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Pastor column: A challenge for Fathers Day

By Pastor John Lestock, Bethel Lutheran Church

My grandfather was one of the most influential people in my life. He lived on the next block over from us and I probably spent as much time with him, as a child, as I did with my father.

Gramps was a gentle man with a big heart who could make or fix just about anything. He was well-liked and had wisdom that went far beyond his fifth grade education. He was a hero to me and I always felt we shared a special relationship, though he never suggested he loved his four other grandchildren any less.

When I left Ohio to begin seminary in Minnesota in 1976, my grandfather insisted on making the 800-mile drive with me. Interestingly, we rode most of the way in silence with very few words spoken. We both knew this was the end of an era for us, and things would never be the same again. At the ages of 78 and 23, we knew we might never see each other again. When I dropped Gramps off at the bus station for his long ride back to Ohio, he stoically shook my hand but I had tears in my eyes. Gramps told me to "keep a stiff upper lip...men don't cry," he said as he walked into the bus terminal without ever looking back over his shoulder.

Gramps died about two years later, and after sorting through his belongings, my dad sent me the devotional booklet they found on Grandad's night stand. He said I might find it interesting and want to keep it. As I flipped through its pages I came across the date we had parted in the bus depot two years earlier. In the margin of the page Gramps had written, "hard to say goodbye to Johnny" and "lost for words."

It was one of those powerful moments of life for me, but a time of sadness. I realized I was hearing things from my grandfather in death that I never heard from him in life.

Why could've he have shared the things on his heart? Words that would have meant more than, "Keep a stiff upper lip" ...and "men don't cry." Why do we wait until it's too late to say nice things about people and to people? We wait until someone dies to toast them. We send flowers when people are no longer around to smell them. We make gifts in their memory that we could have made in their lifetimes.

Now I realize it's not only men who struggle with communicating our emotions. Yet I would guess it is a greater problem for men than it is for most women. So on this coming Fathers Day weekend, I sense a great challenge and opportunity to verbalize the real issues of my heart and mind with my family. Those simple little words, "I love you," that so often get stuck in our throats for decades, need to be expressed.

Interestingly, the New Testament is a very direct love letter written to you and to me. God doesn't hold back on expressing His love and emotion for us. God seems to know: when you love someone there is really no good excuse not to share it with them, and to say it today! Tomorrow may be too late!

I vowed long ago, my children (and someday grandchildren?) will never have to read through the margins of my books after I die to find out how I felt about them! I hope we can all tell our families those things they so badly need, and want, to hear from us while we are still alive. Dads, on this Fathers Day weekend, let's be intentional about expressing what may make a life changing difference with the people we love. Let's be intentional about saying these words, as God did it for us. Now we just need to do it for others!

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