Elegy for My Father

biscuits-by-pen-waggener-on-flickrMy father: Roy Franklin Harmon, Jr., M.D., passed away on September 22, 2016 at the age of eighty-seven. He was the best man I will ever know. Difficult as it was, my mother wanted me to say something at his funeral service that would at least attempt to encapsulate something of his character. I chose the following story, which captures only a small part of the incarnational Christianity that he practiced.

There is not world enough and time to relate all of the stories about a man as great as my father. They would stretch from a boyhood in Mississippi that was poor but love-filled, through a young manhood of devotion and determination, into a career of courage and dynamism, and a later life of purpose and endurance. He lived his days in bold joy, in unending commitment and generosity of self. He was, to the end, a happy warrior.

But I cannot tell all of those stories now. Only one, of those thousands I could share, must suffice: [Read more…]

The Courage of Men

By Suzanne M. Wolfe

Twenty one men dressed in orange jump-suits are kneeling in a line on a beach. The ocean is at their backs like eternity waiting. Behind each one stands the angel of death. Not one of them weeps, not one begs. Some lower their heads as if in prayer; most are looking at something far away or something impossibly near, as near perhaps as the knowledge that this, of all moments, is their final one, that all their acts—some good, some bad—have led to this one last moment here on this beach with the sea at their backs and the wind in their faces. [Read more…]

Looking for a Father

The last Father’s Day card I sent to my father came back to me, returned with the other personal effects recovered from the campsite he and my stepmother shared along an Arctic river.

I’d talked to them on Father’s Day that year on a satellite phone when they called after dinner. I’d been sitting on the porch of my boyfriend’s house in Seattle, where we had just finished grilling salmon with his family. My dad and his wife sat in canvas chairs on the side of the Hulahula River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and recounted seeing wolves and sheep and aufeis. They shared a dehydrated meal of black beans for dinner, having the time of their lives.

A week later they were dead, killed by a grizzly that came into their campsite and attacked their tent.

I started looking for fathers then. It was not a conscious search, but a leaning in to older men who seemed to me a little bit funny, a little bit thoughtful, a little bit kind, a little bit wise. Men who might ask me a question about who I was, or how I was doing. To these men I asked one or two more questions than I might have. I looked at them a little longer around a dinner table.

I realized what I was doing when I glimpsed the limits to connection in their eyes. Small things reminded me that they were not my father, that I was asking too much, even secretly; small things that reminded me of my delusion that anyone might substitute for my father. I felt a twinge of misplaced betrayal. Then I had a jolt of loss again, the understanding that my dad would never be replaced, that I would, really, have to learn to live without him.
[Read more…]