In the year after my dad died, as part of my grieving, I wrote this book. I’ve waited to make it public for many reasons. But now, more than 11 years later, I want to share it. My dad was a good man. I want you to know about him and his influence. I hope you enjoy.
Pastors have it rough. They are supposed to be spiritual leaders who demonstrate what spiritual maturity is all about. At the same time, they are just sinful people like everyone else. Trying to balance the two conditions causes many dilemmas in life. As I mentioned earlier, my dad didn’t wood carve because church people might see him with sawdust on him. Stuff like that made life rough, always having to wonder if this was OK for a pastor to be doing. Non-pastors always tell pastors that “you can’t try to please people.” Right. If you don’t try to please people you’d have to cease being human.
I wouldn’t say that my dad was fake as a pastor, he was real, but not the real I saw at home. He was the same guy, just more reserved in public. I saw things in that man outside of his pastoral life that were anything but pastoral! Allow me to explain!
When my grandfather was dying, the whole family chipped in to take care of things and help out. One hot, steamy Fourth of July, the whole family was at my grandparent’s house in northern Wisconsin. It was humid and unbelievably hot. Some of us were sleeping in their basement. My grandparent’s house was built in a bog and bogs are wet. Their basement was incredibly wet. Water would form on everything and everything felt gooey. It was next to impossible to sleep down there. I proposed that we go buy a dehumidifier. Fine idea.
My mom and dad, sister and I went in to town and went to the K-mart that was still open. We wandered all over the store looking for a stupid dehumidifier, nowhere to be found. No one appeared to be working on this Fourth of July holiday. We couldn’t find a dehumidifier or anyone to help us. My dad, totally frustrated and annoyed by the hot weather, picks up one of the employee-only phones and says into the loudspeaker over the Rhinelander K-mart, “Hello? Hello? Is anyone there? Hello? I need a stupid dehumidifier. Hello?” I’m cracking up just writing about it. Just one of those moments.
Pastors get frustrated, annoyed, impatient and rude, especially when the temperature is 98. They’re people. They aren’t perfect. I think my dad always held out hope that he would be perfect, I think all believers do. But all believers, including my dad, are painfully aware that they aren’t. There were several hundred people who showed up to my dad’s memorial service and most, probably 90%, knew my dad from his pastoral role. He was a great pastor. But I don’t really remember him as my pastor. My favorite moments from him had nothing to do with church. Nothing at all. In fact, I think for much of my youth I viewed the church as the enemy, the place that took my dad away. I have many issues with the church, I think they all stem from this.
I don’t tell you these things to talk down my dad or portray him as a bad guy. Far from it. I point them out to show that he was a guy. A guy who happened to be a pastor. People have weird notions of pastors. They sit around all week praying and reading the Bible. Kind of mystical people with no foot in reality. They are there at everyone’s beck and call, willing to stop praying for a moment to help little ol’ Mrs. Grudemeier plant her roses. Men stay away from church. This is due, in part, to the fact that pastors come across as feminine and soft. There was nothing feminine and soft about my dad, but people made the assumption based on the stereotype of pastors. My dad was very real.
Our family used to have a parakeet named Annabelle. For some reason, this bird was assigned to my room. I think the reason was that I was the youngest, take it. Since the bird was in my room, it didn’t bother anyone so the family began to think that having a parakeet was easy and nice. The family decided we needed another one. So along with yellow Annabelle, we added blue, I don’t even remember its name. If Annabelle was a “good” parakeet, “good” for parakeets means “quiet,” the blue one was a horrible, horrible waste of parakeet skin. The thing made more noise and more mess than any flock of birds combined. This dumb, blue bird was obsessed with lifting the little gate to her food dish and letting it fall. All day and night she’d be in there slamming the little gate by her food dish. It got to be too much.
One day I came home from school to notice we only had one parakeet. “Mom, what happened to (whatever the blue one’s name was)?”
“Well, Jeff, your father killed it.”
“What? How did he do that?”
“You ask him.” I went and found my dad.
“Hey dad, how did you kill (insert bird’s name)?”
He started laughing. “Well, I filled up the sink next to the washing machine with water and put his cage in there. Didn’t take long at all.” Ahh, I could now sleep through the night without being woken up by a dumb bird slamming his cage.
That’s nothing horrible, but it’s real. I liked my dad because he was real. His professional pastorness was not fake, but it wasn’t real either. He had a pastor voice, the professional voice that was friendly, courteous and sounded willing to help. Not his usual tone! Not that my dad wasn’t friendly, courteous, or willing to help, he was, more than anyone I’ve known, but the voice still wasn’t him.
My dad used to burp really well. He would say things while burping, usually just “Yuuuuup.” I can still hear it today, mainly because I do it too. I can also hear my mother “Oh Ken,” after every one. After burping he would then say “ookrey.” Have no idea why, I guess it was his brand of “excuse me.” It just added to his charm. I never heard him burp at church, which was good, but still, my pastor was not my dad.