Note: I originally posted this article for Fathers Day 2014. I am reposting it here as the (probable) endcap on my series on Peacemaking and Becoming People of Peace. (I say “probable,” as I don’t have other posts planned for this series, but then again, I’ve also learned to be careful about saying “never”!) This post has not been edited, other than to add this opening note and the series name to the title.
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Some things about your parents you just know because you’re there. Other things you figure out, whether early on in family life or later. And some things you may not even find out til some surprises come to light. And one of the things I’ve come to understand better over the years is that my Dad was a “person of peace” …
My Dad was the last of 11 children in a family that ran a coal min. (He’d sometimes joke about his being the shortest of the eight boys because by the time food got around to him at the table, there wasn’t much left.) He and all his brothers were boxers, and Dad ended up the state Golden Glove boxer in his weight category, and in the top three in the nation. We all knew that. We had the pictures, his boxing practice bag hung in the garage, the trophies were in the basement. He also probably had PTSD – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – from things that happened during World War II and the Korean Conflict, but that’s another story for another time.
Somewhere in the last decade or so, I figured out that my parents showed a lot of the characteristic behaviors of what the Bible calls “people of peace.” They have a lot of connections in the community, and tend to be very hospitable to anyone and everyone – but also have a strong streak of justice and don’t like to see people get messed with.
For instance, the small town we lived in had a Hutterite colony nearby. These self-sufficient colonies raised crops and animals, made their own clothes from bolts of blacks and patterns, and trained their children in trades and crafts geared for a communal agrarian life. They were different – their language, their culture, their clothes. Yet when they came to town, I saw my Dad always treat them exactly the same as he treated anyone else shopping at the Rexall Drug Store. He looked them right in the eyes, and never wore any kind of disapproving expression.
“Big Jake” and some of the older men from the colony were good buddies of his as much as any guys in town. He’d take time out from tasks at the store to joke with them and exchange anecdotes. Once in a while, they’d drop by the house to leave something for Dad. And a few times, Dad took my brother and me out to the colony for a visit with his friends, and to buy maybe a goose or vegetables or something else from them. I don’t know that very many other kids in town ever went out there, other than just passing by on their way somewhere else.
Even as a kid I could see that how my Dad treated the Hutterites was not exactly the norm. And though I noticed the positive difference, I didn’t really understand the significance so much until 1964. That summer, floods covered a lot of the region. Our house happened to be situated where we caught a lot of damage. Our full basement got completely flooded, with a deep layer of mud in it. But a bunch of the men from the colony came over and helped my dad clear it all out. I don’t know if he hired these men, or they just came to help out as friends. But I do remember hearing that our house was one of the very first places in town where they came to help people.
Our lives are shaped by series of these kinds of events, and “character snapshots” that they imprint on our memories. I have many such memories of how my parents connected with others as people of peace, and I continue to realize the important imprint they’ve left in me. In a way, my life revolves around becoming that kind of person of peace, regardless of whether the community I find myself in is physical or virtual. But that also is another story.
Meanwhile, as an adult, I’ve also been told stories about my parents that I never heard them tell themselves. It’s intriguing that these newly excavated anecdotes show the consistency in their character …
One had to do with my Dad from when he worked a second job as a deputy sheriff in the 1960s. He worked mostly the evening/night shift and on weekends. The sheriff’s station was right off the main road near the court house, sort of at the crossroads of everything in our little town. I vaguely knew that people dropped by the office to chat with the deputies. I didn’t know this specific story until years later.
My Mom happened to be visiting our hometown a few decades after we’d moved out of state, and was at the Log Cabin Drive-In having dinner Up came a 30/40-ish man who said something like, “I don’t know if you remember me, I’m ——. When I was in high school and college, I was getting into all kinds of trouble. But I kept dropping by the sheriff’s station and your husband would talk with me, help me sort things out. I think his talking to me at the jail kept me from ending up in jail.”
Other stories like that came to light over the years. A co-worker whom he helped by taking over some horrible job without complaining. Some then-young person he gave advice to that made a difference in their life. People who missed him because of how much he entertained them and made them laugh during a hard time in their life.
I know my Dad was far from perfect. Still, there’s been much worth cultivating by recognizing the many good character qualities he had. It’s made an ongoing difference in my life, too.