My friend and pastor, Ken Baker, called a couple hours ago to tell me that Nancy, from our church, had passed away. Just in her early sixties, her affliction defied diagnosis but she went quickly. Knowing how close their neighborhood is, I drove over to tell one of the neighbors down the street from where Nancy and Dave raised their two boys …
I recall another fourteenth of June, a hot muggy day on the Oklahoma plains. Eight or ten of our neighbors showed up that morning, come to plant our milo. Before noon, they finished and then drove their tractors back home. Dad’s cousin, Ray, came in the house and went back where Dad was. He said, “Elmer, you don’t have to worry about putting in your crop; we’ve got it all done.”
Dad looked up at him and mouthed a word of thanks.
Dr. McCreight came out from Liberal but didn’t stay long. He talked with Mom and then got in his car and left. The day wound down toward sunset and then the blackness of night settled on our house. It seemed that every room had become crowded with people, something I’d accepted but didn’t really like. Mom gathered all of us boys together and loved us. I don’t remember anything she said. Finally, she put us to bed, tucking us in the way only she could do.
It seemed like I’d barely gotten to sleep before I heard Mom’s voice again. “Boys, you need to get up.” I tried to protest and then saw she was weeping. She shepherded the three of us back to the bedroom where Dad was. Ray leaned over him to announce our arrival.
Mom said, “Boys, it’s time …” Her voice broke. She waved her hand in a desolate gesture.
Ray immediately spoke but I saw he was weeping, too. I’d never seen him cry before. He coughed and said, “Boys, can you come close? Your father wants to say good-bye.”
Dad, his body ravaged with cancer, opened his eyes, his lips quivering. I remember only the sound of his hoarse breathing. Each of us leaned over to kiss his cheek or touch his face.
God gave immediate, blissful sleep, and when we awoke the next morning, Dad’s bed was empty. Mom got us breakfast and told us Daddy was in heaven.
Pastor Caywood arrived mid-morning. Mom sat across from him at the kitchen table and she talked about the funeral to come, her arms enfolding each of us boys all the while. Someone was at our hand-crank telephone, calling from the list Mom had given him.
In the sixty-two years since that fateful night, I’ve wondered how my life would’ve been had Dad lived. I cannot deny the grief and great loneliness for him. Fortunately, I reached out to our Heavenly Father. He strengthened Mom who constantly built us up. Over time, select teachers, mentors, and special men of God came into my life and the lives of my brothers—to nurture us and show us in extraordinary ways that we are men.
That’s the question that lingers in the mind of every boy as he goes into manhood: Am I a man yet? Am I worthy?
More than anything, I’ve thrilled at being a father to our daughter and two sons. I’m always aware of the children, those on the cusp of adulthood. Especially when I meet a young man, I catch his eye. I speak to him as a peer; I acknowledge him as a man. That was God’s gift to me. I merely pass it on, as there are so many young men who don’t know who they are.