A year ago this week, we moved back into the log house. In the midst of many challenging things in life, this has been a great joy for us all. Here and there, throughout the year, I’ve posted “This Week in Home Improvement” posts here on FB. This is probably the last one. Over the past month and a half, we’ve done a lot of stuff to the yard. New grass. A new underground drainage pipe. And, last weekend, 6 cubic yards of decompressed granite and Austin stone that I forged into new walkways. In a year that has been marked with home improvement…more than a page-long list of things we’ve done, big and small, this is the greatest and, likely, last for a while.
All through this year, I’ve been thinking about my Dad.
One of the greatest frustrations between my Dad and I was his insistence on giving advice. It was always good advice. It was always well-thought. But it was also always too much. The song I wrote after his death about me and him spoke to this…how he was ruled by logic, and I was ruled by heart…and how this meant we often talked past one another.
One of most insidious parts of his advice and logic was “second guessing” every decision. Not just small ones. Every life decision. As an engineer, Dad believed everything can and should be improved by analysis and evaluation. Which means, there’s almost nothing you should be satisfied or totally pleased with, because you can always do it better. And so, any life experience, from buying a car to choosing a mate, should be evaluated and re-evaluated to see if it could be improved.
The problem for ME, however, is that all this ever did was cause me to question my own intuitions….my own voice…to be accompanied by a constant worry that I have possibly chosen the wrong path…to never, ever, be able to rest and be assured that my choices were my choices…and that they were good in and of themselves.
It’s a maddening way to live. And it took me a long time to realize this. So, the honest and painful truth is that I have lived most of my adult life trying to get my Father’s voice out of my head. Even before his death, perhaps fifteen or twenty years before, I started down a path of learning to listen to MY voice, not his. And, most of all, to push out that urge to over-evaluate and over-function in every situation.
It’s tough work. I often fail at it.
The week after my Dad died, I went to visit his grave. I had a long talk with him. I am one of those people who believe he could hear me. I am one of those people who believe our dead friends and loved ones stay present with us. This is a great mystery, of course. But as a minister, I often sense the presence of our long gone church members and family members.
So, I had a talk with Dad. And I had a very specific request of him. Through painful and big tears, I said something like this…
“Dad: I really DO want you around. But I just want YOU. No advice. Just your presence, please. And no more second guessing, either. I want YOU to be with me, not that voice in my head. And if you can do that, great. If not, and I hate to say this, please don’t come around.”
It was the hardest conversation I ever had with him. And I didn’t have the courage to do it until after he was gone.
Then came the silence.
Dad died in the Fall of 2015. And, the voice stopped almost immediately. Almost completely. And, I must confess, I was much sadder about it than I expected to be. Yes, I asked for it. Yes, I realized my Dad heard me, and took my request to heart. But after a lifetime of that constant internal evaluation, I was a bit sad it was gone.
But I’ve thought about him a lot this past year, as I’ve been doing these improvements to this house. As I’ve installed light fixtures, and new kitchen faucets. As I’ve cleared brush and installed drawer pulls. As I’ve put down new sod, and hung curtains. Again, as I said at the beginning, it’s a list of home improvements that is now a page and half long. I thought about how Dad and me used to do stuff just like this.
And I thought about how, while it was always fun, it was also often maddening, because of that ever-present critique.
About three weeks ago, I put together that list of all the things we’ve done this year to our house. The scope of it stunned me. And fact that *I* had been able to do all this.
“How did I DO all this,” I thought to myself with a mixture of pride and awe.
Dennise looked at the list and said, “You know, Eric, you really do have a lot of your Dad in you…”
And then, it hit me.
Dad did hear me. He heard all of my request.
What hit me it that I’ve been to do all these things for the past year, because he’s been with me. Because he’s just been presence with me. No advice. No second-guessing. Just a spirit and energy that has allowed me to do far more than I could have imagined for myself. Nothing else about how I’ve been able to do all this makes any sense.
My Dad heard me.
And, in gratitude, I wept again, and whispered, “Thanks.”