My dad didn’t have the advantage of an example of fatherhood from which to draw upon when he took on the role of father at my birth. His own father took off when Dad was four and Uncle Rod was three.
It was 1942, when the world was at war and when many boys’ fathers were being heroes in Europe or the Pacific. But Granddad had flat feet and couldn't enlist. Instead, he left his wife and sons for "reasons of incompatibility" at a time when husbands didn’t do that sort of thing, and when good wives didn’t get divorced and raise two boys on their own.
Granddad sent child support, but he didn’t show up again in person until Dad was 12, and then 18, and then long after I was born. So my father didn’t have much hands-on experience to draw upon when it came to demonstrating what a father-child relationship should or could look like.
But despite a lack of modeling, my dad did a few things very right: My mom and brother and I had a solid–though small–roof over our heads, and in the country no less, with horses and ducks and cows. We had clothes that passed as “cool-enough”, a color TV, and eventually two cars. And never did a bill collector come knocking. My dad’s own memories of bill collectors at the door have made him particularly adverse to debt of any kind. To this day, he pays cash. He carries a money clip–do they even make them anymore?–with a wad of hundreds, twenties, and tens neatly folded in the front pocket of his pants.
And on certain quiet evenings when I was a kid, with my childlike but real struggles and wounds and storms, I would snuggle up next to my dad on the sofa in our tiny farmhouse living room. He would wrap his arm around me, and I would rest my head on his chest. And he would hum.
Understand, my grandmother was a concert pianist, a music store owner, a teacher of music. So my dad’s childhood, though essentially fatherless, was rich in the arts. He knows music. He didn’t simply hum the latest top-40 hits or even the hits of his day. He hummed Debussy’s Clair de Lune or Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. He hummed Chopin and Mozart and Listz. And my pre-teen head would rest on him and listen to the melodic timbre of his hum reverberating through his chest like the unobtrusive sounds of a bassoon or timpani–the backdrop of an orchestra, soothing, rhythmic, constant.
And he didn’t know it at the time, but he was gifting me with a secure, peaceful sense of what a father is to be. Such that 35 years later, when the tidal wave of the death of a child crashed into my life, it was reflexive for me to curl up next to my heavenly Father, sense His arm around me, rest my head on His chest, and listen for the melody. And though the sound of this storm has been deafening, beneath it–faintly, beautifully–I hear the symphonic melody of my Father’s love