For the first time this holiday season I’m celebrating without my father.
They say the first year after the loss of a loved one is the worst. Holidays especially. The first year after my father died is coming to an end and the holiday season is upon us.
There were, of course, many holidays and times when I was away from my family, yet, always a phone call away from the traditional greetings of my father. There were the phone calls during college where it never failed that the phone would ring at 7 a.m. just to be sure that my father caught me before the busyness of a college day.
“Dad, you can call anytime during the day, you know. I’m not that busy.”
“Well, I just want to make sure I get to talk to you. I never know where you are or who you’re running around with and what homework needs to get done.”
“Okay, dad. It’s good to hear from you.” Even at 7 a.m. it was good to talk to my dad.
There were the phone calls in Africa, too. My family and I figured out the time change and network problems of living in rural Africa for two years. Nothing stopped me from a phone call with my parents. Not the heat. Not the miles of walking. Not the lack of power. Not the in-and-out network. No. I made sure to have a phone date set each time I hung up the phone with my parents so I had another call to look forward to. And if it meant standing on the root of a baobab tree with village folks passing by wondering about the crazy American. So be it!
The phone calls during seminary and my first call occurred on Sunday afternoon. Holy, Sabbath time. I usually was in the midst of a post-Sunday morning fog and my dad would call. He wanted to know about my sermon and how service went; he was always eager to tell me about his morning and the sermon he heard. He asked me theological questions and wanted to know my thoughts. I heard about his week and who he went out to lunch with, updates on the town and family. I received the latest movie reviews and which characters he believed best exemplified the Christ figure. He would ask about the congregation. He wanted to know that I was taking time to myself. He reveled in hearing about the new restaurants and places I visited. And of course he always asked about my car. My dad loved cars and never failed to ask about how my car was driving, whether I needed an oil change or new tires, or if I hit any animals on the road. Holy, Sabbath time.
The phone rings to this day and I still look hoping for a call from my dad.
The shortcut for “dad” is still on my cell phone.
I still hear his voice.
I still feel his love.
And when I need the reminder of his presence I remember his final words to me on the phone almost every phone call: “It was good talking to you. You be good now. And remember I love you.”