December 19, 2007.
Not a landmark day in history. If you look at what happened on that day, you will come up with two notable events:
- Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II became the oldest ever monarch of the UK, surpassing Queen Victoria, who lived 81 years, 7 months and 29 days.
- The painting “Portrait of Suzanne Bloch” (1904), by Pablo Picasso, was stolen from the Sao Paulo Museum of Art.
A pretty boring news day. Nothing notable in the stock market, and nothing of note in the headlines. In fact, the day almost got away from me. It wasn’t until that evening when I realized its significance. December 19, 2007, is the day I outlived my dad.
Let Me Introduce You
Let’s take a step back and allow me to introduce you to my dad. William B. Hodges, MD, (who went by “Bill” or “Dr. Bill” depending on how you knew him) was born on May 9, 1941, nearly seven months before the US was thrown into World War II. He grew up in Earle, Arkansas where his dad was the superintendent of schools. He did his undergraduate work at ASU (using the slide rule you see below….complete with belt case).
He attended University of Tennessee Medical school. He was a Family Practice doc (long before the “Internal Medicine” name was cool). He wore a pager the size of a cable converter box. He practiced medicine at his clinic in North Little Rock, and at “Old” Memorial Hospital, “Old” Baptist downtown and at Children’s Hospital. One of his favorite phrases was “God Heals, and the Doctor takes the fee.”
Annnnndddd…. like many of us, he bought all manner of workout equipment that never got used.
He was a Deacon at the Levy congregation, and he made it his business to try and be used by God as a healer of both body and soul. I heard people compliment him for years about how he loved his patients. I still occasionally enjoy the blessing of running into one of his former patients.
But to me, he was just “Papa.” I saw him as a spiritual leader both in our household and at church. At 6’4”, 220 pounds, one learned to obey rather than to learn his belief that a belt could distinctly change one’s behavior. He never spared a good whipping when we needed it….and, yes, he had “The Belt.” You know the one. The Belt that only comes your way when you have been warned. The one that is still seared into my consciousness. “Time Out” had not been invented yet, and he wouldn’t have used it anyway. Three licks was a cure for bad behavior, and I am not scarred from it (well, not too badly).
He was a Captain in the Air Force and was honorably discharged after his deployment to the Canal zone (Panama). The reason for discharge? Back in 1967 while on active duty, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease – the illness that would eventually kill him (and a cancer that today has one of the highest cure rates). There was not a lot known about the disease at the time, and the flight surgeons recommended that my mother terminate her pregnancy once they learned of it. They were unsure if there could be genetic defects. (Given that she was pregnant with me at the time, I am thankful they didn’t go that route.)
And then the World Stood Still
He lived in remission for much of my childhood. I do recall him “going for treatments.” Whenever he “went to the VA for a treatment,” we would stay at my grandparents overnight. I didn’t understand. I didn’t get it. And I didn’t quite fully appreciate how to enjoy every day I could with him.
On August 22, 1980 – 13 days before I turned 12 – my dad passed away. I knew he was bad, but how “bad off” can a parent be to an 11-year-old kid? The day before he passed, while I was out playing in the front yard after school, two of the Levy Elders arrived at my house. They pulled me aside, and delivered the news “your dad has taken a turn for the worse.”
Let me remind you I was 11.
I had no clue what that phrase meant, but as they gave me one of my first crash-courses in Shepherding, they tried to explain. They used phrases like:
“Your mom is really going to need you to help-out.”
“You need to be a leader for the family.”
Did I mention I was 11?
I walked inside the house not knowing what to do or say. I felt shelled. Hollow. And I prayed. Not because I was a spiritual giant. Not because I was pious. Not even really because I believed anything would change. I prayed because I was completely emptied-out. I wish I could remember what I prayed, but I don’t. I am convinced God heard me, though.
Back to 12/19/2007
Let’s return to our date in recent history. My dad lived to be 39 years, 3 months and 15 days old. In those 14,352 days, he grew up, completed school, graduated medical school, established a practice, helped countless patients, and made it his business to be evangelistic. He was constantly talking about “personal work,” the business of teaching others about Jesus. His parents were proud. They also never dreamed they would live to bury him, as no parents ever should.
December 19, 2007, was my 14,353rd day of life. It was an odd feeling to have outlived my father – especially since he died so young. I have been blessed to have grown in the shadow of such a Godly man. I didn’t even get 12 years with him, and if you figure the first 2-3 years are a bit hazy for anyone to remember, I had a pretty short run. His impact on me in less than 12-years has had a life-long impact, though. Even after his death, it drove me to a relationship with God I probably would never have otherwise. I was faced with a decision as a kid to own my own faith. I hate the way I was forced into that decision, but I am thankful for the result.
Years ago people would say things like “God has a plan” and “Someday we’ll understand why.” We might have even sung “We’ll understand it all by and by.”
But “understanding it” hasn’t happened yet.
He’s been gone nearly 37 years and I still don’t have the answers. The words and phrases are nice, but they have always been empty to me. God does have a plan, and sometimes he reveals it. I have learned, though, there are blessings even when I don’t know the plan. I have also learned that sometimes not knowing the plan in itself is a blessing. I cannot help but see in my father’s life the reality of Proverbs 20:7
The righteous man walks in his integrity; his children are blessed after him.
Father’s day used to be one of the most depressing days on record for me. It was a time to remember what I didn’t get to enjoy. It hurt.
It took on a new meaning as I had kids. I actually enjoy it now. I view it as a gift – not just for the little amount of time I had with my dad, but for the wonderful amount of time God has allowed me to be a dad. When it comes to being a dad, I feel like I am completely underwhelming. I know I am not even on the same planet, much less in the same league, as my dad. It is a nice reminder, though, of what I can aspire to be.
For Father’s day 2017, enjoy your dad if you still have him; and be thankful for what you had if you don’t. Pleasant Valley is a place where I see a lot of “real” dads. Dads who make mistakes and own them. Dads who would go to the wall for their family. And Dads who desperately want to be continually shaped into men of God.
I am blessed to serve with a group of Elders who are amazing dads in their own right. I see men who have stepped-up to serve as Deacons while still working to sharpen their families and children into what God desires. I am blessed to be able to look to so many of you who have raised families (and often times seek some of your advice – and you KNOW who you are).
Sadly, not every family situation is positive or has happy “dad” memories. Humanity has a long history of dad wounds in broken families, and it is a sad reality of the time in which we live.
One thing is certain, though. It is a lesson I learned starting back in 1980, and I continue to be reminded of today – we have a Father who loves us and has promised he will never leave us. No matter what happens, and no matter what we face or whether we understand it or not, we all have a Father to celebrate this weekend.
Written by Mark Hodges. Mark, a PV Elder, is married to Tamara, and they have two children. If you find yourself on a flight in front of Mark, don’t recline.
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