Tuesday, May 30, 2006

My father's voice...

I was surprised this weekend, at my parents' request that I plan to go to church with them while we were there visiting. I have not set foot in my church from childhood since I was in high school. My small town church is so tiny, that we never had enough kids for Sunday school classes when I was a kid. Our age ranges staggered about every two years, so we had just enough to serve as acolytes and that was about it. The church minister there serves two other small community churches nearby.

This weekend, my father would be leading the service, because the minister was serving elsewhere, which explains the invititation after all of these years. It was just to be a casual prayer service, with no sermon, but I was intrigued nonetheless.

Walking into the sanctuary was like taking a step back in time. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, had changed at all. The worn avocado carpeting still marked the way and coated the stairs leading the the alter. The same old photos lined the inside walls parallel to the outer stained-glass windows. It was amazing. Everything looked exactly as it did when I last set foot in the church more than 15 years ago. The old brass bell in its same spot on the stairs where we acolytes had knelt to chime it just before the communion.

After being greeted by a few members we didn't know, my sister and I made our way to sit down. My Dad stood before the congregation. The word "congregation" may be misleading here. I would say there were probably 20 people on this particular Sunday, which I suspected was a good turnout given that the minister was not performing the service this week. And, I was amazed as I started looking around at the faces. They too were the same as I'd remembered when I used to attend services so many years ago. A few of the women I remembered as being elderly even back when I last attended many years ago.

My Dad began the service. His voice sounded a little shakey, which I suspected was nerves. As I sat watching him read, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride for this man. My father had not been as active in my life as I'd have wanted growing up. The long work hours of a car dealership manager took him away, as did his other interests like hunting and fishing. He was a bit of a mystery to me even to this day, although I could say I knew him better as an adult than I had ever in my life.

The service went quickly, in part because my father rushed through most of it. But, all attending immediately went to him afterwards and gratefully thanked him for his leadership. My Dad shrugged off their complements uncomfortably. I realized then where I got my own uneasiness about receiving praise.

As we left the church, I took a moment to tell him he'd done a great job that day. "Dad, I'm really proud of you for doing that," I said, my eyes welling up slightly. He met my eyes for a meaningful second and then looked away as he gave me a hug. Then, he dismissed my praise by saying that the other man who took turns with him reading the service did a much better job and that he only did it because no one else volunteered.

But, in my heart, I knew that it was more than that. My dad had grown up watching his mother take an active role in her church as a lay reader at a time when women did not usually have such prominent positions. Later, when I was a child, it was often just he and I going to services. My mother and sister bailed on us a great majority of the time, choosing instead to sleep until noon--a fact that always embarrassed and bothered me for some reason. Attending church as a complete family was only for special occasions really, although I'm sure my Mother would still tell others it was a normal thing for us. But, I know the truth. Most Sunday mornings my dad and I would leave early, so I could don my robes and light the candles, and prepare to carry the cross in at the beginning of the service and he could outline which passages he'd read for the minister that day.

And that very morning, my mother had chosen to stall and get out of bed later, then saying she just didn't see how she could make it after all. I had almost laughed at her, realizing that it was the same set of excuses she used to give us. But, this morning I was fine with her not attending. Walking back into the tiny church with my Dad felt, in some way, like a way of honoring that time I had with him so many years ago. As I grow older, I realize that this man who I felt didn't make enough time for me actually did give me some valuable gifts along the way. And, for that, I am most thankful.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Nicole said...

I think it is sometimes hard to find that connection with dads who were not as "hands-on" as we might have liked. I have a story similar to yours about my father taking me to a football game, and realizing many years later that this was his way of reaching out to me. Thanks for sharing your experience.

1:12 PM, May 30, 2006  
Blogger Babs said...

wow, awesome story. Often, I think it's harder to speak in front of a smallish group of people you know... versus a huge auditorium.

I bet your Dad was thrilled that you were there AND that you complimented him. Knowing me, I still would've been mad at my Mom for doing that. Sounds like you've really come to terms with accepting her for who she is. And the hidden blessings of it as well.

5:42 PM, May 30, 2006  
Blogger Nicole said...

I'm so glad you were there for him. I know it meant a lot.

Isn't it weird that as we grow older we discover just how human our parents are? Insecure, fragile. Not the all-knowing ones we perceive them as when we're kids.

I wish he could read your post, it might surprise him in a good way.

10:22 PM, May 30, 2006  
Blogger Masked Mom said...

This reminds me a lot of my relationship with my own dad--he was active military the whole time I was growing up: gone a lot and even when he was home very distracted by his work responsibilities. When my mother passed away in '94, things changed dramatically and he wanted to be a more hands-on type dad/grandfather.

At first I was so surprised and confused that I automatically resisted his efforts. Thinking assinine things like, "You weren't here to build a relationship when it counted, why should I try now?"

I still sometimes feel we're just muddling along, but I definitely am more willing to try now.

Thanks for sharing such a personal glimpse into your relationship with your dad.

7:11 AM, May 31, 2006  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

Interesting that your mother didn't go and yet you did. It sounds like your relationship with your dad is very special. He sounds like a wonderful man who just has a difficult time expressing himself. My dad is the very same way. Except for the whole going to church part. My dad only goes now if one of the grandchildren is "doing" something or on a major holiday and everyone else is going. He will still try to find a way out of it like "I'll stay here and get lunch started" or something lame like that. Thanks for sharing.

7:30 AM, May 31, 2006  
Blogger Tyra said...

Great story, thanks for sharing.

7:40 AM, May 31, 2006  
Blogger Tamara said...

Wow! I know we've both said it before but your dad is my Papaw and your mom is my Mamaw! That's a great story. I could see your church. Your story pushed my buttons and I felt angry at your mom for not going, but you're right. That's just the way it is with them and it gave your and your dad something to share. Thanks for sharing with us! You have inspired me to dust off some old Sunday school memories...

8:29 AM, May 31, 2006  
Blogger Suburban Turmoil said...

That's wonderful. I'm so glad you were able to be there for that experience.

11:08 PM, June 01, 2006  

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