My beloved daddy has gone into hospice care, which may mean anything or nothing. His health is declining rapidly since a recent bout of pneumonia, however, and I am praying that he will still know me in early May. This is a meditation set off by a comment my brother made the other day when we were talking about the wonder of our parents' 67 years of marriage and profound love.
Set Down in a Miracle
The essential trait of Daddy’s life is his ever-consistent love, all of it founded in his love for his Lord. Love of country led him to sacrifice his hearing in the cockpits of transport planes in World War II and spend his intended wedding day in a Brazilian jungle where he’d had to make an emergency landing. Love of community drew him into the devastation of Waco, Texas, after a tornado strike to search for survivors and to remove bodies from the rubble. Love of his church placed him on boards and committees and sent him to a sister church in Mexico to teach horticultural techniques and help with construction work.
But the heart of his love has always been family. He met the love of his life in college, and his love for her has only grown stronger and deeper in the 68 years since. Mike and I both recall very vividly learning at quite young ages that the one thing Daddy would never tolerate was sassing our mother. The only spankings my own children ever received from him sprang from the same source: “I’ll put up with a lot,” was the message, “but don’t sass my wife.”
Theirs was a match made in heaven, and I don’t say that as a cliché. No doubt there were occasional tensions we knew nothing of, and growth in those first years that all couples must experience, but mostly we saw two people who desired above all else to serve each other, not to be served. Daddy was perhaps rare among men in his generation in his willing help with child care, including diapers and drool. Each has said of the other so many times, meaning it fully, “What would I do without him, without her?”
Mike and I grew up bathed in this love. For years, of course, we were mainly aware of its benefits to us, of how we ourselves were loved. Daddy teased us, taught us, disciplined us, encouraged us, made us laugh. He and Mike hunted and fished and canoed and fixed cars and built a house. For me, his introverted and bookish child, Daddy listened with seriousness, gave me a horse and riding lessons, a correspondence course in writing, a college education with a trip to Spain thrown in, and simply showed me every day that I had a protector and advocate. I felt safe, always, no matter where I was. My gravest fear was to disappoint him.
But when we grew up, Mike and I began to realize that the reason Daddy loved us as he did, showed his love so richly, was because he loved our mother first. She truly has been the heart of our home, because she is the heart of Daddy’s love. He loves her so much that his love for her could do nothing but flow over to the children given them as a result of their love.
Because he has always put Mother first, we learned to respect as well as love her, our love enriched by being not merely sentimental. Because he has loved Mother first, we have seen sacrificial, unconditional love every day. And Mother’s return of that same sacrificial love, putting Daddy first, serving and loving him and therefore serving and loving us, the children of their love, strengthened the lesson into a compelling picture of how we should then live.
Mike and I were talking about all this on his recent birthday. Sixty-seven years of love lived out so beautifully, without regrets or acrimony of any sort, giving and giving to each other and all around them – a miracle, surely. So I said, “We’ve had the privilege of seeing that” – but Mike corrected me. “No,” he said, “We were set down right in the heart of it” – set down in a miracle that has sustained us all our lives, even in those moments – or years – when we’ve rejected or disbelieved its lessons for ourselves, always drawing us back and reminding us: love is real.
Daddy will be leaving this earth in the next months, but his love will never leave. It will live on in his family, from his beloved wife to his twenty great-grandchildren, who will know his love through their parents, the children of his children, whom he has also loved. Love is never lost, and I am eternally grateful to have been set down in the miracle of its reality for all of my life.