On June 3, my world got turned upside down. At around 6pm I got a call from my sister’s phone. When I answered, it was my brother-in-law and I knew instantly something terrible had happened. It turns out that my dad had an accident of the farm and passed away.
The last 6 days can be summarized with one simple phrase: “I don’t know.”
“How are you doing?”
“I don’t know”
“When are you going down to his house?”
“I don’t know”
“What happened on the farm?”
“I don’t know”
“What should we be doing?”
“I don’t know”
So many questions are met with that. Maybe not verbally, but that has been my first thought so many times.
My dad and I were close, but like so many things around him, it was kind of mysterious. Or it might not have been blatantly obvious from the outside. For example, I never once fished with my dad. The last ball game we went to together was before I could drive…probably 8th or 9th grade.
In fact, the last baseball game we went to would have been a Royals game around 1990 or 1991. He bought a pair of shoes and they gave him 2 tickets. It was on the upper upper deck on the 1st base line. The ballpark was far from full. He brought a book to read. To some people that’s weird. Ok, to most people that’s weird. And it was odd to me at the time. But years later I realized how loving it was. He was never a big sports person, but his son was, so he made sure that he took me to a game when he had the chance.
There was another time, my senior year of high school, we had to write a biography of sorts of someone in our family. So I interviewed my dad. When I was a little kid I remember his mom telling me about the science fairs that he and my uncle did and how they always did good at them. So I asked my dad “Why did you get a degree in electrical engineering?”
I was expecting an answer about how he liked building things, or how he did so good in science. That’s not the answer I got. Instead what he told me was “I knew that engineering was the best way to make good money with a 4 year degree.”
I was pretty disappointed. It sounded, to me, like it was all about money. That my dad was only concerned about money. And it wasn’t just this answer. There was a lot of talk about money. He invested a lot of money. Talked about his investments etc. And at this point, he was starting to talk to me about college. I enjoyed science and computers and so I thought engineering would be for me (and it’s worked out pretty well so far.) And he kept talking about the salary.
It wasn’t until later that I realized that, like all of us, he was shaped by his up-bringing. He was poor. As in “sometimes didn’t have running water in the house in the 50s” poor. If I remember right, after he graduated college he sent money home to help make sure his brother got through college. He also went back to the farm almost every weekend to help out.
There was one time when I was in high school our family was talking about money and someone said “I know the value of a dollar.” And he said “No you don’t. You know the value of $10.” Someone else said they did and he said “No you know the value of $5.” He said that he was probably the only one in that room that ever knew the value of $1. Keep in mind, at this point, he was the director of engineering at a company and was doing very well for himself. But the burden of growing up still weighed on him.
Going back to his answer to my interview question. I think I had graduated college before I realized how absolutely loving that answer was. He got a degree so that he could provide for his family for the rest of his life. And that’s exactly what he did. He provided for my mom, sister and me, and after a divorce, he made sure to keep providing for my sister and me but also our new step-family. He has provided for his in-laws. My wife and my sister’s husband have always been treated equally and fairly and as part of the family. He started college funds for my kids and my niece. Even things on the farm were set up to provide for us now that he’s gone. That was all because he made a decision to get a job that would support his family.
There’s one more kind of “not what it seems” attribute of my dad. My dad was quiet. Very quiet. I’m 42 years old. I never once heard him yell. Not once. (Sadly, my kids can’t say the same thing…they’ve heard me yell more than they ever should have.) But he also didn’t speak a lot. He was smart, very smart. We could have very good conversations — our last conversation was about a book “Democracy in Chains” that he’d sent me a few years ago and I just read.
He was more of a worker than a talker.
One thing that comes from that is that things happened that you’d never know. He donated a lot of items to a nearby children’s home. I assume plenty of money as well. But that was almost a secret. He wasn’t one to brag about it. He did what was right and he did it with out fanfare.
Again, from the outside you might think he wasn’t engaged and involved. He was always thinking about the next thing to do. When I’d come to help him on the farm he’d have a list of things he’d want to get done. And every time, he’d add “just one more thing” before we could finish. You might think that he valued work over people.
But you couldn’t be more wrong.
He valued people immensely, and he showed it by his work. He worked to provide for those he loved. And even in non-financial situations he worked so that he could have time with his family. Us working together was how he showed his love for us.
And over the past few days, I’ve learned from several people that he had such a huge impact on their lives. The family that rented the house he grew up in, the salesman that he worked with, etc. They’ve all told me how much of an impact he had on them.
But from the outside, you might not see any of that.
But I can tell you that I’m 100% sure that he lived the way he did to glorify Christ with his life. It doesn’t always look like what you’d expect. He was never dancing in the aisles or waiving his hands. But Jesus meant a lot to him.
And I think about that now, as the tagline of this blog is “learning to glorify Christ in software engineering.” It might not look like people think. But it can make a true and genuine impact.