This Christmas season marks the 10th anniversary of the last one I would enjoy with my dad. My father had been combating prostate cancer for 13 years. This proud Marine who had stood behind General Douglas Mac Arthur at the surrender ceremony ending World War 2 had fought many battles in uniform, but his personal war with cancer had demanded his greatest courage.
Our last holiday meal together was not all that out of the ordinary. Turkey and trimmings, pumpkin pie and a table grace from my retired-pastor father. After the plates were cleared, we took turns going around the table expressing something we were especially grateful for that year.
Only 11 months later I held my dad’s hand as he took his final breath. Looking back, if I’d known that would be our last holiday meal, I would have expressed my gratitude with the following words:
1. Thanks for modeling a daily walk with your Heavenly Father. Dad, I will never forget how you began each day sitting in your favorite chair with an open Bible in your lap. Your knowledge of God’s Word guided your life and inspired my desire to follow your lead. Your disciplined life of prayer encouraged me to pour out my heart to the Lord.
2. Thanks for showing me how to nurture romance with your wife. Your relationship with mom was one-of-a-kind, Pop. It was truly a marriage made in Heaven but lived out on earth. My friends said the two of you looked like movie stars, but your marriage was anything but the kind defined by Hollywood. You wrote love notes to each other. You expressed your affection in front of my brother and me. You resolved disagreements before they could evolve into resentments. I am motivated to invest in my relationship with my wife by what I saw in your marriage.
3. Thanks for regularly telling me you loved me. When I hear people tell me they can’t recall a time their dad told them he loved them, I recoil in disbelief. I can’t imagine what that must feel like. Dad, you made sure I always knew I was loved. In words, embraces and letters, you tangibly expressed how you felt. And that example accounts for why my three grown daughters know (without doubt) that I love them.
4. Thanks for generously helping me get a leg up. You bought my first car for me. You helped me with a down payment on our first house. You willingly loaned us money when we were in a pinch. While some fathers are inclined to invest in personal hobbies, you invested in your family, Pop. You never turned a deaf ear to a request for help even when you didn’t share my enthusiasm for what I needed help to purchase. As a result, I am becoming a generous man.
5. Thanks for the freedom you gave me to express my independence. Although there were times I chose to ignore your advice and counsel, you didn’t try to control my choices. Like other adolescents and young adults attempting to find their way, you allowed me to learn by my mistakes. Dad, just like our Heavenly Father, you gave me the space to embrace the truths one can only discover on their own.
6. Thanks for your service to our country. Dad, I didn’t tell you often enough how proud I was of the fact that you enlisted in the Marine Corps as an 18 year old. Even though you knew you were headed to the frontlines of a bloody war, you wanted to do your part to protect the freedoms we too often take for granted as a nation. I know you were proud of what you did. I hope you knew how proud I was of you, too.
Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos is the full-time chaplain at Covenant Shores Retirement Community on Mercer Island. He is the faith and values columnist for the Mercer Island Reporter and contributes original poetry each Blue Friday to KOMO news radio.