Friday, June 15, 2012

The Gift of a Good Dad

We were late for dinner and I was struggling to finish getting dressed to join my husband, his parents and his sister who were traveling with us, each of them now patiently waiting for me to put myself together. I took a deep breath, and quickly pulled out a beautiful crystal borealis necklace, one of my favorite pieces of jewelry during those late years of the 1960's. As I attempted to join the clasp behind my neck, the thread snapped, sending the beads rolling like wild things, straggling into every corner of our hotel room.

And I burst into tears.

I was about four months pregnant at the time. And I was 14,000 miles away from our home in California and about 1500 miles away from the temporary home my new husband and I had created at Choma Secondary School in Zambia. There are all kinds of understandable, even semi-rational reasons for this sudden outburst.

But the real reason for those sobs was this one: those beads were a 20th birthday gift from my dad, the last gift he gave me as a single woman, as the daughter of his house. 

I loved those beads because they were beautiful. But most of all, I loved them because Daddy gave them to me.

He did that every year. For each of the years I lived with my parents, I received a special birthday gift from my father, something that he picked out, just for me. And I always, always loved whatever it was. I remember a sweet, small figurine of a January birthday girl. I remember perfume, and dainty handkerchiefs and fancy writing paper. 

And I remember those beads.

But most of all, as this Father's Day approaches - the 7th one I have lived without my dad here - I remember how much he loved me. The longer I live, the more hard stories I hear, the deeper my appreciation for that central truth, for that gift. 

Nearly 50 years after my birth, my dad wrote me a special letter. A good friend had organized what she called a "Clearness Committee," a group gathered for the purpose of discerning God's will for another. I had just finished four years in seminary and was seeking the Lord's guidance about what might come next. 

Anita wrote to about 30 people who knew me well, asked them to write me a note of encouragement, noting the particular gifts of God they saw in me. That was a wonderful, humbling and deeply encouraging experience at a time in my life when I felt both exhausted and uncertain. One paragraph out of all those lovely letters stood out for me, a paragraph written by my dad:

"On the day you were born, I took one look at you and learned who God is. If God could give me something so wonderful, He could give me other things I needed in my life - self-confidence, for example, and the ability to face up to life's challenges. He has used you in my life ever since." 

When these words arrived in my mailbox, I was stunned. My father was a kind, good and gentle man, but he was not what might be called effusive. He was very quiet, seldom speaking. Yet whenever he did speak, everyone listened. He was extremely smart (he co-authored a statistics textbook - yikes!) Perhaps even more importantly, he was also wise. And quite funny, when he wanted to be! I always knew that he loved me deeply, but he seldom told me so with words. Certainly not with written words. So the typewritten note in the photo above is a treasured possession. I took it out today, just to read it one more time. 

There is also another letter in the photo, this one handwritten rather than typed, scribbled in haste in my dad's inimitable quirky handwriting. After Dad died in 2005, his older sister gave it to me. My father had written it to her and my Uncle Bob about four days after I was born. 

I want to type it out here as a testimony to the amazing, strong-from-birth bond we enjoyed. I also want to remember, and to note in this public space, who Ben K. Gold was in 1945 - a guy too skinny to be accepted into any branch of the armed services, so he taught cadets at a military academy in San Diego. He brought my mom there after their wedding in 1941 and I was born four years later. This little epistle is dated 1/27/45 and it says a lot about my dad's personality and the terror and the joy that surround the birth of a first-born child. It also speaks to how times have changed:

Dear kids:

I've been trying for 3 days to get to giving you the details but got so behind I just haven't sat down except to write Mom once.

I was going to wire you but Mom suggested she do it and I let her as I had others to call and was having trouble getting the operator. 

I have just come from the P.O. with the bond you sent. I won't try to tell you how we appreciate both the gift and the thought. It was certainly unexpected and a very thoughtful thing to do. 

I am still walking around in the clouds. Boy, there's nothing like it. Well, I'll try and give you an outline of last Tues:

9:00 AM     I start teaching Solid Geometry
9:20 AM     Capt. Parker (who lives upstairs) meets me at the classroom door and says, "You better go home. I think you're going to be a father." 
9:20:10       I get home.
9:21             I get my wind back and ask Ruth what happened.
9:25             I phone the Doc; he is out so I wait while the nurse gets him and phones back with the message, "Dr. Graham says for you to take her to the hospital." 
9:45              I return home and we get ready.
10:00           We leave.
10:30            Arrive in hospital, pay bill & kill an hour while they get Ruth ready & put her in bed.
11:30             I find Ruth in bed. Now for the wait. No pains as yet. (The signal to go was a slight menstrual flow.) 
12:30             I go out for a sandwich. It certainly was uninteresting. 
2:30               Pains start slightly every 4 minutes. 
4:20               Pains getting slightly stronger.
6:00               I go out for a tasteless bite of dinner. 
7:00               Pains getting stronger.
7:30               Peraldehyde administered, Ruth in a semi-coma from now on. 
8:55               Nurse kicks me out & Ruth goes to delivery room. I go down hall to waiting room.
9:20               I hear a baby cry & get excited. I hear another & get scared. I hear a 3rd & get panicky. Finally I find out it's feeding time & they woke up the whole floor. 
9:30                I start thinking unimaginable thoughts. Whew! 
9:39                Diana Ruth Gold arrives. 8 lb. 12 oz., 21 inches long.
10:00              I am informed I have a daughter & both are doing well. 
10:00:01        I practically pass out.
10:15               I see doctor & am assured everything is O.K. First look at Di.
10:20              I find out weight, etc.
10:25              Phone calls.
11:00              Leave hospital with a feeling impossible to describe. 

Well, that's it, Bob. There's nothing like it. 

Diana is without question the prettiest girl in the hospital and the smartest. She will be a mathematician. Look at her birthday 1/23/45. (Note the sequence). 

Ruth was in the middle of the dishes & I still haven't had time to finish them. She is at the Mercy Hospital, Room 518. I think they will be home next Friday. 

I have seen Diana for a grand total of about 2 minutes, & for 1 3/4 minutes of that time she has been improving her lungs. She has a slight amount of brown hair, is fat faced & long legged. Ruth's roommate thinks she looks like me so I'm happy. I can't tell much yet but once I thought she looked a little like Mom, & again like a Hobson. I'm anxious to get her home & get acquainted. 

Well, I'll sign off. As you can see, I am quite a doting papa. 

Thanks again for the bond & the card which is very cute. Too true though. 



Thank you, Daddy, for your unconditional love for me for 60 years, for your faithfulness to Mom, for your commitment to our family, for your deep and searching faith, for modeling for me so beautifully the Father love of our God, for your encouragement of my journey all along the way. As you know, I never did become a mathematician! And now my hair is almost all white - just like yours. Today my granddaughter Gracie graduated from kindergarden - how I wish you could know her and her little sister! But then, I see a whole lot of you in their dad - so maybe...if they're really blessed, they know you very well indeed. 

Happy Father's Day. 

Joining this one with Emily, Ann, Jennifer and maybe with Duane, because I'm blessed that my dad showed me the unconditional love of a father, putting flesh on the promises of the gospel.