a short story by Lex Smid
I stepped right into the early-morning-freshness and bright-sunshine of the new day, heading straight for a great cup of coffee.
In my haste I nearly bumped into a young woman hasting to work, and almost botched up my intended cheerful 'good morning' when she flashed a great smile my way.
Drinking in oxygen by the mouth-full on a wonderful morning sure feels good, almost as good as her smile, and - coffee is still to come.
Once when I was little,I walked with my father early in the morning, my small hand in his.
“Its a good day for harvesting potatoes,” dad said, not particularly to me. He was right, dads are always right, that's why they are dads, it was a great day for harvesting potatoes, but not for my dad - my father was unemployed.
It was right in the middle of the hungry thirties and my father, who was a ground worker, was unemployed, as were a third of his fellow workers.
Together with his unemployed brother, my uncle John, they walked from one end of the village to the other - and back, and then again, happy to be out of the way of their wives for a few hours, they sucked on empty tobacco pipes. My mother was happy to have dad out of the way, our house was too small to accommodate someone in the way.
I was allowed to walk with both men, who talked as they walked.
They talked about politics, about which they as a rule disagreed about, and about the last Sunday sermon, the weather, the new crop of potatoes and sugar beets which were almost ready for harvest, and they talked about hings I should not have heard, not at my age anyways. My dad probably figured that I wouldn't understand what they were talking about, or he forgot even that I was there, but I had my ears wide open and remembered some of it.
I still do.
The time in which we lived then was full of uncertainty, the future was somber, as rumors of a war was heard, but at this late-summer morning we were walking still in freedom, gulping up fresh country air brimming with country goodness, free for the taking by poor and rich alike.
And my hand was firmly held in my father's large hand.
As I entered the bistro for my coffee I was told that I was famous because I was published, which was an overwhelming thing for me at that time but also scary. How should I react to being famous without making a fool of myself.
While sipping on my coffee I read an article by a staff member about God's faithfulness to fathers that gripped me.
She touched on a familiar song, which we regularly sang as a dutch immigrant congregation in church, not knowing what the hymn was about, since very few understood English and generations before modern trends had slipped into the churches, rejecting what was old and dutch, to be replaced by the unknown new. Our congregation sang slow but with gusto
Great is Thy faithfulness, o God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, Thy compassion's they fail not.
Great is Thy faithfulness, o God my Father
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.
Last year the same writer wrote a story about her own father which touched me as deeply as her present one, and the story before the last one mentioned her father as well.
In all three stories about my generation of old-agers, she observes several aspects of getting old, but one thing stood out like a church-tower in the village I grew up in, the love for her father.
She writes that her father was a prominent person, known and well-thought-of in society, in the church, and in his family, but even if he had not had that reputation, I'm sure, that she would love him all the same. I read that out of her stories.
I think very high about my father though he was not a prominent, highly educated person, his education was elementary at best.
His instructors were the bible and life's experience. Reading my stories you know how much I thought of him, but what is this father thing anyways?
Like every human I too have two grandfathers.
My paternal father grew up under the poorest conditions at that time, without father or mother, was not brought up in church, and was illiterate. He was short of posture and equally short of temper. Yet when he laid on his deathbed he sang psalms of David to the lord. O, and he married a god-fearing woman, my beppe Aukje.
My maternal grandfather was tall and dignified, sported a long beard and was deeply religious. A humble churchman who thrice laid on his deathbed, and was petrified, 'the sweat of death' as he called it, dripping from his forehead. The third time he died.
Pake Fokke, who was not afraid to initiate a fistfight approached death peaceful and calm, while pake Leffert was disturbed and afraid. Two different fathers.
Two very different men whose memories I love and respect.
Talking about my own father again, on one of the last times he was visiting us in Canada,
I asked him if he was afraid to die. He had to think carefully about this before he answered with a short story
“Dominee Voerman was asked the same question one time and his answer was
'I hope to die in the twinkling of an eye.'” In other words 'I hope that death will be quick.'
When my father died of Alzheimer I was not present, but my siblings living in the Netherlands were at his bed-side when he slipped into a coma. At one point they did not know if he had died or not. They assumed then that he had passed away. As he had hoped he would.
Today's father image does not fare very well. A father is often portrayed as person desperately wanting to fit in as a buddy to his children and acting rather stupidly trying to achieve it.
His image, on the TV especially has tumbled down faster than the worth of the dollar has, while the female image has done the opposite.
Poor fathers, poor grand–and great–grand fathers.
One time (actually in all of recorded history) Man was the heads of empires, of the church and of the family, females have challenged their place. We have now Mrs heads-of-state, female-executives, lady-presidents, priestesses, woman-principles, female heads-of-the-family, police-women, she-soldiers, carpenter-ettes, Mother-bringing-home-the-bacon-nessens, while Fathers have become also-runs in the family as portrayed in busyness adds and on TV.
Was I a good father? I was too wissy wassy to be a good father, but I had one thing going for me - I loved my children. That happens more, I heard, maybe more than you may think.
Why mention the triple father story and particularly that hymn?
Because we may approach God as a faithful father.
Why I wrote this story?
It was intended to be a special story for a special friend, but failed.
The story as it evolved chose its own direction and when I read it over I was afraid to redo it and possibly wind up flipping it into the garbage.
So, sorry special friend, one consolation – I love you. Did you read that? I love you.
As for all you other friends, next time better maybe...
...and to all you fathers - good luck.