Father's Day is often the stuff of Hallmark: sentimental cards and mugs printed with "World's Greatest Dad." But the gift I'm most grateful for this Father's Day is the everyday good parenting and love being passed on through the generations of men in my family.
I learned a lot about parenting from my dad, Everett Lewis Epperly (1910-2003). Dad was a small town pastor, never a great success in the eyes of the world, but the most important person in my life as a child. Probably my dad, along with my wife of thirty-two years, Kate, is the person who shaped me most as person. I am sure that I became a theologian and pastor, in part, as a result of the values of reflection, study, and love of God that I received from Dad.
Three portraits typify my appreciation for my dad: books, baseball, and walking! Dad and I were early risers, and every morning before my brother and mom awakened, we would read together—baseball books, Hardy Boys' mysteries, adventure books. The one book I remember most was John Steinbeck's Travels with Charlie in 1961. The plot involved Steinbeck driving around America with a camper mounted on his truck, accompanied by his poodle, Charlie. Before it became a book, it was serialized in Holiday magazine. My dad picked up the magazine at the local library at the end of each month, when you could check them out—I could hardly wait. Then, we'd slowly read through the text until the next edition came out. Fifty years have passed and I still treasure those early mornings with Dad. I suspect I became a reader and writer, in part, because of Dad's love of the word—written, spoken, and preached.
When I became a father, I also read to my son each morning—mysteries, action adventures, and the sports page. We even read Travels with Charlie! These days, he reads with his 9-month-old son. Like me, his son/my grandson is an early riser, so each morning grandfather and grandson read a picture book, Dinosaur Friends. We never grow tired of talking about the "green dinosaurs' teeth" or the "purple dinosaur" with splashes—yes splashes, a great word for a baby!—of yellow on the side of his body. Later in the morning, we sit together watching the PBS kids' show, "Dinosaur Train," the only TV his parents let him watch.
Dad and I played baseball—catch, balls and strikes, and three flies up. One Christmas, Dad built a backstop made of chicken wire and planks of wood at the church, and then on Christmas Eve, walked the backstop the two blocks from our church to our home. History repeats itself from father to son, and so I played catch and hit balls to my son. Just like my childhood home, our big yard became the neighborhood ball field, and I was honored to coach Little League baseball and basketball for many years. I still stay in touch with many of the boys I coached between 1986-1992. This summer, I'm officiating at the wedding of one of my backyard baseball stars.
Dad and I walked. I've always loved walking, and when I was in college, Dad and I began to take evening walks in our neighborhood and Saturday walks on the rugged trails of Alum Rock Park in the San Jose, CA foothills. It just seemed natural that when my son grew up, he and I would become walkers, sometimes with his son/my grandson in the stroller, but often just two of us—father and son walking two miles to my son's office in Washington, D.C. or meeting one another on his walk home from work. Dad and I often talked theology; my son and I talk politics and foreign affairs.
My Father's Day reflections are meant to paint a picture of my life and homage to my dad. But, there is some wisdom in the retelling. Good parenting comes through everyday commitments to be with your child. There is little need for shock, awe, or fireworks in parenting. Although there are those unique moments—the trip to Disney World, meeting Patrick Ewing (the basketball player), taking a father and son road trip through New England—the best of parenting emerges from consistent moments of caring, of making time to be with your child in ways that the everyday becomes a window into the holiness of life. Sure, my son and I talked about God and read Christmas stories and books and watched films about life passages (Chariots of Fire was a favorite), but most of our theology was incarnate in books, baseball, snacks, and bedtime stories. Perhaps that's the way our Parent God works, too, not through extravagant displays of power and destruction, but through the everyday handiwork of creation and the regular rhythms of a spinning earth and the four seasons.
I am grateful for Dad and for having the opportunity to be an everyday dad to my son. The circle of love grows larger and spirals forth from generation to generation.