Father's Day, or Thanksgiving? A Retrospective
by Shawn McEvoy
I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart
I will enter his courts with praise
I will say "this is the day that the Lord has made"
I will rejoice for he has made me glad
~ "He Has Made Me Glad"
Make no mistake – I’ll never be "happy" that my father passed on at age 57. I am not exuberant that he did not get to know his incredible grandchildren, or give his daughter away on her wedding day. I ached for his father, who had already lost a young wife to cancer and his eldest son to a car accident in the prime of life. I still haven’t grasped the void he left in the lives of his fishing buddies or his work community. I never wished for my mother to enter her golden years without the love of her life beside her. And yet ...
I had joy then, that day, even as I delivered my father’s eulogy, and I have joy now.
God rejoices in the coming home of His saints, even if those who knew my father understand that by some definitions, he was no saint. But this was a man -- my best man -- who came to know the truth of grace, who experienced no fear or pain in encountering death, and whose final days were made comfortable by knowing it hasn’t even entered into the heart of man what God has in store for those who love Him (1 Cor. 2:9).
I’ve come to see that Dan McEvoy was a lot of things to a lot of people who still feel the void he left. This history has allowed me to see a lot of outpouring, the greatest of which was the phone call we received in the hospital from an old friend. My father’s liver had been conquered by melanoma which had metastasized there. When Mrs. Miller – a woman of my grandmother’s generation – telephoned to say her good-byes, she tearfully asked whether there was any way Dan could keep living if she donated her own liver. I’m not even sure of the ethics there, and we were beyond the help of a transplant, but all I could focus on was: Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.
And so, I remain thankful. And as I tell you why, I hope you’ll not only follow Paul’s lead to "rejoice with those who rejoice," but that no matter how good, rotten, or unfair your own situation has been with your own father, you’ll find some small cause for gratitude.
In 1997, my father finally decided he needed a Lord and Savior. This was the only prayer I ever really begged God to answer for me, and He came through, not in my time, but in His time. After he made that decision, I knew my faith would be such that whatever happened, whenever it happened, the rest of my life, I would be okay.
With item number one of thanksgiving in place, I am able to say I am also overflowing with thanks for these things:
I am thankful that Dad was the best man in my wedding, and put his hand on my shoulder during the ceremony.
I am thankful that my parents stayed together, especially considering it was Christianity that almost broke them up in the early 80s. They not only endured that rough spot in their marriage, they made it better, loving each other "more than yesterday and less than tomorrow" right up until the end.
I am thankful that my friends Jay and Bill considered "The Danner" a second father.
I am thankful for Christmas 2000, when our family rented a mountain cabin and had our best Christmas ever – not even knowing it would be our last one with the guy that glued all our crazy personalities together.
I am thankful that we cheered my sister as she walked across the stage to complete her degree, and that Dad got to read the essay I wrote about his life and our relationship for one of my graduate courses.
I am thankful for the way my mother’s mother and sisters adored my father, and were never shy in telling me about it.
I am thankful my father gave me everything I needed growing up, and everything I need to go on. As I told him in the inscription to a book I gave him, "you have shown me the ways to be strong, now perhaps you can also show me the strength of being weak." He did.
I am also thankful for the little things: Post-Thanksgiving "turkey sangs" … playing catch by the pool ... the "let’s-do-it" support when I announced I wanted to stay out of school a year before attending a small Baptist college in Oklahoma (although hearing the words "full tuition" didn’t exactly make this hard thing for him) … the somber day we spent in Dallas touring the JFK assassination site … every fishing trip we took. I am even glad I never beat him at tennis.
I am extremely grateful for the eight full days we spent laughing, crying, thinking, praying and just being quiet before he died. We agreed that regardless of whenever either of us were to leave this earth, there was naturally a finite amount of time we could possibly spend together, and so sometimes we just sat, and we loved it. He asked me how I could bear to continue to wipe down his face, or help him move in bed. I got to tell him that I was certain a year from now I would give anything to wring out his washcloths just one more time.
Mostly, I am thankful for the stories and the memories we have and which we shared with each other during our final days. I’d like to tell you two of these.
One day when I was very young, my father and my aunt were tanning beside our pool. I had been playing on the steps. My aunt suddenly realized the splashing she was hearing was not a good sign. They noticed me floating face down in the water. Dad jumped in and yanked me up, only to see me spit water and say, "That was fun; let’s do it again!" I am not sure why this story was so special to Dad (after all, he got in trouble), but he told it often. Maybe it was his reminder of fragility, love, and responsibility.
In any case, 13 years later it was my turn to pluck him from the water. We had taken a friend’s pop up trailer to Arizona’s Roosevelt Lake. We had just set up camp and rented our pathetic little aluminum boat with the outboard motor. We were preparing to head out for "the evening feed," when I saw a light bulb go off over my father’s head.
I could tell his back was not up to an evening of sitting on the hard metal benches that pass for seats. He ran to the campsite, and returned with a folding lawn chair which he smugly placed over the middle bench. He sat down, facing the rear of the craft, and said, "You’ll have to drive, Shawn-o, heh heh." He had his fishing pole in one hand, a silver bullet in the other, a big grin on his face, and on his head, a cheap ball cap he had bought at a convenience store that morning which simply said, "Captain." How apropos.
As we made our way out of our cove and past the no-wake buoys, the wind began to whip up some whitecaps on the water. As soon as we were past the buoys, I revved the motor, and accidentally turned the rudder to starboard just as a wave struck the port side of the boat. Wham! We went perpendicular to the water before the boat slapped back to the surface. I looked up, relieved, until I noticed The Captain was no longer in the boat!
His fishing gear was still there, his beverage was unharmed, and his ridiculous throne was still upright, but he had abandoned ship, and was now floating somewhere behind me as the boat continued to surge forward. Now I did a very odd thing. Instead of simply circling back in a wide arc to get him, I panicked and hit the kill switch on the motor. Now stopped, I could hear a faint voice crying over the waves, "Shawn-o, come baaaaccck!"
"I’m trying – I can’t get the motor restarted!"
(Long pause) … "Row!"
So I tried to row, but the waves were pretty strong and the oars did not fit the oarlocks properly. Dad lost his shoes, his glasses, and the old-lady style sunglasses that he wore over his eyeglasses, and swam to a buoy. I eventually got the motor restarted, and went to pick him up. He got in the boat, still wearing his captain’s hat, and we went to a cove to start fishing. Nobody said anything.
After an hour of no conversation and no bites, I tried to apologize, but he would have no part of it. "That’s what I get for looking like Captain Jackass" he said.
Even though we each got a turn to raise the other from the water, I don’t think either case qualifies as any official kind of baptism. But I do think the moral is – you don’t ask a drowning man if he wants to be saved.
Too many of us are riding around in choppy waters on rickety thrones like our own Captain Jackass. Eventually, we’re gonna wind up in the drink. Hopefully, we’ll have the wisdom to understand what’s happening: Peace, be still. Trust in the arms that will raise you up again. His grace is sufficient for me, for Dan McEvoy, and for you.
One final "water" story – I used to tease my father about which of Tucson's many rest homes he would like me to place him in when he got older. The avid fly fisherman’s reply was always the same: "Shawn-o, you’ll find me face down in some trout stream long before I’m ever ready for a home." We always had a good chuckle about that.
Turns out he was right – sort of. No, he’ll never have to endure me placing him in a home, and while I do think he’s enjoying some beautiful trout streams, I don’t see him face down in one. Instead, I see him face down before the throne of grace, with his questions answered, his faith rewarded, and his spirit rejoicing. This Father's Day and every day, I rejoice with him. How could I do any less?