PRAY: What Did You Learn Today?
“What did you learn today?”
My brother and I grew to dread the question. Dad directed it at us every school night from perhaps second grade on. I remember planning ahead to make sure I had an answer ready, which I now realize was Dad’s intent. Of course, our engineer dad wouldn’t settle for pat answers like “math” or “reading.” We had to give a full explanation of whatever we thought we’d learned—and be prepared to defend it against his questions and challenges.
My dad, Harold Surface, took his last breaths on June 10 of this year. He handled his battle with cancer like everything else in his life, with few words and great strength. Since then, I’ve written nothing about him longer than a Facebook status. But in honor of what would have been his eighty-first birthday today, I want to share some of the things Dad taught me.
Work hard. Dad grew up on a farm where chores were accepted and expected. With some effort, he transferred this concept to parenting in the suburbs of Cincinnati. Mike and I learned to garden; to cook; to do yard work; to clean and maintain a home; and even to paint and hang wallpaper. Our early experiences prepared us for life in real and practical ways, just as Dad wanted.
Do it yourself.When I was small, I thought everyone had a dad who rotated tires, packed wheel bearings, fixed washing machines and refrigerators, and designed/built a deck for the back of the family home. Dad did all these things and more. If something broke, my first thought was, “Dad will fix it.” And he almost always could.
Put family first.At least twice in his long career with General Electric, Dad had the opportunity to work overseas. He turned down both chances because he wanted my brother and me to remain at our local high school. He gave his vacation time for long family camping trips to various parts of the country in order to ensure we had experiences he’d missed growing up. Without fanfare, Dad made many other sacrifices to help his family, near and far.
Help others. Both in the community where I grew up and in the more rural area of his retirement, Dad plowed the neighbor’s driveways in the winter and shared garden produce (including popcorn) in the summer. When I cleaned out his desk this summer, I found an entire section of envelopes from places like Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army, all with notes inside thanking him for his donation. Once again, Dad was a quiet but generous giver.
Show your love. Dad showed his love for God and for others through the actions mentioned above. And he did so through forty years of diabetes, multiple foot surgeries, and a protracted battle with cancer. As I helped my mother care for him during the final weeks of his life, I never saw him fail to return her goodnight kiss—even when he seemed conscious of little else. We had no questions about Dad’s love. And I pray he had no questions about mine.
For the first time in many years, I won’t give you a call on your birthday, Dad. But I write this with the hope that you knew how much I learned, not only in school but from a life well-lived before us all. Thanks for the memories and so much more. I love you.