This year would have marked my Dad’s 80th birthday. As some of you know, he was never a man of many words. But today I consider the huge impact he made in my life, the volumes he taught me, and the hope I have that somehow I will be more like him.
Maybe it was growing up as the only brother to three sisters that did it to him. He was observant, engaging and polite, but he just didn’t talk much. Although his name was Larrabee (after his father), his sisters found it easier to call him “Babby” and that name stuck. To learn a little more about Babby’s background, take a look at this piece I wrote shortly after his death in 2009.
Can a non-verbose man leave a legacy? Which of his many silent lessons can be put into words? Bare with me as I recall a few stories from my Dad….
Persistence and Promises
“Keep at it!” Brief encouragement. It still rings in my ears. This was one of his phrases that I remember the most from growing up. When I would fall off my bike as a youngster, I would hear “Don’t give up. Keep riding. Keep at it!”
When I was about 11 years old, I convinced myself that I would build a full-scale glider. To make wings, I used an old aluminum door frame (poor choice – too heavy) and some plastic or mylar sheeting to cover it. I’m sure it was beyond tempting for Dad to say, “It’ll never fly. Forget it.” But no, he offered brief advice. He encouraged me. He said, “Keep at it. Just do your best and it’ll work out.” And then – putting his persistence to a patient test – he let me borrow most of his tools in the shed. I know I wore out a few – probably even ruining a tool or two. Try as I did, the thing never flew. Because of its 8ft wingspan, I had to pull the “glider” down the middle of the street with a rope tied behind my bike. The flying door was terribly unstable. Fortunately for the neighbors (and their cars), I gave up. But Dad never gave up on me.
Dad not only encouraged persistence, he lived it. During one period of time when I was a teenager, Dad was unemployed for over a year. I still don’t know exactly how many resumes he sent out, but I know it was a ton. Daily he poured over job postings in local newspapers, searching for a suitable opening until finally, after learning fresh skills and exploring opportunities, he got a new job.
Several times during my lengthy college tenure, my grades were low. You want to know what (or who) kept me from quitting? Yep. It was Dad. And I earned my degree.
So I slowly came to value persistence from my Dad. And I came to learn what a promise is: A promise is something you keep.
When my Dad said “Yes I will” or “I’ll be there” it was like money in the bank. Every football game, special occasion, parent-teacher meeting, church commitment or whatever he promised to be there for, Dad would appear. His “yes” was seldom a flippant yes. Sometimes it was a little unnerving waiting for his answer when I asked if he would help me with something. Usually, at least initially, I got silence for several seconds. It was as if he was calculating if he could really follow through and deliver if he said “yes I will.”
Was he perfect? No, not by a long shot. But through my Dad I slowly gained a better picture of my Heavenly Father – who makes incredible promises for me …and keeps them perfectly. I learned that when God says, “I have loved you, chosen you and no one can snatch you out of my hand…” then there’s no limit to the amount of confidence I can place in Him.
Yes. No. and “We’ll See.”
Lengthy conversations were generally less than 5 minutes with my Dad. And, since he valued promises kept, he would answer in one of 3 ways if, during the course of a conversation, he was asked a direct question or asked for help: “Yes” or “No” or “We’ll See”
I’ve already described what would happen if he said “yes.” And “no” meant no. Definitely no. But “we’ll see” meant something like, “I think I would like to say yes but currently I am not sure if or how I can deliver what you’ve asked for.”
One time during the period when my Dad was the plant manager for a chemical plant, an employee came to him and asked for a raise. This particular man was skilled, a very diligent worker and was well trusted by other employees. As reported to me after the fact, the man explained to my Dad why he needed the raise – and it was not for selfish reasons at all.
After listening silently during the man’s request, my Dad answered, “we’ll see.” The conversation was over.
To put this story into proper context, consider that the plant had other skilled and trusted workers. Also, the plant was in a small town. If one skilled worker received a raise, chances were that most of the town – at least the vast majority of plant employees and their families – would know about it. A raise could be perceived as playing favorites.
So after some deliberation and silent planning, my Dad went to the man and offered a way for him to work some extra hours here and there – providing slow increments of overtime pay. This met the financial need the man had and allowed my Dad’s answer of “we’ll see” to transform into an indirect “yes.”
“Yes, no and ‘we’ll see'” were Dad’s three possible responses. I love them now. I try to use this approach whenever I am asked for help.
Treasure of Time and Smiles
Dad showed me how to have fun and have a meaningful time together. And he even used words when he had to.
Some of my treasured experiences with my Dad came from very simple outings we had – hunting, a little fishing or, later in life, just a walk in the woods or a walk down the street. Those were fairly quiet walks. But we would usually end up with the conclusion that the Lord had blessed us both with the beauty of the day and just time to enjoy each other.
As I wrote earlier, I saw my Dad’s life change significantly through Jesus during his 50’s. After that point, I saw him smile more than ever. And, I would usually catch him smiling at me if we were on a walk together. His smile was to be treasured.
After short outings on a pond to fish when I was a boy, my Dad would say something like, “Well, we didn’t catch anything but I sure did enjoy the time.” I can still hear him say it today.
Yes Dad, I sure did too.