What I want to tell my dad

Of all the retail-induced holidays, Father’s Day requires the most time at the greeting card shelf.

It takes me forever to find something that captures the essence of the relationship I have with my dad. I don’t know who writes cards these days, but some of us would like something more meaningful than fishing, golf, napping, giving your children money, flatulence and drinking beer.

Dad shares funny videos with Harris and Carlton
Dad, sporting his sabbatical moustache, shares funny YouTube videos with his grandsons Harris and Carlton.

I also don’t feel that the sappy cards say exactly what I feel either, and it’s hard for sons to imagine giving voice to such sentiments. If you buy into the fact that a card can say something that you can’t verbalize, then maybe those cards are appropriate, but I strive for authenticity in my Father’s Day message.

So rather than let a greeting card company speak for me this year, I thought I’d subject you to a list – five things I want to tell Dad this year:

1. As I get older, I don’t need you less; I need you in a different way. I understand if it feels like what you used to do for me isn’t needed or appreciated, but now that I’m a father of three boys, your accumulated wisdom and experience can benefit me. And when we have an open line of communication, I can share my questions and problems in a way that invites your input. Ultimately I may make different choices than you did, but it is helpful to hear what you learned from raising us three.

2. It gives me great joy to see you enjoy your grandchildren. I can buy you gifts. I can finally afford to buy you dinner now and then. I can offer verbal affirmations that may lift your spirits. But I feel like the best I can give you is time with my boys. When I see you laughing and singing those crazy songs with them, it reminds me of those special times I enjoyed with you when I was young. I believe it brings you real joy to have those times, and maybe you are getting to re-live your best moments with your sons. I know it means a lot to my boys because of the way they talk about their Paw Paw.

Dad and Daniel Vestal
Pastor Wallace and Dr. Daniel Vestal, two preachers telling fish stories at my 40th birthday party.

3. Although you have been a pastor for more than 30 years, you were my dad first. While I have seen you in the role of spiritual leader and adviser, I need you primarily to be my dad. Last month as Carla and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary, I watched the video from the rehearsal dinner.  As I listened to a much younger version of me explain why I asked you to be my best man rather than officiate the ceremony, I was struck by how I feel the same today. I have always respected your convictions and your ministry, but your support, correction and guidance have had a greater impact on shaping who I am. You always seemed to know that, and I am grateful.

4. I still want to make you proud. I’m not bringing home report cards or playing high school sports anymore, but I am not so differentiated that your approval doesn’t carry significant weight. The profound impact you have had on my identity comes through with nearly every important decision I make. What you think, whether I want to admit it or not, still enters into the equation as I consider options and angles. You continue to make a difference in my life and worldview.

5. I can’t say this any other way: I love you. I love you on your best day, and I love you on your worst. I love you when you feel like you are being a good dad, and I love you when you feel that you have failed. I love you when you preach your best sermon, and I love you when you deliver a dud. I love you when you give surprising and extravagant gifts, and I love you when all you can offer is an encouraging word. As I grow to understand a father’s love from firsthand experience, I love you more each day. No circumstance I can imagine will change that.

So if there’s a card on the shelf that says all that, I couldn’t find it. I hope you don’t mind that I shared this in a public forum. I have a hunch that there are a lot of sons out there who would say similar things to their dads if they could find the right card.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I look forward to many more years of learning from you, loving you and depending on you.  You’re a great father, and I hope that truth will give you more joy than a gift card.

OK, I’ve had my chance, what would you say to your dad if you could? In what ways has your father made an impact on you? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

Teach your children well

It’s an understatement to say my dad taught me a lot while I was growing up.

He taught me right from wrong, self-discipline, the value of a dollar, how to maintain cleanliness and order, the importance of doing a job well and how to nurture a strong faith. Dad also taught me a number of practical skills such as hammering a nail, turning a screw, mowing the grass, handling a weed trimmer and shaving.

My dad with Harris, left, and Barron

He taught me how to have fun, tell stories and jokes, play Monopoly and checkers and other essential board games, fish, throw and catch a baseball and how to do a pineapple
dive
(aka banana dive) that splashes everyone standing on the side of a pool.

But what stands out in my mind for some reason is the day he taught me to change the oil and brake shoes in the car. Now I could very well have forgotten exactly how this occurred: he probably taught me to do these two things at different times, but in my memory, they occurred together.

I was about 13 or 14. The car was on the parking pad at our house on Holly Street in Lake
Wales, Fla.
He showed me how to check the dip stick, jack the car, place the drip pan, remove the plug, remove the filter, replace the plug (very important), replace the filter and pour in the new oil with the assistance of a handy funnel. Brake shoes were a little more complicated and involved a clamp, I think.

I have changed my oil a number of times, although not recently. To do this day, I have never changed my own brake shoes. Sorry, Dad.

As Father’s Day approaches, all of this has me wondering what dads teach their sons in the New South?

I’m sure there are plenty of dads still teaching the finer points of team sports and the basics of throwing, catching, shooting a basketball and so on. I believe fathers are still teaching their boys to appreciate the outdoors and how to fish and hunt.

Carlton recoils at the sight of bass in the live well after our spring break fishing trip. Dad was teaching his grandsons that day.

There are plenty of new skills to be handed down in this digital era. In the New South, dads must teach their sons how to program a universal TV remote, master the misdirection play on the Madden football video game, download songs from iTunes, use a GPS, shop on Amazon, read a Kindle, pick movies on Netflix and upload videos to YouTube.

No matter the era and the practical skills required, I hope to pass on to my three sons the timeless essentials every boy of character must know and practice. My dad taught me well.