At My Father’s Table

“So I made friends with a priest,” my dad started with a laugh. He then told me about heckling a clergyman from another table who was also dining alone. They joined tables and my dad tried to convince him that there must be a Saint Neil somewhere. The priest assured him there was not.

When my dad went to pay, his new friend balked at the tip. “That’s too much!” he proclaimed. My dad went on to give the priest a lesson in generosity, explaining how poorly waitresses are paid and sometimes treated. He laid down more money and said, “That oughtta make it better!” The priest jokingly made change and said, “I’ll take the rest.” After a good laugh, the two men parted ways.

My love of storytelling falls directly from my dad. We like to skip past the pleasantries and get to the good stuff. If we’ve shared a belly laugh in the meantime, all the better. For us, it’s all about connecting over the encounters.

I love this story because I know how much my dad loves to break bread with all sorts of people. In his crew, you’ll find a collar in every hue—and language that is just as colorful. When I was a kid, we’d go to a hole-in-the-wall diner before heading into the lumber company. I mostly shuffled food around my plate while they laughed and shared stories. This loyal bunch still meets for breakfast every week.

When I think of Jesus and the way He told stories, I sometimes think of just this. He broke bread with all sorts of people and told stories. Of course, He arguably did so to share His Kingdom in a way that my dad did not, and that is where the two part ways.

Jesus had an earthly father who impacted his livelihood and the way He told stories. Jesus was likely taught how to make a yoke in Joseph’s workshop. He probably walked through fields as the oxen labored under the weight of the wooden structure. Most beautiful in any of Jesus’s stories are those of an adopted child. Jesus experienced firsthand not only the blessing of a loving adoptive father, but also the ache and longing for His Heavenly Father.

Even at his best, Joseph was a human who made mistakes, just like all of us. My dad and I have had a “Cat’s in the Cradle” sort of relationship for most of my life. For many years, I sought comfort in the lyrics of that song, as if knowing the outcome would somehow soften the blow. I embraced the story as prescriptive of our relationship, not descriptive of Harry Chapin’s.

Now, I think of Joel 2:25 where God says, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.” Let me tell you, we’ve had some infestations. We have recently worked to repair some of those eaten up places, and I feel like we’re just now getting to know each other. I feel as though I am finally listening, and rather than hearing someone who is trying to change me, I hear the words of someone who wants to protect me. How gracious is this gift of an imperfect dad who so uniquely reflects the love of my Heavenly Father.

As we consider the examples of fathers in life and in stories, I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned from my dad that I believe honor and shape the woman God wants me to be today:

  1. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  2. Have the strongest handshake and look ‘em directly in the eyes.
  3. Work hard to build something bigger than yourself.
  4. Control your emotions so others will take you seriously.
  5. Be generous when you can.
  6. Colorful friends make a colorful life.
  7. Follow the rules that matter, but make sure you have fun ,too.
  8. Sometimes it’s better to be quiet.
  9. Make friends wherever you go.
  10. It’s never too late to make it right.

Our earthly fathers are not perfect, just as none of us are. How has your relationship with your dad, whether intact or detached, impacted the person you are today? Even in their absence, fathers shape what we believe about ourselves and others. How can we find ways to heal and grow in who our Heavenly Father wants us to be?

Trust in Him today and you will be amazed as, little by little, He brings life back into your lungs. Cling to this truth: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19).

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