Recently, I’ve come across several magazine articles where the interviewer asks the subject: “What’s the best advice your mom or dad ever gave you?” The question resonates. I addressed this inquiry about my mother for Mother’s Day; so it seems only fitting to tackle the same question with my dad.
Few people ever matched my dad’s abilities in storytelling, in seeing good humor everywhere, in enjoying a good laugh. He could hold his own in telling jokes. He had great timing, delivered a punch line on mark and never made fun of anyone.
Likewise, my dad, who lived his faith daily, rarely talked in platitudes. He took to heart Matthew 25:35-40, especially about feeding the hungry: “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Since he owned a grocery store, he not only donated money to worthy causes; he literally delivered food to those in need, and he always had a joke to share with them.
Probably these food baskets, many of which my mother didn’t know about until after his death when she found a large collection of thank you notes for his many kindnesses, represented his advice to me. “Things don’t always happen for the best. What’s important is how best we respond.”
United Methodist Minister/Author Adam Hamilton in his book, Making Sense of the Bible, concurs. He writes, “I suggest that God does not inflict cruelty and suffering to teach us, any more than you would do to those you love to teach them something. But when suffering comes, God forces good to come from it if we allow it. Every experience of hardship or suffering is, by its very nature, an opportunity to learn something. Paul notes in Romans 5 “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
Four days after his 50th birthday, my dad put his head on the card table as we played bridge. He was dead.
At first I was numb. After his funeral, I returned to teaching, but felt as if I were merely going through the motions. Students and teachers alike offered their condolences, but went on with their lives as if nothing ever happened. They found the most inane things to laugh about. How could anyone laugh? For the longest time, I avoided going to the teachers’ lounge at planning period to avoid the laughter. How does anyone make the best of losing a loved one?
A few months later, my husband and was given tickets to a Harlem Globetrotters game in Dallas, Texas. I reluctantly went with him. I’ve never liked slapstick comedy. Silly rarely amuses me. Besides, I still felt as if I had lost my ability to see humor anywhere.
Once the famous team, clad in red, white and blue, took to the floor, they began their mixture of wizardry, basketball artistry, athleticism, and slowly, dramatically, their comedy took shape. I didn’t want to smile, certainly not laugh. But by half time, I found myself laughing as heartily as anyone in the stands. And in the mix of laughters around me, I thought I heard my dad’s familiar laugh. Good humor stands the test of time. Good humor helps us move on.
I still don’t like slapstick, dark humor, silliness. But a good laugh always reminds me of my dad and his wise words. And I’ve encountered plenty of situations which are not for the best for me or mine or anyone. They are not funny. I’m still a pretty serious person.
But, I always try to look for ways to make the best of any situation. Sometimes, it means walking away for awhile. Sometimes, it means rolling up my sleeves and pitching in to do the hard work. Sometimes, it means cooking to feed those who are doing the hard work. Sometimes, it calls for laughing at myself. Sometimes, lifting up prayers is all I can do.
CNN journalist Daryn Kagan reminds us, “Bad things do happen in the world, like war, natural disasters, disease. But out of those situations always arise stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
Ordinary folks, who do extraordinary things in the midst of tragedy, are the ones heeding my dad’s advice. What’s the best advice your father ever gave you? Happy Father’s Day.