When I was seven or eight years old, if you had asked me, I would have confidently informed you that my Daddy was the biggest, strongest, tallest, wisest, and best-est man in the whole wide world. And if you knew my Dad as I did, you would understand why I thought that.
Dad was a big man - almost six feet four, and strong as an ox. When I was little he would scoop my up in his giant hands and swing me onto his back, and off we would go - across the yard, down a trail, even up the side of a cliff onetime, with Dad using a wooden ladder to climb up to an ancient Anasazi cliff dwelling and me hanging onto his back for dear life!
Dad knew about all kinds of things. He was an endless fountain of stories about everything, from growing up in East Texas during the Depression to his time in the Army in World War II, to all kinds of great embarrassing stories about my siblings (none of the stories about me were the least bit embarrassing, ever, of course!). He knew all about history and Native Americans and could recite lengthy passages of Scripture from memory. His sermons made the Bible come to life, and from the pulpit his outsize personality filled the entire church and served as a megaphone for the Gospel of love that he preached.
When I was five years old, I found my first arrowhead. Dad told me what it was, and showed me in a book how old it was - then he took it away from me and put it in a glass frame, so that I wouldn't trade it at school for a comic book or Hot Wheels car! When I was twenty-two, he gave me his entire arrowhead collection, and that point was still there, in its frame, exactly where he placed it. I still have it, along with the eight thousand or more arrowheads I have found since then, all because my Dad taught me to love this hobby when I was a small child.
When I was six years old, I was fishing with my Dad and threw my line out too hard, sending my new Zebco rod and reel flying out into the lake after it! I started to cry, but my Dad calmly cast his line out where my pole had sunk, snagged it, and reeled it back in and gave it to me. That was when I began to suspect he was really a superhero in disguise!
Later that year, my sister's cat tried to use one of my Dad's lures as a cat toy and wound up with a treble hook in each paw and in its cheek. The terrified feline tore our garage apart and wrapped itself up in a huge ball of fishing line - and my Dad wrapped the cat up in a towel, cut away all the fishing line, and managed to remove every hook. The cat was NOT grateful, and Dad's hands were clawed to pieces when he was done - but my sister's pet was saved.
When I was ten, and deathly ill with strep throat, my Dad caught a baby raccoon in the church parking lot and brought it home as a pet for me - on the condition that I get up and get well! I recovered in record time after that, and Rascal, as I named the little raccoon, was my inseparable companion for the next year. He developed a great fondness for pouncing on Dad's feet and nibbling his toes whenever Dad fell asleep on the couch in the evenings! Dad would jump and thrash and send the raccoon flying across the room, and it would run behind the couch and get ready to pounce again as soon as Daddy dozed off. It is a tribute to Dad's love for me that he never did shoot that little beast!
When I was twelve, my mother and I were in a very serious car wreck. Even though my Mom was far more gravely injured than me, and my Dad was deeply concerned about his wife, he still took the time to go to the bookstore and get me a giant hardcover book full of Snoopy cartoons to read as he took me home from the hospital.
Dad taught me everything that a rightly constructed boy needed to know - how to be a gentleman to ladies, how to shoot, how to skin a catfish, how to salute the flag, how to tell directions when you were lost in the woods, how to run a lawn mower (although he never taught me how to LIKE mowing!), how to memorize Scripture, how to pick the best turtle to win the annual Vacation Bible School Turtle Race, and how to spot an Indian camp.
Dad also taught me what not to do, by making sure I understood the consequences of my misbehavior. I learned not to stay down in the creek past suppertime, not to skip church, not to swear, and above all, not to give my sister's class ring to my fifth grade sweetheart as an "engagement ring!" But his discipline was always given in love, and while I deeply respected my father, I never feared him.
Every lesson I needed to learn to become a good man, I learned by watching my Dad and listening to my Mom. Their life together was a wonderful example of what a Christian marriage should be. My Dad always took care of my Mom, whether that meant roses and a beautiful gown on Valentine's Day, a sweet card on Mother's Day, taking us kids out so she could get a nap after a long day teaching school, or donating blood when she was in the hospital. Their love story was an inspiration to all who knew them for sixty-seven years!
Daddy was a preacher, and a good one, but his greatest message was always lived, not spoken, and he continued to live it out until the very end. When I saw him on the last evening of his life, I asked him how he was feeling. I knew he had been through a rough day, and I knew that he was very weak and ill. But he looked at me with clear eyes and a slight smile and said: "I feel a lot better!"
He never wanted us to worry about him. And now we don't have to. He is tall again, strong again, clear-minded again.
Did I tell you that my Daddy was the biggest, tallest, strongest, wisest, and best-est man in the whole wide world?