Meeting Dad

The following words were read at Dad’s funeral service in February, 2022.

I met Dad several times. As a child, a teenager, a young adult and into the middle age years there were moments I could clearly see the man he was and what he stood for.  At each of these phases of life my perspective was different. 

Life changes and distracts us as we grow and age, so every time we shared special moments it was like meeting Dad all over again. I was different but Dad was Dad. In the day before and the days after his death many memories have opened a clearer understanding of him. Two things stand our to me: at every turn I see Dad striving to be the best Christian that he could be and a man striving to be the best father that he could be. 

The first time I remember meeting Dad I was maybe eight years old.  Muffin, our sweet family dog, was there with me.  We were sitting at the end of the driveway.  From that spot Muff and I watched the vehicles traveling up and down Route 7; but we were more interested in the vehicles travelling south because one of them would soon be Dad returning home from work.  It was the time of day Dad came home from dayshift at Ormet, the aluminum factory where he worked for over thirty years.  Muffin and I always looked forward those afternoons.

I can see and hear that little red Datsun pickup truck turning off of Route 7, its wheels making a soft grisly noise as they transitioned from pavement to the loose gravel at the bottom of our Maple Drive.  Then the sound of Dad gearing down to ascend Maple Drive.  Then Muffin perking up, her tail wagging.  Dad was home!

I would pick up Muffin and move to the side, making way for Dad in his Datsun.  I can see his warm, smiling face under that Detroit Tigers ball cap, his hand in the air, acknowledging our little welcome committee.  As soon as he parked at the top of the driveway I would let Muffin down. She would beat me to him, waddling her way to the driver’s side of the truck, tail still wagging.  

When it was my turn to greet Dad I remember him giving me a sort of one-armed hug as he bent slightly down to greet me.  He could not offer a two-armed hug because he usually had a coffee thermos and a book in one hand. Not content to spend all of his downtime at the factory idly, Dad took books with him to work. Good books. Books that stretched and grew his mind, that buttressed his faith in Christ, that revealed his desire to be a better person.  The one I most recall is Walden, by Henry David Thoreau.  (I have that same book on my shelf.) It is worn and ragged, its pages many times perused, marked, and highlighted.  Placed inside the book are two folded pieces of office paper: scheduling slips from the Potroom Service department Dad worked in at Ormet.  The otherwise blank backsides of the slips are filled with quotes from notable authors, all pertaining to personal growth and betterment through knowledge, all scribbled in Dad’s handwriting.  The book I can see on our shelf I first saw in Dad’s hand, getting out of that little red Datsun truck.

And that was the first time I met Dad, a man who maintained aluminum production and also perused wisdom and happiness, all in a day’s work.  He left the aluminum making and whatever work challenges that certainly went along with it behind him at the plant.  He brought home his bettered intellectual and spiritual self to his family.  Because that’s what a man devoted to being the best father he could be would do. 

Another early impression I have is Dad caring for a friend from Ormet who was retired and in declining health.  Dad would tend to his yard, help with household chores and, of course, offer comfort through visiting. His name was John Slack. John lived alone in north New Martinsville, rolled his own cigarettes on his circular kitchen table with that old-fashion cigarette roller that looks like an old credit card machine that impresses carbon paper (notwithstanding Dad’s gentle protests), and wore bib overalls. Why do I have clear memories of Mr. Slack?  Because even though I was a child who could offer little help to Dad he took me on his many trips to care for John Slack. He was setting a good example and it was important to him that I see firsthand charity and importance of caring for others.

“Doesn’t it feel good to help people?” I recall him saying many times through the years. 

Going to church was a given and Dad loved when we were with him there, especially in the autumn of his life. But going to church was only part of Dad’s loving witness to me as a child. At bedtime he read Bible Stories for Children to me, a blue book with illustrations I still remember.  Muffin was in attendance at the foot of my bed. I still remember the sound of his voice and the squeaking of his bedside chair when he moved the slightest bit.  And I certainly remember his good night kisses after closing the book and before wishing me good night. The feeling of his fatherly love was as real as the feeling of his whiskers on my forehead.

Then there were all those years coaching youth baseball and basketball, showing me how to use tools of all sorts for yard work and around the house, how to change oil in the vehicles, how to politely engage people in conversation, how to be a good and respectful neighbor, are just a few of the practical and thoughtful guideposts Dad shared.

Were you aware that driving carefully and courteously was “really an art form,” and that, “A clean car inside and out drives better.” I bet the next time you take a trip in a newly-cleaned car you will notice the difference in the quality of the ride—and you will think of Dad and smile.

Always and in every context Dad wanted to share what he knew, he wanted to impart knowledge to help me in life. 

In college my mailbox would regularly have letters from Dad looking at me when I opened it.  He would keep me up to date on matters on the farm and share encouraging quotes from his readings and write send entire Bible verses written by hand.  On Christmas break my freshmen year I gave Dad a book from that past semester’s history class.  It was about Saint Francis of Assisi.  He read and reread it, consumed it, really.  Guess what quotes were in his letters the following semester? Saint Francis of Assisi, of course. I was growing up and our relationship was changing so he strove and developed with it, always encouraging me.  Because that is what a good father would do.  So I got to meet Dad again reading his letters in my college dorm room, separated by distance but growing closer.

On one summer break I remember being the first person in the house to wake up. I was making coffee when he came down the steps. He greeted me but it was evident he was out of sorts and a little put off. The next morning when I walked down the steps I was greeted first by the smell of coffee he had already brewed. I was then greeted by his voice: “Good morning, son” he offered as he peered over his reading glasses, open Bible in hand.  He made it a point to be the first one up that day and every day thereafter.  At the time I thought it was about ego or he didn’t like his morning routine broken. Or maybe I just made a bad pot of coffee. But now I see that it was important for him to continue setting a good example for his son, and that that example was the first thing I saw in those mornings. 

I used to think it was odd that Dad was so enthralled with eastern bluebirds. I recall asking him why he was so excited about them, feeding them, watching them. Undeterred by my quizzical tone, he explained how beautiful they are, how their beauty reminds him of God’s glory in creation, and that he enjoys introducing that joy to others. Flash forward over twenty years and I now excitedly watch for, feed, and provide housing for eastern bluebirds.  Because of his courage to be a good example our family now enjoys this small blue part of God’s creation. And I think of Dad when I see and hear those beautiful little birds; I cannot listen to their rolling warble without thinking of him. 

As I entered married life Dad could not have been more supportive and encouraging. He loved and admired Suzanne and never hesitated to express his feelings about her. He knew how happy I was and even made it a point, early in our relationship, to politely corner Suzanne to tell her how happy he was for us and how glad he was that God brought us together.  He loved telling people the story of how Suzanne and I met. I recall one phone conversation when Dad called me specifically to make sure he had those details correct. When I confirmed that the point in the story that he enjoyed most was correct he let out that distinctive Jones chuckle that reminded me so much of listening to his brothers and sisters.

Once, in my early thirties, I let it slip over the phone that I was behind schedule, over budget, and stressed about the small addition I was building onto our rental property.  Later that day Dad called back to let me know that he and Mom were going to drive the 300 miles to Hershey to help, and they would not take no for an answer.  They did just that and both were an invaluable help.  Dad was in his early seventies.  We crawled around in a cramped crawl space, set the main stack sewage line, painted, and pulled electrical wire.  He was dealing with a sciatic nerve in his hip.  He never complained about it. The only reason I was reminded of the pain he was dealing with was because I saw him limping down an aisle at Lowe’s when he was unaware I could see him. Working around the property he kept it hid. I recall watching him there at Lowe’s, walking purposely and painfully for my benefit, and being moved that I had the privilege to call this kind man, Dad. 

The day Suzanne and I shared with everyone that we had entered the process for adoption Dad could not have been more delighted. From that moment on he, along with the entire family, was overjoyed for us. The process of adoption was unfamiliar to him but that did not hinder his loving support through the long process, always ready to encourage and tactfully ask questions.  On the day Vivian was born I called home to tell Mom and Dad that we were flying to Florida and would return home a family.  They were both more elated than I could describe.  And when we landed in Harrisburg ten days later, there was Dad, Mom, and the family waiting in the Harrisburg airport with balloons and signs, ready to love and adore their new granddaughter. 

I soon thereafter became a stay-at-home Dad. Dad went out of his way to tell me that being a stay-at-home Dad was foreign to men of his generation. “Unheard of,” I recall him saying. That is just something men did not do when he was my age.  He then seamlessly went on to say how proud he was of me, that he thought it took courage to do so, that it was a joy for him to see me raising Vivian, and that God blessed all three of us through each other.  I recall that moment and conversation clearly—it was yet another time in my life when I got to meet this man doing his best to be a great father. 

And did Dad ever love and adore Vivian! After he had open heart surgery he was being carted out of ICU and was in the hallway awaiting another room.  We approached him, Vivian’s head being level with his, and she said, “Hi Pappy!” He opened his eyes, looked at then-four-year-old Vivian a few inches from his face and, through all that pain smiled and said, “You are cute!”   Vivian’s middle name is Kate, in honor of Dad’s mother, who he always spoke so lovingly about. He always smiled when he said her full name. 

In the last few years of Dad’s life, as his health declined and he could not do the things he loved to do, he became even more expressive of his feelings, his praise and his gratitude. Effusive, even.  He would say deeply kind and encouraging things to me about being his son, being a father to Vivian, being a husband to Suzanne, and being a friend to those around me.  I usually responded with, “Well, Dad, all that is largely your fault.”  The first time I responded that way he was silent for a moment, smiled, closed his eyes, and said, “Thank you, son.”  Without fail he poured out love, praise, and affection; doing so became a regular sign-off for him on the phone and when we parted from visits. He left no loving sentiment unsaid. 

Within the last ten months Dad twice said goodbye to me.  He knew he did not have much time left on this side of eternity.  But through his physical weakness and pain he had the strength and courage to say goodbye.  Of course, he spared no kind and loving words in those painfully tender moments.  And he finished those goodbyes with a loving admonition: “Carry on, son. Go carry on.”

The day before Dad died I was able to be with him. It was my turn to say goodbye.  When I leaned in and said, “Good morning, Dad,” he slowly opened his eyes just enough to see, slowly turned his head, and we looked at each other. He made the slightest smile. I leaned in again and said a prayer with Dad, thanking God for being so blessed to be his son, for blessing Dad with an abiding faith in Christ, and for his life that blessed so many people.  I told him that I was proud to be his son. He closed his eyes, lightly squeezed my hand, and was able to say, “Thank you.”  He tried to say more. I was unable to understand what he said but I knew exactly what he said.  Dad was, even then, at the threshold of death, with his final strength, saying all those loving and caring things a great Dad would say.  Right to the las he was being the best Dad he could be. And he was telling me, telling all of us, to to carry on.

Dad was being Dad, to the last.  

So there, in sorrow at his bedside, I got to meet Dad again.  But, as Dad reminded me a few months ago, we will meet again.  

Thanks you, Dad. I love you.