Thoughts Faith, Family, and Fatherhood
The year the Saints won the Super Bowl is the year that my Dad went to heaven. He was a huge Saints fan, but died a few months before the season began. As the team was making their historic run through the regular season, I couldn’t help but feel it was coming one year too late. Maybe you have also experienced some things in your life that have come too late, did not happen at all or, maybe took an unexpected turn that left you with a future you don’t know what to do with.
You can probably already tell, but this post is not really about the Saints or the Super Bowl.
A Miraculous Conversion and a Cadillac
I would not be a Christian today if it were not for my Dad. The story of how he came to faith is pretty miraculous. As a teenager he was forced to leave his home. My grandfather was an alcoholic and abusive. One night, me Dad threatened him at gunpoint to keep him from hurting my grandmother. That night changed my Dad’s life forever. He dropped out of high school, left home, and began working as a manager at Sonic.
One day, the owner of the restaurant pulled into the Sonic my Dad worked at in his Cadillac. When my Dad came out, the man asked him if he would like to drive a car like his some day then handed him a leadership tape. “Listen to this.” From that point forward my Dad began to listen to leadership tapes and read whatever leadership books he could get his hands on as he continued to experience promotions.
Eventually he came across a book called, “The Happiest People on Earth.” He thought it was a leadership book, but it was actually about Christianity. After reading it, he started listening to the local Christian radio station. One night a DJ on the radio said that if the listeners wanted to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit he would pray for them if they called in. I bet you didn’t know DJ’s did that kind of thing, but I guess they do. My Dad called. He surrendered his life to Christ, received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and began attending church.
My Dad taught me to pray. He modeled the importance of going to church and serving. He was not consistent in his own faith though. He continued to find success in work but eventually his second marriage quietly ended with a note left on the table.
A Change for the Better
Then one day things changed for the better. My Dad told me that he was going to put God first in his life from now on. He said that I should as well. I was 11 years old at the time. Although I didn’t pray a prayer at that moment, I decided I was going to follow Jesus that day; just like my Dad.
I started reading my Bible after that conversation with my Dad. I quickly became very passionate about my relationship with God. Although I lived with my Mom, and she didn’t attend church, I began going to church regularly and joined the FCA at my jr. high school. Loving God came easy to me. It was and is the most natural thing about life for me – having God be a regular part of it.
Years later I would be able to move in with my Dad for my high school years. He was very involved with church, but also very strict on me; even controlling. Most kids would probably have rebelled against the tight standards my Dad kept on me. Nothing was ever good enough for him. Although I was involved in church, and never got in trouble at school, there was always something I could be doing better. The constant badgering and unreasonable rules became overwhelming, but it never superseded my love for my Dad.
He Saved His Own Life
Eventually, my faith would grow to a point that my Dad was no longer leading me in that journey, although I still respected him as the most important man and person in my life. It became a source of tension in our relationship as I would begin attending church more regularly than the rest of my family and keep different standards than them. Things would change in my Dad’s relationship with his third wife, and she threatened to leave him. He responded by doing what I know is probably the biggest regret of his life. He overdosed on some prescription pills in an attempt to kill himself.
At some point after taking those pills he must of thought about his daughter, his two sons, or the fact that he was only 39 years old and had a lot of life to live. He saved his own life by calling 911. The paramedics arrived after he passed out and rushed him to the hospital.
I was not home when this happened. I was out of town on a prayer retreat right before the beginning of my second semester in college. I found out that something had happened when one of the pastors from our church opened the door to the room where I was sleeping at the retreat and told me I needed to leave right away and head to the hospital.
My Dad lived, but suffered multiple strokes. He was never the same man again. Embarrassed, he never wet back to our church. The disciplined, ordered person I had known my entire life was gone. In his place was a severely depressed shadow of my father that lived with extreme anxiety. He became verbally and physically abusive towards me. Although I did all I could to stay and help him, I had to leave his house to finish college. It was the most difficult decision I ever made up until that point, but I knew that I would never be free to become who God made me to be while staying under the control of my father. Wanting to have a good relationship with him wasn’t going to be enough for it to actually be a healthy place for me to live.
An Unexpected Accident
We stayed in touch, but my leaving hurt my Dad. He never treated me like a son again. Eventually, I was the only one of his kids in communication with him. Then there was an argument, and I didn’t speak to my Dad for over a year. I sent cards in the mail, but never received any contact from him. As painful as it was, I left him alone and continued my life as a new husband.
Then there was a car accident.
My dad hit a piece of concrete on the highway and lost control of his car. It spun in circles while the seatbelt pressed against his chest squeezing him tightly against the driver’s seat. He was rushed to the hospital and released the same day. When I heard what happened, I came over and brought him dinner.
Other family members were there when I arrived. We ate and talked. He told me about the accident, and his time at the hospital. When I started to get up to leave I noticed a bunch of picture albums on the floor near the T.V. Instead of rushing out, I asked my Dad if he would come sit next to me on the couch and look at the pictures with me.
I don’t remember how long we sat there together side by side on the coach, just me and him, but we looked at every one of those pictures from the time my Dad was a baby until he joined the Navy, and then married my mom, until the present time. He talked and told stories. That’s really what I always wanted more of from my Dad; more stories of what his life was like.
When we had looked at the last picture I didn’t know that would also be the last time I ever saw my Dad alive. Two days later a pulmonary embolism passed through his body, released as result of the wreck, and stopped his heart. He died in his sleep with his mom and sister, the two most faithful women to him throughout his life, there in his home with him.
The Year the Saints Won the Super Bowl
Accepting that my Dad died at 48 years old was extremely difficult for me. The relationship was abusive and dysfunctional. He is also the person that started me on my journey as a Christian. He relentlessly fought for me in custody battles, so I alway knew that I was wanted by him. On one hand he had hurt me more than any other person, and on the other was the most important man in my life. He started many great things in me, but didn’t finish his own race the way I think he would have wanted.
Then the Saints began to play football in the 2009 season. They won their first game, and then another. I couldn’t help but think of my father. Oh, how my he loved the Saints. He watched them no matter what. Cheered them through many losses. But now they weren’t losing. In fact, they went on a winning streak that was unlike anything I had ever seen. They clinched the playoffs with an undefeated record. Their only loses coming as they rested their starters in preparation for the playoffs.
They began to call those Saints a “Team of Destiny.” Visiting my Dad’s grave, I told him about the season they were having and how I knew he would have liked to have seen it.
How to Remember My Father
Against all odds, the Saints went on to win the Super Bowl. I couldn’t help but feel this was all very ironic. The Saints having such a memorable season, and my Dad not being able to see it. The man who was their constant fan missed their greatest moment, while I got to enjoy it never being nearly as invested in the journey as he was.
I wrestled with how to remember my Dad for many years after his death. How to talk about him. What would I say to my daughters one day when they could understand? There were many good things but complicated aspects as well.
Then one day recently an unexpected sense of peace came over me. There are some hills near our house that surround a pond. Trees are scattered along the edges of the water and I like to take my daughters there to walk and feed the ducks. While leaning back in the grass under the shade of the tree I watched my daughters run and laugh and play. I thought to myself, “I have never been happier than I am right in this moment.” And almost automatically the thought continued, “And I know that this could never be possible without you, Dad.”
You see my Dad will never see my girls grow up. He isn’t here to see them thriving in a godly family, safe and secure. But they would never have the stable loving home they know as regular life if it weren’t for the decision my Dad made to follow Jesus all those years ago.
Heritage and Legacy
There were some hurts my Dad was battling his entire life that were not his fault. He battled some things I will never have to face. He also found a way to keep going when most anyone else would have given up. There are decisions he made I know he would wish he could change if he had another chance, but those were not the only decisions he made.
There are things my Dad started that he won’t get to see finished that I’ll get to experience as I watch my daughters grow up. He began a godly heritage in me, and I am getting to expand and pass on that legacy on to my children.
So when I think of the year the Saints won the Super Bowl, I don’t think about what my Dad missed out on. I think of all the things that he started that I will get to see finished.
My Dad often told me about the irony of the first play in the history of the Saints. In their first game as a team, after the kickoff, the Saints returned it for a touchdown. He thought it was so ironic that the franchisee would go on from that play to have an overall losing record.
If you stop any story before it’s over, then it’s possible to believe that it’s too late, or never going to happen. But it’s possible that the story is much bigger than you and it’s just not over yet.