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What I learned from my father

Lester and Ruth Denison grave marker (Credit: Jim Denison)My father was born on June 13, 1924 and died in 1979 at the age of 55.  As I reflect on his 89th birthday, three lessons are especially significant for me today.

First, Dad taught me the importance of courage.  He developed rheumatic fever in high school and graduated from bed.  He then enlisted in World War II, where he was one of only a few from his platoon to survive the war.  He had his first heart attack when I was two years old and lived the next 19 years on borrowed time.

Yet he never allowed his circumstances to deter him from his goals.  He built his own business, supported my brother and me into college, and refused to let his health issues affect our family.  David's word to Solomon is my father's word to me today: "Be strong and courageous and do the work" (1 Chronicles 28:20).

Second, Dad taught me the importance of perseverance.  His service in the war kept him from pursuing his plan to become a doctor.  His heart issues kept him from playing tennis, the game he loved as a youth, or golf, the game he came to love as an adult.  His diet was severely restricted as a result of his health.  He had to have blood drawn every week to adjust his medications.  Toward the end of his life, his circulation became so poor that there were days he could not get up before 10 AM and had to go to bed by 8 at night.

Yet I never once heard him complain about his challenges.  Not once did he blame the war for his career changes or his heart problems for the adjustments it forced on his life.  He never talked about the physical struggles he faced.  Dad was always convinced that he, and we, "could do whatever we set our minds to do" (one of his favorite phrases).  Paul's word to the Romans is his word to me today: "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:37).

Last, Dad taught me the importance of family.  He and my mother met on a blind date; from that night, he loved her to the end of his life.  He used to tell people that they got married in April and had me in May—it was the following May, but Dad didn't clarify, which irritated my mother greatly.

He never let a day go by without telling each of us that he loved us.  He looked for ways to tell my brother and me that he was proud of us.  The last time I saw him alive was the day he drove across Houston to give me money to help buy Janet's engagement ring.  If it is true that our first image of God comes from the way we see our father, I will always be grateful for the unconditional love I have experienced from both.  Solomon's word to Israel is his word to me today: "Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him" (Psalm 127:3).

The greatest regret of my life is that my father never met my sons—he would have been such a proud grandfather.  But today, as I honor his 89th birthday and his legacy in my life, I thank God that he chose my father for me.  And I look forward to the day when we are together again, forever.



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