My dad passed away a few years ago at the age of 69. Father’s Day will never be the same for me. What follows are five significant insights his untimely death taught me.
1) You never know how good of a dad you have until you don’t have him any more.
Many of us are taking our father for granted; I did, and it took my dad dying for me to realize it. There have been multiple times since dad passed that I’ve picked up my phone to call him, only to realize that I can’t. I’d give anything if I could only call him and hear his voice one more time. You never realize how good of a dad you have until you don’t have him any more.
2) Tell your father you love him, and do it often.
I remember as though it were yesterday, I was probably 9 or 10 years old. I was the shyest kid you would have ever met, and it was really hard for me to share what was on my heart (in particular with my parents). It was so hard for me to say the words, “I love you.”
My father used to tell me every single day multiple times that he loved me, but as a kid, I could never say the words in return. Finally one day as a young man my dad asked me, “Son, do you love me?” I said “well yeah, dad,” and then he said, “then why don’t you ever tell me?” And I learned a very important lesson that day. Don’t ever assume the people closest to you know how you feel about them. Tell your father that you love him, and do it often, because you never know when it may be the last time.
3) Say hard and important things to your father while you still can.
Just four years before my dad died, I wrote him a letter on Father’s Day. In the letter I conveyed my sincere love and gratitude for him, but I also expressed my deep concern that he didn’t know the Lord. I poured out my heart that I could not stand the thought of him dying and spending an eternity without Christ. In the letter I shared the Gospel with him, and I begged him to come to faith in Christ. God used the letter, and the next day my dad went to church for the first time in a long time and he gave his life to Christ. I had the incredible joy and honor of baptizing him two weeks later.
But I’ve often thought, “what if I would have chickened out and not written that letter?” Maybe your father is not a believer, and you need to share the Gospel with him while you still can. Maybe there’s been a falling out between you and your father. I implore you – while you still can – go to him and forgive him (or visa versa). As best you can, reconcile that relationship. I promise that on the day of his funeral, you will regret it if you don’t. The most painful thing a person can take to their grave is to know that they died having one of their loved ones holding on to bitterness against them. Say hard and important things to your father while you still can. Because when you’re standing over his casket, it will be too late.
4) The next time you are going on a special trip, instead of just inviting one of your buddies, invite your father.
It was just a few months before dad died, and a church member gave me two really good tickets to a UK basketball game. I was going to just invite one of my friends at the church to go with me. But just before I called my friend, something told me I needed to invite my dad. And so I did, and it made his day. We went to that UK game and I hadn’t seen my dad smile like that in years. We had the best time, and of course, the Cats won.
But it was the strangest thing; on the way home, I began to tear up. I can’t explain it, but I think the Lord let me know on that car-ride home, that it was the last trip I would ever spend with my dad. It was the last UK game my father would ever see in person, because he died two months later. I would not trade that last trip with my dad to Rupp Arena for all the money in the world. I have a picture of he and I in Rupp that night that I keep in my office, and I look at it every day, and I will until the day I die. So the next time you are going on a special trip, instead of just inviting one of your buddies, invite your father, because it may be the last opportunity you have.
5) Go back to the home or place where you grew up on occasion, and thank God for the memories and the blessings.
One of my favorite songs is by Miranda Lambert, who sings, The House That Built Me. I went to her concert after dad died and cried through the whole song. Miranda writes about going back to the house she grew up in, and all of the memories there. She sings,
I know they say you can’t go home again. I just had to come back one last time. Ma’am I know you don’t know me from Adam. But these handprints on the front steps are mine. And up those stairs, in that little back bedroom is where I did my homework and I learned to play guitar. And I bet you didn’t know under that live oak my favorite dog is buried in the yard. I thought if I could touch this place or feel it, this brokenness inside me might start healing. Out here its like I’m someone else, I thought that maybe I could find myself; if I could just come in I swear I’ll leave. Won’t take nothing but a memory from the house that built me.
My dad died; I preached his funeral, and we buried him. That afternoon I couldn’t help but drive back to my old house–the house where I grew up–the house that my dad had designed and built himself, and the house, that built me more than twenty years ago. I sat there looking at the house and I wept, and I thanked God for the memories.
I looked at that old driveway and basketball court where dad and I used to play for hours – and I’d give anything if I could play my dad in a game of “horse” just one more time. And I looked at that old shop beside our house, the old shop where my dad built by hand every single piece of furniture in our home growing up. I looked at that big front yard where dad used to get down as a catcher, and I’d pitch fastballs to him all afternoon long. I looked at that old white swing, where dad used to sit and drink his sweet tea. Then I stared at dad’s old garden, where he worked every day after he got home. What I wouldn’t give to eat one of his freshly raised strawberries just one more time.
But as I wept staring at the home my father built, I worshiped God, and I thanked Him for the memories. I thanked Him for my father, and I realized for the first time that you never know how good of a father you have, until you don’t have him anymore.