I’ve shown can be traced with a straight line back into their love story.
Thankfully, a story still being written. And still being read.
Father’s Day is coming up.
He is one reason I write…why I cannot help myself. His poems are legendary for being part of our family gatherings. He used poetry to celebrate people and memories and times and places. And while not Donne or Hopkins, Dickinson or Whitman, they are made of fireside warmth and irresistible smiles. The way a Hobbit would have done song. You just won’t catch him with a pipe or pint.
My parents were always glad to read my painful poems. And buy me books and encourage me to read. They never questioned me and made me embarrassed about all the poetry I would read and write as a teenager. Their love for me has always taken the form of encouragement and the structure of praise. Even though I threatened to fail my classes and be a raving success at day-dreaming.
So these posts are for my Dad. I ask you to bear with me for the next month as I tell a few stories and give you a glimpse into the goodness of Robert D. Redmond. Dad to me
Sometimes it takes years of reading to see the words. Even though the story is familiar and I’ve read the book, it was very moving to see this a couple of days ago.
In the middle of preparation for a Bible Study I usually do not teach, I noticed these words for the first time. Think about it. The son has wished his father dead by asking for his inheritance early, taken off with it and spent it on prostitutes. We can only assume he was not buying them dinner and a cup of coffee. He then runs out of money and finds himself in the midst of pigs – the definitive symbol for being unclean, inside and out, for a Jew. So he decides he would be better off as a servant of his father than in such a shameful position. With humility he heads back and his father sees him coming from a long way off (not insignificant in and of itself). And the father felt compassion for him.
You don’t feel compassion for people who are not hurting. Compassion is reserved for the hurting. You don’t feel compassion for someone with a new car. You feel compassion for those who just wrecked their car. Actually you are not as likely to feel compassion for them if they wrecked their car because they were drinking. The hurt has to be through no fault of their own.
To have compassion is to come alongside the hurting and hurt because of their hurt. The father feels compassion for the pain of the son – the son who wished him dead and squandered his money on prostitutes and now comes back to where he should have been glad to stay.
Phillip Yancey once wrote that we live in a world of “un-grace.” That statement has stuck with me for over a decade. It’s true. I’m a parent and the compassion of this father is still shocking to me. Heroic but shocking. The compassion of the Father for sinners who are hurting as a result of their sin is a shot across the bow of this world and all it’s un-grace.