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My Dad
June 11, 1995

MATTHEW 7:7-12

I know it's not Father's Day, but it dawned on me the other day that I have not preached a sermon on Father's Day in some 20 years, because the Family Camp which I direct happens to fall on Father's Day weekend. Then I began to think about my Dad, and the impact he has had on my life. When my mother died, I wrote a tribute to her which helped me focus my memories, but I had not done so for my Dad. Therefore, I am preaching about my Dad this morning, even though Father's Day is next Sunday. I do so in the hope that you will consider the impact and influence of your parents on your life, and I hope that hearing about my Dad this morning will encourage all of you who are fathers or hope to be fathers some day. Fathers are important people in a child's life.

My Dad was not perfect. It may surprise you but perfection is not a universal characteristic of fathers (or mothers either). I suspect that most children want and expect their parents to be perfect. Some become quite disillusioned when they discover imperfections in their parents. Maturity comes to us when we realize our parents are not perfect, but we accept them anyway! I have lived through an era when our culture has been very hard on parents. Popular psychology put a great deal of blame on parents. It was considered therapeutic to list Dad's faults, and blame him (or mother) for our problems. I confess I went through that exercise with my Dad, and how healing it has been for me to prepare this sermon, accept his imperfections, and give him credit for all I have learned from him.

One thing about my Dad I did not like was his smoking. I disliked the stinging in my eyes, the smell of cigarette smoke, especially the smell of old smoke from filled ash trays. One reason I learned to eat rapidly was so I could leave the table before he lit up and covered the table with smoke like a blanket. On the other hand, I realize now that my Dad was eating with us, and that phenomenon is not all that common in American homes today. My Dad's smoking finally did him in. He developed a terrible cough, so he switched to chewing snuff. Yes, righteous me considered that equally, if not more, offensive. He developed cancer. His stomach was removed. The cancer spread to his esophagus, and he died relatively quickly.

I learned how to die from my Dad. I flew to Arizona to spend a few days with him in the hospital, and to be of support to my mother. He apologized to me for being too poor to provide for us as would have liked. It is very important for persons who lived through the great depression to be good providers. I was flabbergasted, and told him I never realized we were poor. I said I had everything I ever needed, and certainly I never felt inferior to anyone. We flew our boys down to see my parents the next weekend. My boys not only loved their grandfather, they enjoyed him. He had a wonderful sense of humor and loved to tease and play with them. My brother flew down to see him, and then my sister. My Dad told her, "I'm ready now. I'm going to stop eating." My sister, thankfully, did not react, but accepted his decision to speed up the dying process. She wisely told him, "Do drink water, though. Dehydration is not pleasant." He did. In a matter of days, he died--peacefully, with dignity and style. I do believe each of us has the right to die. Because of our paranoid laws, the right to die on her terms was denied to my mother, but that is another story. Incidentally, the doctor discovered a spot on my mother's lung, caused by second hand smoke.

My Dad was not a churchman. He was raised in a strict Baptist home, and rebelled by not going to any church. Have you noticed how the Lord has a sense of humor? My poor Dad, trying so hard to be rid of church, had his Baptist father on one hand, his oldest child a Methodist minister, and his other son is now a committed Christian in an Assembly of God Church! My Dad never ridiculed or criticized me for my interest in church; in fact, he drove me to Sunday School and Youth Fellowship when the neighbors couldn't. I remember asking him once, "If Adam and Eve were the first people on earth, where did their sons Cain and Abel find women to marry?" He gently and wisely explained how Adam and Eve are mythical figures, much to the shock of my fundamentalist mind at that time.

My Dad worked his way through the University of Minnesota and graduated with a business degree. But, it was during the depression and the only job he could find was to return to the family farm with my mother, live with his parents which I learned in later life was very difficult for my mother, and resume farming, which my Dad hated. How tragic it must be to work day in and day out doing something you don't want to do, but have to do. But, he made the best he could of his life. He did not feel sorry for himself, nor did he become cynical. When the war came (World War II, not World War I!), he held two jobs--a farmer and a guard at a munitions factory. After the war, he gave up farming and both he and my mother became Psychiatric Aides in a State Hospital. Both seemed to enjoy it. My Dad worked well with people, and he was well liked at work and in our community.

My Dad served his community, and I realize now I was very proud of him. I was proud to be a Norris and to be known as Glenn Norris' boy. He was a member of the School Board, and served as clerk. He kept the minutes, and wrote out the checks which the treasurer then signed. I remember watching to see how much the teachers were paid, and was amazed to see that some of them received $100 a month! He also served on county committees and once made a speech to the entire school assembly. I was proud! Children want to be proud of their Dad.

My Dad was also very proud of me, and supported me in every way he could. Whenever I did something public, in school or in church, my Dad and mother were there. Parents, never underestimate the importance of being present for your children. I acted in several plays and my Dad was always there, and proud. I realize now I must have disappointed him with my lack of interest and ability in sports, but he never showed his disappointment. He enjoyed sports and was on a winning baseball team in his younger days. He played ball with me, but never let me know how terrible I was. In fact, my Dad never put me down. Oh, once someone said to him, "I hear your son is a good singer." My Dad replied, "Yes, good and loud!" But, I considered that comment the truth, not a put-down! I don't sing any softer either!

My Dad taught me responsibility which is lacking in so many homes today. If a child doesn't learn how to be responsible for his/her life, what future is there for him/her? I must admit it is easier to learn responsibility on a farm than in a city. It is obvious to a child on a farm the effects of not doing the chores. The chickens get hungry when not fed. The cows moo and moo when not fed. You can see how full the udders get when they are not milked. If the snow isn't shoveled, the car can't move. My Dad never hit or spanked me. He was gentle, but I knew what was expected.

My Dad also taught me to follow through. He taught me to keep my word. When I was in eighth grade, I was elected treasurer of the Sunday School. My Dad helped me set up a bank account. The offerings were not much--$2 or $3 a Sunday but it was an important job. At the end of the first year, I couldn't balance the books. I was a few dollars short. I wanted to quit, but my Dad wouldn't let me. "You took the job, you complete it," he said. I don't remember him helping me balance the books because it was my responsibility. What he did say was, "Make up the difference yourself." So I took my hard earned money (and on a farm I earned my allowance; I also did jobs for the neighbors) and made up the difference. When my term as treasurer expired, there was an excess, so I took some out to make it even! I still lost money on the deal, however!

One of the great gifts my Dad gave me was his love for my mother. He was not an affectionate person. He was a typical Minnesota farmer. I don't remember him hugging me or my mother. But, my parent's love for each other was clearly evident. They were faithful, with never any hint of extra-marital affairs. They enjoyed each other's company. I can still see them sitting at the table, drinking coffee, talking and talking. They were also good neighbors. We had a wonderful neighborhood with lots of sharing of tasks and lots of card parties.

My Dad was generous, but he enjoyed giving the impression he was tight with his money. He was extremely frugal, but generous when it was appropriate. When he died, I carried his ashes back to Minnesota. I conducted the memorial service; our son, Craig, played the organ; and my sister, brother and I sang a trio; so we didn't have to give honorariums to the pastor, organist, or singers! My Dad would have appreciated that! Besides that, the grave digger didn't show up, and we had to reschedule the burial. Then, he got mixed up and almost dug the hole in the wrong place. When he did find the Norris headstone, he measured by stepping it off in farmer style. "Oh, about here," he said. When I asked him how much we owed him, he said, "Sorry I was late. It's on the house!" My Dad must have really enjoyed that!

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris