Finishing A Father’s Journey

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Listen to “Finishing a Father’s Journey” by Fred Smith

 

Steve Martin is known best for his early work in absurd comedy but he has also evolved into a serious art collector, playwright, and fine writer. In his memoir, ”Born Standing Up” he revisits the death of his father. Growing up in Waco, Texas, Steve remembers his feelings toward his father as mostly ones of hatred as his father was cold and stern. He was critical of Steve’s career and their relationship was awkward at best:

“In his early 80’s my father’s health declined further and he became bedridden. There must be an instinct about when the end is near as we all found ourselves gathered at my parents’ home in Orange County California. I walked into the house they had lived in for 35 years and my weeping sister said, ‘He’s saying goodbye to everyone.’

A hospice nurse said to me, ‘This is when it all happens.’ I didn’t know what she meant, but soon I did.

I walked into the bedroom where he lay, his mind alert but his body failing. He said almost buoyantly, ‘I’m ready now.’ I understood that his intensifying rage of the last few years had been against death and now his resistance was abating. I stood at the end of the bed and we looked into each other’s eyes for a long unbroken time. At last he said, ‘You did everything I wanted to do.’

I said the truth: ‘I did it for you.’

Looking back, I’m sure that we both had different interpretations of what I meant.

I sat on the edge of the bed and another silence fell over us. Then he said, ‘I wish I could cry. I wish I could cry.’

At first, I took this as a comment on his condition but am forever thankful that I pushed on. ‘What do you want to cry about?’ I finally said.

‘For all the love I received and couldn’t return.’

He had kept this secret, his desire to love his family, from me and from my mother his whole life. It was as though an early misstep had kept us forever out of stride. Now two days from his death, our pace was aligning and we were able to speak.”

Read again the Genesis account of Abram’s leaving Haran and his father’s family to strike out on his own calling and you will notice he had begun the journey to Canaan but never completed it. Instead, he had settled in Haran.

Life changed for Terah on the way to somewhere else. He took the wheels off the mobile home and settled half-way there. It was not a detour or side road or wrong turn but a rest stop that became a residence. There is a powerful urge to settle in, to find a comfortable place and still feel like you are on the way. Haran was an interesting place. It was not out of the way or off the road. There was lots of activity with traders, travelers, new ideas, and interesting experiences. There was the illusion of going somewhere by constant exposure to people who were.

You’ve just stopped for a bit. But that bit becomes a lifetime. I can imagine them after a while continuing to talk about the dream to reach Canaan or even reminiscing about Ur and saying, “Tomorrow or the next day we are going to get on our way to Canaan. We’ve not stopped. We’re just taking a break.”

Abram was being called in a sense to finish his father’s journey as part of his own.

There was a time in my life when I would have thought each generation has their own dream and no right to foist it on the next. To live vicariously through your children or to allow yourself to carry the burden of a father’s dream for his own life was completely unacceptable. My job as a son was to find my own mission independent of my family. My task as a parent was to help my children discover their own path free of mine. Whatever my unfinished journey to “Canaan” was should not determine what they do with their lives. I believed then that God’s desire is for each of us to live out our own mission, regardless of previous generations and not with any thought about those who follow. And then I read Genesis and realized it may take hundreds of years and a stream of generations to accomplish the work of God. Our life is connected to those who came before and those who follow. We are not a collection of independent short stories. There is no disconnected individual journey. Our lives are chapters in a novel whose author has woven us together to accomplish His purpose – one life at a time.

“You did everything I wanted to do.”

“I did it for you.”

“Abraham Being Called From Ur”  by Mary McCleary

This is an excerpt from “Where The Light Divides

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Showing 24 comments
  • Avatar
    Doug Stepelton
    Reply

    sure makes you think..I like this a lot..

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Doug. You have a great legacy in your family!

  • Avatar
    Sam Griffith
    Reply

    Good points, Fred.
    Too often, especially when we are younger, life is perceived as a sprint race – an individual achievement where you dash “out of the blocks,” zip through college, and you are surging towards “success”. So short-sighted, so often doomed to disappointment.
    Rather life is a marathon, not only a long, steady, unending step-by-step trip towards your chosen goal, your own “Promised Land”, hopefully more focused on Eternity in Heaven than a lifetime membership at the local country club. (There is an adage that the saddest thing in life is reaching the top of your ladder of success . . . . and finding it is leaning against the wrong wall.)
    But like a marathon race, at some point, you will hand off the “baton” to the next generation.
    So three additional thoughts on winning at life’s marathon race:
    * do not drop the baton – be steadfast and true , getting ever closer to your goal
    * do not veer out of your lane and get disqualified (prison, or a life of drinking or drugs, can ruin your “leg” of your family’s race : too often generations of a family run in meaningless circles of drugs and alcohol and crime. )
    * and most importantly, your goal is to “hand off the baton” to your children further along the goal of achieving “the Promised Land” than you received it.

  • Avatar
    Kerry Hasenbalg
    Reply

    Wonderful! Fred, you write with a depth of wisdom that comes from a life lived with time spent in contemplation and intentional reflection. It is kind of you to share these truths and beautiful you do it so well! I teach a spiritual disciplines curriculum and its tools come primarily out of interactions with my grandmother, mother, and my Russian teacher who came here over after WWII. Their wisdom, but more so their own personal searches in sufferings and their finding deep truth to live by, have since been made into tools or at least sharpened by me for use in helping other who seek. The seekers I speak of are primarily those who have suffered much and who, like me and those in my female heritage, need to know by experience, in the context of their own stories, that God is still good, able, and involved. Losing children bonded me to my grandmother and Russian teacher outside of time, as they both lost children as well. Most of the seekers I speak of already once deeply believed, at least in part or intuitively, but now in suffering need hope and practices to keep walking in faith when it has become dark and they are tired. Those who have stopped on the way to Canaan, as my mother and grandmother did at times, and as I have as well. I sense I am continuing the journey of these women who have gone before me, and I feel close to them when I say so. Without these women what I would have had to teach and share would have been far more shallow and certainly less useful! I am thankful we are not just a collection of short stories, but a long play with many players who came before and who will follow. Keep writing Fred- you speak truth!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Kerry – In a sense, it turns the idea of
      legacy upside down. We do not leave children with something we have accomplished but something that is their task to carry on – maybe even to finish in some way. I read once that the word inheritance has an additional meaning: task or responsibility or assignment. I think I might like that better than how we normally use it as a gift bestowed. Maybe, in time, it becomes a gift. I have decided to take chapters from the book for the next bit of time and use them as blogs. I may edit some like I did this one but, hopefully, no one will take exception to that.

  • Avatar
    Lawan Glasscock
    Reply

    Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. This brought both a sad and joyful tear to my eye remembering both my father and grandfather. As Christians, we all share an incredible legacy. And LOVE that you used Mary’s fabulous piece!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Lawan. It took some time after my father’s death to come to this conclusion. I have used a number of Mary’s pieces and there is one (the house painter) that I want to use but have not come up with the right thing to say that merits using it. I love her work.

  • Avatar
    John Kelly
    Reply

    Once again, you make me think. I’m about halfway through writing a memoir about discovering the surviving members of my Dad’s B-17 crew and in doing so discovered a side of him I’d never known. Some of what you say here has bubbled up for me. Your post has made me very reflective.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, John. I would love to read that. Those stories are a bit more interesting than “Remember COVID dear, when we ate snacks, watched Netflix, and complained about not being able to get tattoos?”

  • Avatar
    David A Galloway
    Reply

    Living out family legacies, of carrying on, is a ambiguous thing.
    As a therapist, those legacies were often rich veins of psychic gold.
    As priest, the task of helping folks make those deep connections were rich moments.
    As a musician, I am reminded of Hank Williams Jr.’s song of carrying on a family tradition, of being broke and bent.
    I had not read Steve Martin’s memoir, but will now. Amazingly powerful moment.
    Family traditions are sometimes godly, sometimes not so much. But we are connected, that is true.
    Thanks, Fred.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Ambiguous is my middle name – if not downright murky.

  • Avatar
    MARK NEUENSCHWANDER
    Reply

    OK Fred. That was brilliant and better than half true. Pondering here. Thanks

  • Avatar
    Laura E. Houston
    Reply

    Love this thought-provoking read! I forwarded it to both my 63 year old husband and my 23 year old son. Wisdom.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Laura! I mentioned to someone else that it took a while after my father died for me to realize this.

  • Avatar
    John Castle
    Reply

    Fred, loved this post. So thoughtful and well written. I ponder my grandchildren and their future and what legacy I’m leaving for them. I find it much easier to express my feelings to them than in my other relationships. And I want to honor and encourage their dreams and their becoming all God has in mind for them. More than anything I want them to know they are loved and valued.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, John. As I mentioned to another person who made a comment, it took me years after my father’s death to work through this. Of course, I have not said anything about the journey Of my mother!

  • Avatar
    Sue Saxenmeyer
    Reply

    Oh, Fred, this topic is one I have been reading and thinking about just NOW! So there’s a reason I’m reading your writing (beyond the obvious) just NOW! God’s plan. Thanks for helping make things more clear for me. Still lots of reading and thinking to do, but this post is one I’m passing along to my huddle mates.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Which part? The resolution with the father? The settling in? The belonging to a larger story? I realised after publishing it that I might have mashed three things together! That said, thank you, Sue!

  • Avatar
    Toni Hibbs
    Reply

    I absolutely love this Fred. For me, so much about life is those before me and my children and grands who are following after me. I miss my parents and grandparents, and wish that I had listened and learned more from them than I did. I feel a huge responsibility to teach my children and grandchildren well. We are all connected … family and friends … and I’m thankful to know you and read your words of wisdom. Big hugs … from a distance, of course!!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Toni. I am so pleased you read the blog and take the time to respond. It’s comforting to know we are part of a long line of family.

  • Avatar
    Joe McIlhaney
    Reply

    Wow Fred. my Dad never seemed to approve of any accomplishment by me. Paid no attention when i received that coveted acceptance to Baylor Med. It was almost like he was jealous. (he was emotionally abused by his parents and though they had both gone to Baylor BEFORE the turn of the century he and his siblings did not even get to high school until they were older and on their own. Dad only finished the 8th grade) i have no question that a lot of my striving in those early years was to get his approval. So, i guess i WAS doing it for him! And i did come to love and understand him later which was good for both him and me.

    i don’t know why i am doing this. i guess it is good to get to say it again as i have in the past

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      “Want to see your child achieve? Give them a less than happy childhood.” I saw that somewhere and have read enough biographies of high achieving people to know they rarely could write “I had everything I wanted as a child and my parents were happy, loving, affectionate and provided a home with no conflict.” I don’t like that it seems to be true but..it does. Joe, God has used your circumstances early in life (and later) to be an extraordinary blessing to so many of us.

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