Today would have been my father’s 98th birthday.
He’s been gone six years, and I miss him every single day (not obsessively, but just missing his wisdom and his sage advice) The news clip in the photo is from an old newspaper article where Daddy spoke very strongly about buying American made products, and I found it today in a little box I was about to trash. I didn’t know this item was in there, but I took it as a sign that Daddy is still with me.
Many people on social media like to remember their deceased loved ones with “Happy Birthday in Heaven!” or “Happy Heavenly Birthday!”. I’m not so sure birthdays are celebrated in heaven, since entry into heaven–meaning moving into eternal life with God–requires DYING in this life. Still, this morning during my prayer time, I gave thanks for this day on which my father entered the world and especially for the lessons he taught me, of which there are many.
Daddy was basically an orphan, losing his mom to pneumonia when he was a year and a half old, then losing his father to the same illness 8 years later. He was raised by his oldest sister, got into a lot of mischief, and lied about his age to enter the Army and see the world. He survived nearly four years as a prisoner of the Japanese during WW II, having endured the infamous Bataan Death March; the hell ship crossings; and a life of hard labor, beatings, and little food. His years post-POW camps saw him living in Mussolini’s palace in Rome, where he patrolled the Vatican as an Army MP.
His early retirement years were colored with PTSD, though no one had labeled it as such back then. He had alcohol issues, got into trouble with the law, and was without much direction.
He finally turned his life over to God, thanks in large part to a dear Moravian minister who mentored him. The PTSD was hard on him, my mother, and me. I recall numerous nights as a little girl hearing his screams from nightmares; and while I was a daddy’s girl, I was a bit frightened of him because of his temper.
Thank God (literally) he healed, and he went on to be a leader in our community and even in my home state. He was my rock, and I was with him when he took his last breath after fighting pneumonia (same thing that killed his parents) for three months. I placed my hands on his lifeless body and sang “Thank God From Whom All Blessings Flow.”
On this 98th anniversary of his coming into the world, I decided to write him a letter. Who knows how this eternal life works? Perhaps he will catch a glimpse of it. It’s a VERY overdue “thank you,” though I often told him in his last years how much certain things meant to me.
Today would be your 98th birthday. It’s hard to believe, and it’s also hard to believe you’ve been in the presence of God for over six years. I want to thank you, Daddy, for some of the many lessons you taught me. Thank you for
- Instilling in me a love of history. You took me to the homes of presidents, to battlefields and museums, and you’d say things such as, “Now, Amy, just think. Abraham Lincoln stood right here when he gave the Gettysburg Address. ” You made history come alive, and I so appreciate that.
- Making me learn geography. You bought me atlases and blank map books and encouraged me to learn where countries and bodies of water were located. I made you proud until the Soviet Union dissolved and a bunch of African countries were renamed. I will brush up on them!
- Encouraging me to serve those who were less fortunate. I know we didn’t have much, but you so selflessly served others, through church, through having our youth group trick or treat for UNICEF, and through running a ministry for 20 years, where you mentored many challenging youth and helped the poor of our county.
- Encouraging me to be civic minded. Your 17 years on the town council and your statewide involvement in the Republican Party produced much fruit. Even though you pretty much said that “Democrat” is a dirty word, you didn’t shame me when I voted for a Democratic candidate here and there. You couldn’t stand Donald Trump, though, and you joked that he would never become president. Oh, Daddy, I am afraid you were wrong on that one.
- Nurturing my Christian faith. You and mama raised me in church, and it was the lifeblood of our community involvement. You loved the Lord with your heart and soul, and you always reminded my boys and me to “keep the faith.”
- Teaching me the importance of forgiveness. I will never forget your story about returning to Tokyo to testify in the war trials. When you saw some of your fellow prisoners spitting at and cursing their former captors, you knew you had to forgive, because–as you always said–unforgiveness is like a cancer that will kill your soul. I’ve been hurt a few times, Daddy, but I forgive pretty easily. I just erect those healthy boundaries you advised me to build.
- Instilling in me a sense of humor. You were funny! Your wit and sarcasm were quick and often gut punching, and your daughter here inherited that trait. I try to keep it civil, but sometimes I can’t help myself.
- Making me make my bed first thing in the morning. I still do that.
- Showing me what commitment to marriage and family look like. Out of all the wonderful gifts you gave me, this may be the greatest one. I’ve failed here and there just like you and everyone else, but that commitment to my family and friends is strong.
Thank you, Daddy, for loving mama, Russ, my boys, and me. Thank you for all the life lessons you imparted. I love you, and I hope that if there ARE birthday celebrations in the eternal realm, you are having a blast!
I love you,
PS Thank you for forgiving me for buying Hondas!
Amy Walton is a certified life Christian coach and grief coach, writer, and yogini living on the Virginia coast. She loves history, is a map geek, forgives easily, is bipartisan, makes her bed daily, loves God and family, and fortunately or unfortunately, has a talent for sarcasm. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.