Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, June 22, 2015

On Father's Day

Maybe his absence isn't as great a presence anytime as it is on Father's Day. Perhaps because he's no longer with us, he's more substantively here. Does that make sense? I can't speak for others, but I miss my father in the way in which we'd all miss lot lines and speed limits and paved roads--"Good fences make good neighbors." In that way. He is cut from a design I know as well as anything I can, a template, a role model that is and will be forever with me, his son. 

He was the soft opposite of tyrannical and never ever judgmental. I don't even remember moods. I'm sure it happened, but I have on file no single memory of him raising a hand against me, no hint of abuse. Everything he ever said to me was borne from love, I swear.

And yet, I wouldn't say we were ever close. I respected him for a selfless life of giving in every way he could--he gave himself to his wife, to his children, to his work, to his community. He was a model father; but he wasn't someone with whom I would have really loved to go fishing. He was a more a role model than a man of flesh and blood. 

He finished a novel for me once upon a time, a novel, really, about him. In the late 1980s, the manuscript had returned from a score of New York publishers with warm comments scribbled on rejections. I'd let it sit for years, a decade I think, until one summer, in Amsterdam, when it struck me that I was wrong about the whole story, way wrong. I was reading Phillip Yancey and Kathleen Norris on grace, when I suddenly understood that I was entirely wrong in direction in this novel of mine that had never sold; it wasn't about sadness and anger and grief, the story I was telling was all about grace.

I decided right then and there to can the last chapter. I can remember exactly where I was standing in that apartment in Amsterdam. What I had to do, I knew, was rewrite the whole novel again with a new direction, to end it with life instead of death. I didn't know how; that would be the necessary unknown to keep me vital. But the novel was about grace--that I knew.  

So that summer, I rewrote the whole manuscript, Romey's Place.

Most grandparents I know--including us--undertake trips to visit to see grandkids, not kids--and so it was for them, I think. They were visiting here, in Iowa, when I was trying to determine how and where exactly Romey's Place would end. We were in church one Sunday morning, and he was singing--we were singing--the old hymn "Blessed Assurance." What I will never forget, right then, is my own overwhelming conviction that what mattered most to him was the Lord God almighty. "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine;/Oh what a foretaste of glory divine." 

That was my father. I don't know, today, whether I can call him "dad." But that scene became the final scene of Romey's Place: I'm standing in church next to my father and he's singing "Blessed Assurance."

When he died, my sisters were at home before I could get there. Together with Mom, they'd planned his funeral, including the hymns we'd sing. There on the list--I had nothing to do with the decision--was "'Blessed Assurance" because, Mom insisted, he never had doubts. Never. She did. But he didn't.

Writing fiction well demands self-absorption that reaches as close as one can come to vital and real experience, so much that it's impossible for me to separate what actually happened that Sunday morning from the way I wrote it in the closing pages of Romey's Place. I didn't think I could communicate that fact to my sisters and my mother, but I told them that the one hymn I'd thought we'd have to sing was that "Blessed Assurance." I couldn't have been more pleased with their choice.

Today it's etched on his tombstone too--"BLESSED ASSURANCE! JESUS IS MINE." All caps. I had nothing to do with that. There it is, in granite, at a little country cemetery close to the lakeshore, a place only the families of those interred ever visit. 
This is my story
this is my song,
praising my Savior
all the day long.
This is my story
this is my song,
praising my Savior
all the day long.
He doesn't come around regularly, but I see him every once in a while. He doesn't talk to me much, doesn't say a word really, just finds a place around my desk here. I don't hear his council, even his voice. He never did lecture me. You shouldn't think of him as simply the good angel over my shoulder. If he is, that's the comic book version.

But he was here again yesterday, on Father's Day, in that same pose of silence, a quietly smiling presence I've come to expect. His presence is what counts, and he was here again on Sunday. I know he was. He will always be. 

And, truth be told, I'm really not much of a fisherman.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Happy Father's Day to you, great remembrance story. It brought tears to my eyes at the end as I too remembered my dad gone now 35 years ago. He too was of the silent type, very quiet, maybe a little had to do with early hearing loss. I like the ending with you thinking of his presence around your desk at times as you write, sometimes we need to be reminded of the spirit of loved ones around us, just can't see them, but we can feel their love still. Thanks