Yesterday, Father’s Day 2013, I gave you a store-bought card expressing this prayer for my father: that God would bless everything you do. Nowadays that is blowing your drippy nose, shooting the wadded tissue into the wastebasket (two points!), rotating your wrists to the beat of whatever music is playing in the Alzheimer’s wing, smiling during wheelchair exercise class, pawing through the contents of your nightstand drawers, and dozing outside the nurses’ station with your chin resting on your chest—and kissing your wife of 65 years.
Since Father’s Day 2012, God has blessed your jigsaw puzzle and limited conversational abilities and your ability to see beauty in the hallways and courtyards of the nursing home. “This is very beautiful,” you’d say as I wheeled you around. You used to have words to tell Mom she’s beautiful, too, though now you say it with your tired eyes perking up to smile in her direction. A year ago you rarely took your love-blazing eyes off Mom; yesterday you dozed a bit during your Father’s Day party, didn’t say much, and didn’t light up when Mom read your cards to you. Last year you read all your cards aloud to us.
This past year, God has gradually gathered more of you to Himself. I feel deep loss as the father I knew slips away from me. I don’t know when our heavenly Father will enfold you in His arms forever. But I know He has blessed us with your kind, cheerful, gentlemanly presence, even as your faculties have diminished. As your fading fatherhood retreats from me, God’s fatherhood comes more clearly into focus. That is yet another blessing.
I no longer have you to practice eye-hand coordination with me in the yard and on the tennis court, to help me with my homework, especially those doggone math story problems. But I notice myself more often seeing God’s fingerprints on my education—like putting 2 and 2 together (Aha!) as I study the bible or French or storytelling techniques, and giving me more opportunities to forgive, for example, when He’s teaching me relational skills. God’s fathering has been there all along, but I appreciate it more now, I think.
Dad, you won’t be there to hold my hand next time I’m scared. Remember when you came with me to sign my first mortgage? Sitting at that loan officer’s big mahogany desk, though I was nearly 30, I think I literally clung to your big hand. No, you can’t possibly remember that day—or your funny, perfect, housewarming gift. You bought me a whole set of apple-green plastic hangers to match my new condo’s unbelievably garish apple-green and mirror-silver wallpaper. Probably only God and I, and maybe Mom, remember those things. By now, I have signed more mortgages than you and Mom have, but other things still scare me: when I speak in public, or know I need to confront someone in love, or make a big decision. I take comfort in knowing my Father God has gone before me in everything; He has prepared my way, will hold my hand, and provide whatever courage and comfort I need. God surprises me with good gifts, too, just as you did.
One last word. My mind’s eye sees you running barefoot across the den to the tall wooden stand cradling your much explored unabridged dictionary. You loved words and wordplay. When I stood at the door, you’d invite me in, “Join us; we’ll come apart if you don’t.” After one of your explosive signature sneezes, you’d quip, “Long noses run in our family.” Though I’m not quick-witted enough to wear your punster shoes, I have inherited your word-loving legacy. That Alzheimer’s disease has stolen your words is a cruelty I can hardly bear. As I age and more often search in vain for words to complete sentences, I fear this same thief might have commandeered my brain. So as I thank God for you and pray His blessings on everything you do, my dear sweet father, I also pray that our Father of the fatherless will carry me into the future.
Psalm 68:5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.