Finishing My Father’s Journey

 In Art, Community, Culture, Duty, Faith, Family, Fred's Blog, Fred's Blog, Gratitude, Teaching, Theology, Vocation

Steve Martin is known most widely 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 recounts 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 80s 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.”

I taught recently on the Genesis account of Abram’s leaving Haran and his family to strike out “on his own.” In reading the description of his father’s life, I noticed his father had begun the journey to Canaan but had never completed it. He had settled in Haran instead. It was ironic to me that Abram was being called in a sense to finish his father’s journey.

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 independent 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. 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.”

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    Christin McClave

    This is beautiful. Great reminder of the connection we all have with previous and future generations. (Whether we like it or not…it’s better to be at peace with it)

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    Marv Knox

    Lovely, poignant, strong gospel. Thanks for this wonderful lesson, Fred.

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    Perhaps I’m too young to have the perspective you are bringing to the table–and I’m willing to admit a potential blindness here.

    My current position would be that my dad gave me his blessing early in my adult life, and it has made all of the difference in my ability to be a man, be my wife’s husband, and by my children’s father. The blessing he gave me was basically that he trusted me to make the best decisions I knew how to make for me and for my family, and he wanted the best for me, even if it meant it would cost him something (e.g. me moving far away and him not having as much access to me or his grandchildren). He turned me loose to live my life.

    I don’t know how I would have made some of the difficult decisions I’ve had to make over the last four years without that blessing. There were times when my decisions angered him and cost him something significant, but I knew that he never doubted my motives or who I was as a man. That gave me tremendous strength through times that have brought the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make.

    My current perspective is that the ability to bless your child in that way is a key to them launching into the lives God has for them. It seems to me that Steve Martin would have benefited from that kind of blessing from his dad long before he actually received it as his dad died.

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    Peter Kubasek

    great words as always Fred — i am behind you a short chapter, yet i sense and feel the same angst of GOD is GOD, HIS story dwarfs our families and we need to ENJOY HIS story in and thru us

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    Kathey Chapman

    This moves me to tears for my children and for myself. I love your insights. Keep posting.

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    Michelle Cavinder

    Thank you so much Fred – this touches me in a deep place as I buried my dear Mama less than a month ago and I can say we did have a beautiful relationship but not without its struggles and trials but in the end love prevailed and I will miss her every day of my life until I see her again, as I know I will.

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    John Huffman

    Fred, I belatedly just read this recent blog. So interesting! Steve’s father and mother were on the front row of church at St. Andrew’s here in Newport Beach all my early years as pastor until their very final days. They were so supportive of our ministry and especially the music ministry. And they were extremely proud of Steve’s accomplishments and worked so hard to get us together with him. Other than a strange encounter my wife Anne had with Steve in a Los Angeles restaurant that ended up with extensive correspondence with her, his parents and Steve too lengthy to relate here, that meeting for me only happened in the events surrounding their funerals. Through those years I followed with interest Steve’s writings in The New Yorker about his conflicted relationship with his father. I had not seen his words about this final encounter. It helps make sense of things for me and provides a fascinating insight into many father-son relationships.

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    mark neuenschwander


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