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Tamela Baker: Dads, give your kids a permanent gift

June 17, 2012|By TAMELA BAKER

When I was a little girl, I thought my dad was invincible. Until just a few weeks ago, a part of me still did; he’d already come through so many dangers, toils and snares.

There was the time he fell out of the swing … and the time he flipped his bicycle … and the time he tried to carry an armload of window screens down a hardwood staircase, wearing cotton socks but no shoes.

None of these incidents ended well.

Then there was the cancer and the other illnesses of recent years. But until now, he always managed to pull through somehow, and we had come to depend on the inner strength that came so naturally to him. He’d been hospitalized again recently, but we all thought he was recovering. So his death earlier this month left us stunned.

I could spend a lot of time today telling you about my dad’s character and accomplishments. But I can really sum it all up with the simple observation that if my dad hadn’t been the kind of man he was, it wouldn’t be so difficult to let him go now.

I have friends whose fathers abandoned them. And some who were horribly abused by the very men who were supposed to protect them from such things. I can’t begin to imagine what that would be like; that wasn’t my experience. A few years ago one of them said to me, “You had a real dad.” And she was right.

What I didn’t realize was just how much influence he’d had on other people. Since his death, my family and I have heard story after story about how my dad helped somebody through a crisis. Or get a fresh start. Or encouraged them to go back to school. Or come to faith in Jesus Christ. My mother was especially impressed by the number of people who considered him their best friend. Who knew Dad had so many BFFs?

My dad wasn’t a superhero — nor was he Ward Cleaver or Ozzie Nelson; he had a bit more volume than either of them. He was an uncomplicated farm boy who grew up along Raccoon Creek in southern West Virginia. But he had a strong sense of justice and responsibility, and whenever there was a need, he was first on the scene with his wallet open.

My own grief has been overwhelming at times, and yet it has almost been outweighed by my pride in my dad’s legacy. And so, men, if you have a child anywhere on this planet, or if you ever hope to have a child, let me encourage you to resolve today that you will give your children this gift my dad gave me: that when they stand where I stood last week, they too can say, “My dad was good and decent and honest. My dad always tried to do the right thing, so far as he could see the right. My dad was generous and caring and kind. My dad was always there. And even when I was so mad I couldn’t see straight and I thought he must be the most unreasonable human being in the universe, I never, ever, ever doubted — not once — that my dad loved me and that there was precious little he wouldn’t do for me.”

I didn’t tell my dad I love him enough; we never do. But because of the most important gift my dad gave me, I’m not distraught about that. I know where my dad put his faith, and I know I will see him again. St. Paul reminded us that we needn’t grieve “as those who have no hope, for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will also bring with him all those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.”

Now I know some of you are not believers, and that is of course your prerogative. Other people might try to foist their beliefs on you, but Jesus doesn’t force himself on anybody. And I certainly can’t make you believe something you don’t.

Just remember that none of us is promised tomorrow. We’re not even promised tonight. In a matter of about 15 minutes on a Friday morning, my whole world was turned upside down.

The last time I saw my dad alive, he was lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to monitors and not liking it very much. But the next time I see him, he’ll be happy and healthy and whole.

And because I believe Heaven is perfect, I expect I’ll be a little taller. And Dad will be able to sing on key.

I wish I could spend this day with him. But for the first time in more than 40 years, my dad gets to spend Father’s Day with his dad. And I wouldn’t take that away from him for anything.


Tamela Baker is a former reporter and editor for The Herald-Mail.

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