I am one of the lucky ones. I had a great dad. More of an intellectual and naturalist than a businessman, Dad compiled lifetime journals of wild flowers and birds. He did historical research on the Mennonites in this area, publishing his findings. He was the spiritual patriarch of our church.
Seminary students, missionaries, new pastors and their families lived with us until they found more permanent lodgings. We had frequent guests. Following one of mother's fabulous meals, Dad and his friends talked theology and politics. Like a moth attracted to light, I' was mesmerized by the flow of big words.
Dad read to us at bedtime. We'd take our baths, put on our PJ's, then snuggle beside him while he read aloud. After we left home, he read novels to Mother as she crocheted. We didn't get a TV until I was in college, but my Granddad had one. Sundays we went there to watch the Ed Sullivan Show. Dad believed the arts were integral to a good education. He took us to museums, concerts, the Ice Follies. He bought art books and records. We kids sat in the front row at the Community Concerts so we'd be first in line to get our programs autographed. One of our favorite pastimes was dressing up and playing opera.
Dad was absolutely distraught the time William Warfield came to Gettysburg and couldn't find a local restaurant or hotel where blacks could eat or sleep. Not a sportsman, Dad still cheered for Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers. When we adopted our bi-racial boys, Dad was our greatest supporter. He hated racism and sexism. We went on rambling vacations.
Spring included wild flower and birding hikes. He taught us to garden. He grew roses. After a particularly virulent invasion of bind weed, he dug up the entire garden and sifted out the tiny bits of roots rather than use herbicides. He insisted we learn the value of money. He planted a half acre of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, then turned their care over to us girls. For years I thought red raspberries tasted like green worms. He enjoyed cooking, specializing in salads, pickles and relishes.
Few understood my midlife desire to go to seminary. Dad did. He helped me study. He babysat when needed. He critiqued my papers. When our denomination refused to ordain me because I was female he led the congregation in finding another path to ordination. At his memorial service, a friend of Dad's remarked, “Joyce, you were the son your father never had.”
I wish all kids benefited from a dad like mine. But, as long as our social policies work against good schools and poorer families are penalized for trying to get ahead many kids won't be so lucky. Why can we can give tax breaks and subsidies to the Super Wal-Marts and the 1% but can't design a system that rewards the poor for working, saving and improving their lives simply by gradually decreasing their benefits rather than cutting them off at artificial lows. Financial security certainly helped my dad give us a great childhood!
Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church. You can follow her blog at FairfieldMennonite Church.org