Family – Fathers (part 4)

© Lauren Ashley Herrmann 2011-2014

Papa,

Winters were always tough. I remember plenty of nights where all I wanted to do was stand in front of the wood burner to keep warm, rotating like a shish kabob so as not to get too hot, and plenty of mornings where I would rush downstairs with my clothes in hand to stand there yet again and get dressed for school. It never failed, heat always came roaring out of that thing, no matter what time of day, no matter how cold or how long the winter was. Our home was always warm.

I may never understand exactly how much work went into chopping all the firewood needed for a winter at the farm, but I do know that you did all that work—you put yourself in dangerous situations and didn’t take a moment to rest—so that your “girls” would be taken care of. You’ve always been incredibly selfless in your deeds. Always making sure the animals were looked after, the garden tended, the lawn mowed, the lane in tip-top shape, DELICIOUS food on the table, and heat in the house. For all the struggles we went through, the many challenges we faced as a family, you never once neglected any of the things you considered obligations—anything related to the well-being of your family. Because of this you have taught me what it means to persevere, to be disciplined. You’ve taught me the true spirit of sacrifice and devotion.

I don’t know that I saw it when I was younger, but dad, you have such a pure heart, such a beautiful, stainless spirit. You would literally do anything for anyone. And you have—you have sacrificed yourself to save lives, you have pushed and pushed to finish projects, knowing that if you didn’t do it, it would not get done. In those moments of hopelessness and weariness you’ve turned to your Creator, beseeching His help and longing for His grace. And in those moments your prayers have been answered, either you’ve been given the strength to see the task through, or help has been provided. This is a testament to your faith and your spiritual capacity, your tender heart and desire to be of service.

You always encouraged me to do what made me happy—whether it was scooping up snails anytime we went fishing, collecting toads and rocks at the farm, being ridiculously dorky with my sister, becoming a Bahá’í, choosing my partner in this life and the next, or moving halfway around the world—you’ve always trusted my ability to see reality clearly, with my own eyes, and you’ve supported me in exploring and developing my capacity to know, in my own heart, what is true and right. What I know to be true and right is that you are a wonderful father, a father who’s heart beats with love for his wife and daughters, a father who believes in the power of justice and fairness, a father who believes in the value of honest work and commitment to one’s principles, a father who I am both honored and proud to be a daughter of, a father I love so deeply and profoundly I am moved to tears.

Even though Adam and I are on the other side of the globe, I feel you with me and I’m grateful, oh-so-grateful to have you as my papa bear. I am grateful to know that any time I want I can come home, back my favorite place to park myself in front of that wood burner. A wood burner representative of some of my fondest childhood memories—late nights dancing in the kitchen to Wang Chung, lazy days making homemade sausage and beef jerky, long weekends of pajama wearing and movie watching. A wood burner representative of a man who ceaselessly worked, tirelessly struggled, and willingly sacrificed so that his family would wont for not. A wood burner, that much like the man who stokes its fires, is steadfast in its warmth, reliable in its presence, and humble in its environment. A wood burner that burns with a fathers love for his wife and daughters—the safest place I’ve ever known.

I love you daddy,
your little spook

Exactly 10 emotional and uncertain months had passed after my grandfather’s transition to the next world when I received a phone call on a brisk January day, the 27th, 2010. It was, much to my surprise, information about the father of my closest friend, a teacher, an ally, a former employer, a sports enthusiast and adventurous fisherman who had winged his flight into the Unseen Realm Above and passed away at the young age of 54. It took me by complete surprise. That a coach, a mentor, a best friend, a husband, father, uncle and brother could be so quickly separated from those he loved. I immediately wondered what impact the passing of this figure meant for my coach, my mentor, my best friend, my very own father. From that day on, at the advice of this cherished man’s son, I said the following prayer from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá daily,

O Lord! In this Most Great Dispensation Thou dost accept the intercession of children in behalf of their parents.  This is one of the special infinite bestowals of this Dispensation.  Therefore, O Thou kind Lord, accept the request of this Thy servant at the threshold of Thy singleness and submerge his father in the ocean of Thy grace, because this son hath arisen to render Thee service and is exerting effort at all times in the pathway of Thy love.  Verily, Thou art the Giver, the Forgiver and the Kind.

Dad, what makes me most proud to be your son is the unconditional love I feel from you on a daily basis. Regardless of the constraints you are under or the pressure that may be mounting in various aspects of your life, you always seem to set everything aside, even if for a brief moment, and find a way to be present to your son. As such, I constantly think about what it is that I can do to repay you for that genuine support. Subsequently, I hope that each opportunity I have to be of service to an individual, a community, and/or an institution is done in your name.

Bahá’u’lláh writes,

It is the bounden duty of parents to rear their children to be staunch in faith, the reason being that a child who removeth himself from the religion of God will not act in such a way as to win the good pleasure of his parents and his Lord. For every praiseworthy deed is born out of the light of religion, and lacking this supreme bestowal the child will not turn away from any evil, nor will he draw nigh unto any good.
(A Compilation on Bahá’í Education, page 3)

At times you were strict, but you were always fair. You taught me the principle of commitment and carrying something out to its very end. There was no quitting. There was no stepping down. There was no cowardice or inability to take responsibility. You created and established guidelines, and I did my best to live up and into them, and when I would fall short, oh would I fall short, the light of your unfailing grace would find its way into my heart. Yet, what I am most proud of is to know that I was “rear[ed] to be staunch in faith.” Your commitment to spiritual education, alongside the material, was second to no one. This decision meant tremendous sacrifice. However, I feel that who I am today, where I am today, what I have been able to accomplish, and all the good that has come as I channel the bounty of God, is all connected to this decision to keep me under the shadow and protection of the Almighty. It is a testament and answer to an untold number of prayers to hear that my spiritual growth is what makes you so proud.

Naturally, like most young couples, Lindsey and I continue to consider placing the building blocks necessary in starting our own family. What is so reassuring is that I am constantly reminded of the example you and mom are, not to mention the sacrifices that each decision you carried out required. It would be no surprise to hear that the same was the case for you. That is, that when you started contemplating starting your own family, that you too felt blessed to have had your mom and dad as examples, as your inspiration. Further, you said it yourself, that when it came to raising a family you always looked to mom as the rock who pushed you through the struggles. You mentioned that she always kept the sanity. Yet, you may be surprised to hear what mom said about you,

My relationship with Dan has taught be to be more patient, to be a better listener, to be a better mother, and to appreciate the relationships we have formed as a family. His unexpected “I Love You” or “I Miss You” texts still make my stomach do a little flip and put a smile on my face. I thank God for him every day.

I recently asked her, when thinking about you as a father, what makes her (your wife and life partner) most proud? She said,

Looking at my children and seeing how he influenced who they have become. My favorite trait they inherited was the ability to willingly offer help to anyone who needs it without expecting anything in return. He has always been a safe place for all of us to fall.

True to form dad. True to form. So, what I am taking from all of this is (i) to follow Lindsey’s lead and (ii) send her a text ever-so-often with the words, “I Love You”. : )

I recently asked you how being a father assisted in your growth and what you replied with is something that I hope to never forget. You said,

It allowed me to let others into my life … it makes you realize as your children grow and move, just how short our time is on this amazing planet … that you really don’t recognize that until it is happening. But the proudest moments of my life are and continue to be the daily accomplishments of my children.

I am reminded of the following guidance from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá which you clearly mastered,

While the children are yet in their infancy feed them from the breast of heavenly grace, foster  them in the cradle of all excellence, rear them in the embrace of bounty. Give them the advantage of every useful kind of knowledge. Let them share in every new and rare and wondrous craft and art. Bring them up to work and strive, and accustom them to hardship. Teach them to dedicate their lives to matters of great import, and inspire them to undertake studies that will benefit mankind.
(Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, page 129)

I was writing an email to a good friend who was sharing with me the many commitments he has with his two boys. The more he wrote, the more envious I became in wanting to go back to those moments of safety and security with you. Moments where you were standing on the sidelines. Moments when I would get a bit frustrated, feeling like I had let you down, yet your unconditional support always prevailed. It is remembering these moments where words fall short in articulating just how fortunate I feel to have had such precious times with you.

The first memory that came to mind, when thinking about us, is one that brings three generations together. Picture grandpa Dan standing in the kitchen at the cabin on Ten Mile Lake preparing a meal for the holidays. He was oh-so-careful not to raise his custom-made apron too high. ; ) It came time to carve the meat, this just after making his infamous “Shirley Temples” for Kristin and me, sure to never forget the orange slice. Suddenly, much to everyone’s surprise, sparks flew, breakers blew, lights went out, and a whole lot of laughter ensued. Yep, you guessed it, Grandpa cut right through the cord of the electric knife! Memories such as these, and countless others from Ten Mile, bring to mind the importance of family sharing in joyful experiences together. Your cousin Joey writes,

I remember when we were little and would go to your grandparents, I always thought it was so neat to have two older cousins. I looked up to your dad and Paul as big brothers. I know your dad would do anything for me if I asked. He is a wonderful man and has always been a great cousin. Every year my dad and I go down to decorate the graves. I said to your dad one time that I take pictures just to have a memory, and who knows, I may not make it down one year. His response, “I will make sure you get down there.” Your dad is very special Adam. It kind of trickles down … your grandpa was one of a kind and your dad is special and funny.

Countless memories come to mind when I reflect on our time together as father and son. The deer hunting trips with Luebke, uncle Paul, and uncle Dale all cramming into the rooms at the Wishek Inn on Beaver Avenue, Wishek, ND. The “Houdini Buck” that I clearly missed while belly-crawling with Paul flanked on my immediate right. Or, who could forget the infamous hot-sauce incident in Mark’s brand new camper? Brand. New. Hot. Sauce. Everywhere. Remember his face? I was a bit concerned myself, but I cannot imagine how embarrassed you were to be my father in that moment. Thank God for Mark’s caring heart and ability to see past my many short-comings. Further, I cannot help but recall our trips as a nuclear family to Valley Fair and the Minnesota Zoo. The family vacations to the Meyer Mansion and the countless hours you spent behind the driver’s seat of the boat. I cherish these experiences.

One thing that I know I will never forget is how important family and friends are to me. As shining examples, you and mom live this out in your everyday lives. That is, you are willing to stop whatever it is that you are doing to be of service to those in need. It is as if acquaintances and newly found friends quickly become members of your family. And, those whose friendships are important to you, you do what you can to be of service to their respective journeys at the drop of a hat. The same is the case when considering how you always go out of your way to make those who are most important to me feel like they are on top of the world. Not to mention the fact that you have adopted a New York attorney. ; )

In fact, two friends I consider closest to me shared the following thoughts about you dad,

We always walk around armed. We arm ourselves to guard ourselves, to hide ourselves, to protect ourselves. Dan is the master disarmer. You shake his hand and your armor melts. He tells a joke and your soul opens wide and takes a deep breath while you laugh uncontrollably. He tells a story and your defenses go to sleep as you hang on his every word and intonation–all with brilliant tempo and timing.  You entrust yourself to his care for those moments, without even knowing why or how. There can be no skill more valuable or efficacious in uniting people than Dan’s ability to disarm–for when he removes our defenses, we realize in our nakedness that we are all the same, that we are all so vulnerable, and more importantly, that we can all still trust another, let go, take a deep breath, and laugh uncontrollably.

Dan is one caring, charismatic, dependable and supportive guy. Period.

You know, being here in Haifa, Israel, many miles away from family and friends, a great physical distances separates us. Yet, I am occasionally gifted a few moments to sit in silence and meditate. What may sound strange is that what I miss most are those times where we just sit together. Not a word is uttered nor a glance shared. There is just something simply perfect in the closeness of it all. Although a great wish of yours is for us to return home from Haifa soon, there is something that each passing day in the Holy Land has taught me. That is, the importance of having that coach, that mentor, those moments of safety and security, regardless of the distance between us. What brings me deep-seeded comfort and peace is knowing that you are here for me, and I for you, regardless of the ocean separating us.

Six months after the passing of my friend’s father, June 21, 2010, I had just taken a new job. You wrote me the following message,

Just wanted to send a quick note and say good luck on your first day.  You will probably feel a bit out of sorts on these first couple days but remember all that you have learned both in school and real life and realize your experiences will allow you to be successful in whatever direction life leads you. Keep working hard and it will all fall into place. Love ya, Dad.

I will never forget this advice nor the guidance that you continue to give me as my mentor and my life coach. In the Hidden Words (page 11) it is written,

O SON OF THE SUPREME! I have made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve? I made the light to shed on thee its splendor. Why dost thou veil thyself therefrom?

Out of such a crisis as death came the remembrance of the delicacy of life here on this contingent world. What I have come to realize in reflecting on that cold January day is that what provides the most warmth, what matters beyond a reasonable doubt, and what is at the core of every family and community across the globe, is the relationship we foster with one another, especially those relationships between a father and a son. The message of joy is, that when sacrifices are made, unconditional love offered, support reciprocated, quality time spent, friendships fostered, guards let down and disarmament by way of the heart practiced, regardless of the distance and whatever the circumstance, what we have is special and worth sharing. We do not know when God will call us back “home”. And, until that time, and for eternity, I will be thankful for the moments that have come before and after the 27 of January 2010. I called you that morning holding back tears with a saddened heart, and with courage and fear in my soul, I simply said “I love you dad.”

Adam Paul

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