In Indiana you can get a Learner’s Permit when you’re 15. Or 15 1/2. (Can’t believe I don’t remember a fact that was once something my life revolved around.) If you take Driver’s Education and pass, then you don’t have to take a road test for your license once you turn 16. To shorten a very long story I passed the written portion of Driver’s Ed with flying colours. But I didn’t get the sign-off and it about destroyed me. Turns out I was a pretty awful driver and everyone was afraid to ride with me.
Everyone but my dad.
For long, long months we took to the back roads–and eventually front roads–of Indiana. He never winced when I made a mistake, never pressed the fake-brake that is so beloved of front-seat copilots. Thanks to him I passed the road test, got my license and spent the next 20 years enjoying all the freedom that driving affords.
Flash back 15 years… Back then he had just turned 30 and was starting out in his law practice. Most lawyers of that age and position work 80 hour weeks to establish their place in the firm and to drum up clients. My father was no exception. He worked long days and spent nights going to church council meetings, sitting on the board of the Christian School and volunteering his time and expertise wherever it was needed. But somehow he still made time to come home and read to his baby. A lot. He read to me the way other parents feed their children and I still consider that the most important food I’ve ever had.
I think I mentioned in that last paragraph that he was a lawyer. He became a lawyer when he found it would help more people than being a band conductor, but I still think he’d like to lead a brass band in a Souza march every now and then. He went into law because he wanted a way to counsel people who were in some sort of difficulty, but in a tangible way. For fifty years he has practiced law in an outdated way. He doesn’t grub for clients and pad the hours. He sits across from folks, listens to their problems and tries with everything he’s got to get them a decent solution. He’s saved more than one marriage by offering solutions. He’s saved more than one life by walking desperate people through bankruptcy and then helping them reorganize their business. In that same way he’s created hundreds of jobs; businesses that move from insolvency to health tend to hire employees and then keep them on.
But in all this his family has always been his first priority. He had four children and then spent the rest of his life sacrificing to give them the best possible opportunities. Christian School**, summer vacations to educational places,fall weekends camping in Indiana State Parks and three weeks driving around Europe in a Volkswagon Van. He showed us the world in real life whenever he could. When money or time was a constraint he made sure there were books to fill in the gaps. Always books. Everywhere you go in my parents’ house there are books. I am hard pressed to think of one room that doesn’t have at least one stray paperback laying around.
Today is the day most people celebrate scary things. In my family we celebrate my dad. He was born on Halloween, which is a story in and of itself.
I keep meaning to write tribute posts to my dad, but I never know where or how to end them. Beginning them is easy because he’s such a generous person in spirit and actuality that you can sort of start in anywhere. But ending them is almost impossible because his goodness really doesn’t end either. No, he isn’t perfect and we’ve had our big dustups over the last 41 years. Mostly because in a lot of ways we’re alike. Stubborn. Passionate about justice, about religion, about being right. In the grand scheme of things, though, what stands out is that my dad is quite simply one of the best examples of Christianity I’ve ever come across. So I can’t think of Halloween ever as a bad day or a day that celebrates evil. Not when it’s also the day my dad came into the world.
*There are a million excuses why, and I still hold a grudge against the driving instructor who was a coach and so busy talking sports with the basketball players I shared a team car with that I don’t feel he actually INSTRUCTED me.
**That was also my mother’s sacrifice, truth be told. She taught at that school for years to get a lower tuition rate, even though it meant she got paid about 1/4th of what she’d make teaching anywhere else.