My father was a brilliant man – he had a brilliant mind. He was a man who always approached a situation with wisdom, logic, and most often just some of the plain old common sense. Which is why he was always liked and his counsel often sought after.
Although he started his working career as a carpenter, he managed to master many skills throughout his lifetime. There was the passion for photography, which led to some amateur film making in which we all had a part. There was also the mechanical abilities and knowledge; enough to fix cars and even spray paint them. And over time, his working career created an opportunity for him to become a draughtsman – leading him to design many aspects of buildings now well established in areas close to where we lived.
He also enjoyed running his skilled fingers over the black-and-whites of the organ keyboard. Every Sunday morning, while my mom cooked the Sunday roast and we were scattered here, there, and everywhere inside and outside, he would play the tunes that most deeply stirred his soul. It was a ritual in our home and one we all came to appreciate in the days and years following his death.
My father built our home. By this I don’t mean he layed down brick for brick until a structure stood ready for us to decorate and inhabit. I mean, he poured himself into making the neglected bricks and mortar of a rundown old building into a well-kept and cared for home. He built cupboards. He laid floors. He renovated and replaced ceilings. He painted and he varnished. In between all of this, he went to a full time job every five days out of seven every week, so we could eat, and drink, and sometimes, be merry. He was a man who cared about his family as best he could.
But my father had a fault. He didn’t know how to say “I love you”.
When he spoke, we listened. We just sensed it would be better to. Even though he was a strict parent, committed to good manners and social etiquette, we understood that these were important for our protection and good standing at social occasions. We understood that he wanted us to be of good character, rather than of good material fortune. Later, as I matured, I came to see that he wanted to give us what he could, because he recognised that there were certain things we needed, that he couldn’t give.
One of those things was the spoken words: “I love you.”
As a child, I didn’t know that I missed it. Daddy always worked on our home to ensure it provided for all our material needs. When he wasn’t doing that, he worked on someone’s car or ate biltong, or had family over for a Saturday supper and game of cards. Or he brought home chocolates from work.
He loved, but in the only way he knew how for the man he was at the time. A man who was broken, who hurt, and who wanted to have more to give his family than what was in his hands to give. A man who didn’t know the love of the Father who knit him together in his mother’s womb and could, therefore, only give what was in his reach to give.
There was a time, when I prayed for Yahweh to reveal the truth of my struggle to me. I wanted to draw closer, move in deeper, drink more intimately of Him. But I couldn’t see the obstacle in the way: those three little words.
Three little words not spoken from my daddy’s lips, yet held so sacredly in a father’s heart and echoed in the laying of tiles, painting of walls and structuring of wood so a house could be a home. Words echoed in the daily commitment to work for a better life for those whom he loved. Words whispered in a goodnight kiss, from one heart to another – and embedded in all the things my father said.
Yahweh says, in His Word, that we are to honour our mother and father [Exodus 20:12]. I couldn’t always do this. For many years I laboured to understand what was so wrong with me that my earthly father couldn’t love me. But, today, I know he did. When the memory of his labours forge their way through the recesses of my mind, I hear them whisper into the hollow spaces in my soul that only the words of a father can fill: “I love you. Let the work of my hands testify to those words in my heart. Let them bear the evidence to you that you were loved.”
My father died when I was eleven years old. I couldn’t honour him them. So, I honour him now. He wasn’t a perfect man. He wasn’t a perfect father. But, he was a good man. A man who tried!
And for that, I honour my father.