To any of you who might happen to be imperfect:
As parents, none of us can know which of our ‘shared moments’ our children are going to recall about us once they become adults themselves. After all, how many encounters does the average one of us have with our child over the course of that child’s upbringing? Would it be reasonable to suggest that parents might, in some way, ‘relate’ to their child ten times in a day? That works out to more than 50,000 interactions or connections over the course of childhood. It’s impossible that every one of those interactions can be good. It’s also impossible that they can all be bad. Beyond a doubt, it’s impossible that anyone is going to remember more than a tiny percentage of them.
We get to decide for ourselves whether we had good parents or bad simply by deciding what we’re going to remember about them. Who knows what Angelique will remember about me once my race has been run? Who knows what she’ll remember about her mother? Whatever it is, it will probably be something that seemed inconsequential at the time –but years have the tendency to turn the acorn of experience into a mighty oak of memory.
Interestingly, now that I’m in my fifties, I have a completely different set of memories about my own father than I did when I was in my thirties. He’s been dead for nearly twenty-five years but, strangely, our relationship keeps getting better and better.
A memory I currently cherish has to do with Dad, and me, and music. Please understand that my father had the capacity to lose himself completely in music. There were times when he was in what I could euphemistically call a ‘relaxed mood’ when he would crank the volume up on his reel-to-reel tape recorder to a point where paint would peel off the walls. It was the sort of behavior an uncharitable person might describe as immature, or irresponsible, or inconsiderate, or just plain friggin’ nuts. Of course, to know Christ is to know that love covers a multitude of sins — and my father loved, loved, loved music. And when I was loving music alongside him, he loved, loved, loved me.
Let me tell you, friends, there was a time in my life when I recollected that multitude of my father’s sins; but there’s a time, now, when I recall a love — a love born out of joy — that causes me to “remember his sins no more”.
At any rate, I had occasion to connect with this particular memory earlier today while I was driving in my car. I have recently downloaded the cast recording of a musical I know well (perhaps you do too) and I finally had a chance to listen to it this morning. As it happens, the reason I know this particular musical is because it was one my father loved. As far as I’m concerned, it contains the finest score, and the finest performances our human race has ever been able to produce. (Don’t hire me as a music critic!)
There was one particular number that came on which sent me reeling into nostalgia. It was as if I were ten years old again, sitting on the family room couch with my father, having the fillings of my teeth rattled by Dad’s speakers and witnessing him experience a state of ecstasy that drew me in with its gravitational pull.
“Look, Paul” he shouted to me again today as he had so many, many years ago.
“Look,” he repeated, nearly screaming, “Look at my arms. They’re completely gooseflesh.”
Like a lot of men my age, I am regularly struck by the embarrassing realization that I have become my father. Today, when I saw the gooseflesh on my own arms, I was struck with that realization again.
It was what happened immediately afterwards that I want to tell you about. As I’ve said to many, I’ve lately been carrying a heavy weight of sadness in response to the events of these past weeks. I’m sad, but I’ve been unable to cry. ‘No tears’ has meant ‘no relief’ and my sadness has been chronic. Today, however, when I reached the end of the musical number we’ve been discussing I hit the ‘recall’ button on the sound console and allowed myself to have my emotions stirred yet again.
No gooseflesh this time. This time, the spigots opened and the waters flowed. I realized, though, that I wasn’t crying because my father is dead — I’m well over that. I was crying, if you can believe it, because I’m alive, and because my dear wife is alive, and because to be alive is to be vulnerable, and helpless, and confused, and out-of-control. To be alive and (worse) to be in love is to be at the mercy of one’s own humanity, the humanity that God fashioned, the humanity we share with Christ.
Our folly is that we long to control that humanity, we long to take charge of our own destiny, we long to wall ourselves off from any development that frightens us. No chance of that. There was never any chance of that. That’s not who we are.
We’re the creatures, and God is our creator. Much as we might try, it’s impossible to reverse those positions. My father knows that. He certainly knows that now! And, in a way that non-believers would ridicule, today my father taught me what he knows –which is the very thing I need to learn.