Gone. Not gone, like John Coltrane, or a cool breeze, but gone. When I was a kid, that was my Dad – gone. He was an adventurer, an entrepreneur. He was also driven by circumstances beyond his control that frustrated him, ticked him off and often overwhelmed him. So he dealt with it by going. He was always going somewhere – out, away, gone.
When I was just four years old, we moved from Oregon to Alaska. My Dad had a chromium mine with some friends from the states. He put my Mom and two brothers and me in an apartment in Anchorage and spent most of his time out at the mine, digging chromium to make bumpers for cars. I remember the ice and the snow, and walking to the first grade in “packs” of kids, so the wild dogs that roamed the edges of town wouldn’t catch us and eat us. When my Mom had my little sister, she started to show the first signs of MS, so he sent us back to Walla Walla, my Mom’s home town, to live with my Grandfather. And that was my life from then on. A letter, a phone call, and always wondering when my Dad would come home.
We moved to a house on Boyer street and then to a house on Francis street, and from time to time Dad would come home, but he never really lived in those places. When I was ten, he bought a foreclosure up on Whitman street for $7,000 and moved us in. It was a fixer-upper, but he never really fixed it up. I remember him getting a load of siding from a job he sold to a big development. When he put the siding on he was about 40 squares short, so the back side of the house stayed unfinished for the next ten years. And that was our life – unfinished, 40 squares short, gone…
When I was twelve, he left for good, well at least it seemed like that. Mom was very sick and he couldn’t make enough to support us all so he went looking for the pot of gold. Interestingly enough, he found it, but not before I was gone… gone from home, gone to San Francisco, gone into the “Sixties”, gone…
After I left home, my Dad began to make enough money to finally take care of my Mom. He moved her to California, and when his company moved to Seattle, he bought her a house up there. For the last years of her life, he was not gone. He was there for her, and I admired him for that.
We never talked much. Oh we got together, and told stories, and laughed – Dad was a people person and fun to be with – but we never had “those” talks. You know, the kind of talks that help a son get on the right track: how to balance a checkbook, how to have real relationships, how to prepare for your life’s work, the kind of talks that end with, “I love you, son, and I want the best for your life.” So I was flying on instruments for most of my life. Until I met Jesus Christ.
One of the most meaningful talks I ever had with my Dad was about my new-found “religion.” He didn’t exactly understand it, but he could see that something had changed in my life. I wasn’t wandering any more, I wasn’t a “loser” as he put it, but I was going for the gold, and he told me he was proud of me. That and the two times he told me he loved me were real highlights in my relationship with my Dad.
So we went along like that for many years. After my mom died, he met a great lady from the Philippines and married her. She was so good for him and through her he learned many things: patience, kindness, communication, real love I think. But he and I were still in that “gone” place. Since I couldn’t find a way to tell him how I felt, that I was concerned for his eternity, I started sending him books: Chuck Colson, Lee Strobel, Tim LaHaye, everything I could to show him the reality of Jesus Christ, and the love of the Father in heaven. When I wrote my first book, I sent him a copy. Later, when I talked to him on the phone, he said, “That’s a good book.” That meant a lot.
Last Saturday, July 17th, my Dad died. He was 89 and worn out. My sister was taking care of him and let me know that he was going, so I got on a plane and went to Seattle. I missed him by an hour. But he knew I was coming. My brother told me that when Dad heard I was on my way, he was able to let go, because he knew that there was nothing between us any more that would keep me away. All the books that I had sent were there, he had read every one of them. And before I left home, I had asked my sister to ask him three things: did he believe that Jesus was the Son of God; did he believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead; and did he believe that if he asked Jesus to forgive his sins, that Jesus would forgive him. My sister said that he answered “Yes,” to all three questions, and that he was ready to go.
So now he’s gone again, not like Coltrane or a cool breeze, but gone home. Home to be with his Father, the prodigal coming back down the long road. And even as I struggle to find ways to grieve, I have peace. This prodigal son will see his prodigal father again, when we are both home and the real story of our relationship can begin.
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. Luke 15:20