Monday, June 3, 2013

Remembering Jack

I’ve never really told him what a good dad he was, but I hope he knew.” This is what my wife Amy said yesterday (through tears) after returning home from Florida—having spent most of last week with her parents.

You may have already noticed that she spoke of her dad, Jack, in the past tense. No, Amy’s dad isn’t dead, but he is most definitely passing away from us…daily. It’s the insidious part of Alzheimer’s disease—the slow, methodical robbing of memory and a life once lived—a good life…lived by a good man, a good husband, and a good father.    

In many ways my father-in-law, Jack Hysell, has lived a very normal and un-extraordinary life—much like most of the men from his generation. He was born in 1929 in Columbus, OH. He grew up there—a very quiet boy. He loved to play baseball—and was an ace pitcher in his day. He learned to drive…and learned to love cars. He graduated from high school and went into the service…where he just missed the Korean War. He did his time in the army. He got out and got married…and married well. Over time, he grew to be a very quiet man with a very quick wit. He got a job at a print shop and helped raise four kids on a printer’s salary. He bought a house. He took his family on vacations in Florida. He went to church and was trusted enough to help count the offering. He got older. He golfed. He took care of his cars. He lost most of his hair. He retired and eventually moved to Florida—where he and his wife, Marty, live to this day.

And in-between all of that, Jack lived his life and made his memories. But that’s not unusual, is it? We all live our lives and make our memories. A lot of Jack’s memories came long before I was even part of his life…and there’s been a lot more memories made since I married his youngest daughter and moved her hundreds and hundreds of miles from their home. But if I know anything, I know this: most of Jack Hysell’s life (and his memories) revolve around his family; his wife, his kids, and his grandkids.

And not all of those memories are necessarily good ones.    

There’s been a lot of death and struggle and hurt and pain intermingled with all the rest of his life; everything from…a father who abandoned him at birth…to a son who has battled drug and alcohol addiction most of his life. When you spend as many years walking the earth as Jack has…you’re going to see your fair share of troubles. It’s just as Jesus promises in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world…

And now, in his Twilight Years, Jack is dealing with another form of “trouble” that the world has to offer: Alzheimer’s. I picked up Amy from the airport yesterday, but it wasn’t until we got home that the tears finally came. We sat on our bed as she talked through her visit with her folks—the sad, and painful, reality of a life with someone who has Alzheimer’s: The day-to-day routine with someone who must be constantly reminded what his day-to-day routine is…the patience of a wife who must now treat her husband…her lover and protector…the same way she used to treat the preschoolers that once filled their home years ago…and the continual march of the disease…the deliberate, cancerous erasing of memory.  

But along with all the sad and sobering news from Florida, Amy also told me how, in the midst of all the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s, her dad hasn’t lost his quick wit. Jack’s always been a funny man and quite a teaser. One time last week, when Marty was talking about her own medication issues…and how, if she takes one certain pill, it will knock her out for an hour…Jack slyly responded, “Then, why don’t you go ahead and take three?  

And that’s when Amy broke down and said, “He’s a great dad. I’ve never really told him what a good dad he was, but I hope he knew.” I assured her that he knew…and even though he may not have recognized her through most of their visit last week, I told Amy I was sure her dad knew that she loved him…and that she thought he was the best dad in the world. That was clear to me the day I first shook hands with him and saw how Amy acted around her father. I knew immediately, I had my work cut out for me…if I was ever going to steal her heart from him.  

Now, I know that a lot of our stories may not have started out with such a good dad—much like Jack’s own story. Some of you out there had abusive or dismissive or angry or flat-out missing dads. But some of us had great dads…dads that were there when we needed them…dads who cut an easy trail for us to follow. And then, there are some of you who had (or have) a dad that falls somewhere in between.

Either way, God makes it clear how important the role a father has in this life. I know you’ve heard it said that a son learns what kind of husband he should be by watching his father…and likewise…a daughter learns what kind of husband to long for by watching her father. Paul makes it crystal clear in Ephesians 6:4 when he writes: Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

There is a specific role a father plays in the lives of his children…and in the tone and the environment of the home. Not that his role is any more important than the role of a mother…it’s just that the weight and bearing and imprint that a father can leave on his family can either bring nurturing, long-term benefits…or it can leave a destructive path that is hard to overcome. For lots of us, that’s our story: either a lifetime of long-term benefits or a life-path littered in devastation.   

I had a very sobering discussion with my own son several weeks ago in my office, talking through some of (the many) mistakes I made as a father—some of which we recorded…leaving the damning evidence of video as a continual reminder!

Ben was preparing for a talk he was giving in Student Ministries for their series titled: Daddy Issues. It was VERY humbling to sit and listen to my adult son recount how I had exasperated him growing up…and emotionally scarring him. It was hard for me to hear, but I think it was equally instructive for Ben to come to grips with the fact that no one gets out of childhood unscathed (especially as he nears the onset of fatherhood himself with the birth of his first child). In the end, we all walk away from childhood…into adulthood…carrying some of the wounds and baggage of imperfect parenting. The question is: Will we allow those scars to define us or to chart the courses of our future? I hope not.

So, I guess the takeaway from all my rambling is twofold:

(1) The Trail, our Men's Bible Study and discussion time is coming to an end at 7PM on Thursday night, June 13th. Jesse DeYoung's going to talk about a lot of this stuff in a message titled, "Am I Good Enough?". Don't miss it. We'll have a Santiago's burrito waiting for you (while supplies last).

(2) It’s almost Father’s Day, so let’s use our time wisely with our dads. Let’s do our best to bring peace and healing to our broken relationships…as far as it depends on us (Romans 12:18). Let’s visit (or at least call or Skype) our dads to tell them how much they mean to us and how much they’re appreciated. Let’s say the things we need to say…before it’s too late.

And, if you’re a dad, no matter how old your kids are, let’s try to be the kinds of dads that will make our kids cry—in a good way…the way Amy cried yesterday… remembering a good dad…who can no longer remember her.      


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