Today is Fathers’ Day 2022, and I find myself musing on the fact that I’ve had the privilege of being a Dad to two amazing, model daughters for over half a century. My eldest daughter ushered me into the world of ‘Dad-dom’ waaaay back in 1969. Back then, I was a wet-behind-the-ears, first year seminarian sent forth on what started out as a summer long assignment, but would evolve into a unique 15 month internship.
In a diminutive Illinois ‘Podunk Junction’ surrounded by endless corn and soybean fields, there lived some wide-eyed dreamers planting seeds of hope that they wished to see blossom into a brand new Lutheran congregation in their tiny town. I was sent to help determine if that dream could become a reality. That place and that experience of planting and growing a new congregation along with the birth of my first child makes 1969 one of the more memorable years of my life.
I would be remiss as I reflect back upon that momentous year if I failed to mention that 1969 saw not only the birth of my daughter and a new congregation, but it was also the year I almost lost my life in an automobile accident. One of my most vivid memories of that year is the image of a tall Illinois State Trooper peering down at me in my hospital bed and uttering the words, “I don’t know who you are young man, but you must have something special going on with the Big Guy upstairs. I’ve never seen an automobile in such a shape where anyone survived the crash. It’s a miracle that we are having this conversation today.” (My VW bug had literally been squashed by two teenagers in a pickup truck that hit me on a narrow one lane country bridge.)
I often think back to that bedside moment from 1969 now when things get tough or I’m feeling discouraged about the fate of the planet due to global warming and resource mismanagement, the grim future of democracy in a polarized and violent republic, and the general lack of movement in the arc of the moral universe toward justice and peace. While I don’t wish a near death experience on anyone, there is something about being on the cusp of death that changes a person’s view of the gift of life and how one manages that gift in an uncertain future. As a new father with a tiny bundle of joy awaiting my arrival home, I came within inches of being decapitated when the hood of my car was rammed through the windshield. Had my seat belt been in place (as it was every time EXCEPT that occasion) and held me upright in my seat, the projectile hood would have served as a guillotine.
Such a harrowing experience can cause the hair on one’s neck to stand up on end every time Amazing Grace is sung. If the grace of God (rather than a mere roll of the dice) can snatch one from the jaws of death, then such grace can also elicit a new take on life, a life built on gratitude. A week or so after the Epiphany with the State Trooper and subsequent operation by an oral surgeon, I was blessed to return to my work as a fledgling father, novice seminarian and aspiring Pastor. The following year I returned to Seminary, and recall walking into a classroom one day to find three words scrolled across the entire length of the blackboard (yes, in 1970 we still used blackboards): GRACE BEGETS GRATITUDE! It was the formula for living life in Christ that Professor Aus proclaimed, and the mystery that he studied until he took his last breath on planet Earth.
Each new day full of grace that I am blessed to awaken to, I rise from bed and am greeted with two scripture verses I’ve taped to the shower stall:
“This is the day that the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, to love kindness and
to walk humbly with your God.”
By the grace of God I lived through the year 1969 and have lived on to see two fine daughters grow into two amazing women who are faithful to the teachings and values that uphold the vision of the Kingdom of God and the Beloved Community. After more than a half century of Fatherhood, there can be no greater reward given to any Dad than that.