Finding Father

One Man's Journey to Discover Paternal Significance

Month: February 2014

The Father Figure

One of the common tendencies that characterizes the fatherless is that every male authority figure that comes into his or her life is entertained as a potential father figure.  This can include persons such as stepfathers, principals and teachers, coaches, band directors, pastors and deacons, and even the patrolmen who give us our first speeding ticket.  The contributions can either be great or small, and they tend to impact our lives in indelible and extraordinary ways.  They provide us with a small window of how our own fathers may have interacted with us, were they given the opportunity.

As a fatherless son, there have been several of those “father figures” who have made their way through that revolving door of my experience through the years.  Of course there was the pastor I referenced in an earlier post, Johnnie Floyd, who rescued our family during the time we lost dad, and nurtured me early in my faith.   I am grateful for Mark Beauchamp, who was my manager at the restaurant where I had my first job.  Mark placed a lot of confidence in me and I truly enjoyed working for him and his family.  Falling in love with music early in my life was due in large part to my two band directors, Frank Widenhouse and Seth Kirby.  The first solo I ever sang was in my home church, and it was Henry Scarborough who gave me that opportunity and encouraged me with many more.  It was Bob Greene who first opened the door to the world of theater and drama, having produced the first three plays that I appeared in during high school.

Most of my 30 years serving in the ministry have been spent as an Associate Pastor, and I had the opportunity to serve some wonderful Senior Pastors.  I was blessed to work with Jeff Coker at the First Presbyterian Church of Natchez, MS, with Sibbald Lambert at Grassy Creek Baptist Church in Spruce Pine, NC, and with Kenneth Ridings at Grassy Branch Baptist Church in Asheville, NC.   The Pastor who holds the biggest place in my heart is Benny Turner, the Pastor of my home church during the most influential years of my life.  Benny officiated our wedding ceremony and my ordination service, and was the very first Pastor I served in the ministry.  Benny passed away in 1996 at the early age of 59, but his mentoring and shepherding-style of ministry made an indelible impression on me and will forever be a part of my pastoral DNA.

Joe SmithHowever, the father figure that stands head and shoulders above the rest would have to be my father-in-law, Joe Smith.   Joe was the quintessential everyman who spent most of his life in the town of Rock Hill, South Carolina.   It was there that he met and married Judy Gaulden, and spent almost 47  years with her as a loving husband and father.  Joe had a very sharp and practical mind, was gifted with a large dose of common sense, and spent his career as a quality control specialist at a local textile plant.

I was a college freshman, a music and theater student, when Jeannie first took me to her home to meet her mom and dad.  In the normal flow of our conversations, Joe asked me what I was studying and what I planned to do in life – natural questions any father would want to know about his daughter’s prospective beau.  What I remembered about that conversation was, while he may have wondered inside how I would make a living in the world of music and theater, he never articulated that.  I walked away from that first visit feeling that he had accepted me and encouraged me in my endeavors.  Of course, majoring in Religion and having stable employment in church staff positions may have given him more reassurance about me.  But when the time came to leave church staff in 1997 and pursue the drama and music ministry on a full time basis, he and Judy were our biggest cheerleaders.

In those early years of our marriage, I sought Joe’s counsel for any major decision we faced.  I would also seek his advice for the less urgent things, as well.  I watched him as he led his family with a mild manner and a firm resolve.  He was even-keeled and temperate, and seemed to have the patience of Job.  He loved working in his garden and harvesting fresh vegetables each year to put on the dinner table.  Joe was so loving and generous, and had a keen sense of humor that kept the family gatherings lively and a mature wisdom that kept us together.  I learned much from what Joe said, but I learned the most valuable life lessons from my father-in-law by the exemplary way he lived his life.

In 1991, Joe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and over the next 10 years, we watched as his quality of life diminished.  He spent his final days in Asheville at the VA Hospital and Nursing Home, and passed away in 2001 at the age of 73.

Joe and Jeannie

Joe escorting Jeannie at our wedding rehearsal in May, 1982

The wisdom of my father-in-law and the legacy he created lives on through the wonderful family he left behind.  I have often told Jeannie that I have the blessing of being the recipient of the best thing I believe Joe ever did in life…bringing her into this world.

True father figures don’t necessarily have to be directly attached to our family trees.  Instead their connections to us transcend the bloodline and reach to the very depths of our spirit and our soul.  Joe Smith was like a father to me, and the indelible impressions he made on my life will live with me forever.





The Journey Continues

gandalf_frodo_moria_aicnWhen it all comes down to it, life is really one conglomeration of continuous choices that you and I make on a daily basis.  Even when life acts upon us with unexpected events and circumstances beyond our control, we still have the choice as to how we will respond to those events.  We hope that most of our choices will be wise and beneficial, not only to us but also to those in our circles of family and friends.  Sometimes we make bad choices, and depending on the severity of those, we have to live with the repercussions of those for the rest of our lives.

One of my favorite scenes in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy – the set of films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels –  is in the very first film, “The Fellowship of the Ring.”  Exasperated from all the peril that had come his way because of the ring he was carrying, Frodo exclaims, “I wish the ring had never come to me.  I wish none of this had ever happened.  Gandolf, the Grey Wizard and Frodo’s mentor, responds with a line that is forever etched in the recesses of my mind.  He tells Frodo, “So do all who live to see such times as these, but it is not for them to decide.  All you have to decide is what to do with the time you are given.”

All we really have to decide is what to do with the time we are given.  All of us have been given the wonderful gift of choice with the same allotment of hours in a single day.  How we choose to spend that time is totally up to us.

For the last couple of months of 2013, I chose to take a little hiatus from writing the blog.  I really didn’t plan it that way, however with all the busyness of the holidays, I decided that I would put the blog on the back burner until the first of the year.

The last half of 2013 was a very ambitious time for me.  I took on a couple of more challenges in the latter half of the year that kept me busy.  A few years ago, I took up running and worked my way up to where I ran a few 5K’s in the latter part of 2011.  In 2013 I set my sights a little higher – training for and eventually running in the Asheville Half Marathon on September 28.  By far, it was the most fun I have had yet with running.  However, it would prove to be the catalyst for a stress fracture that I suffered in my lower right leg.  I was in a boot for several weeks and had to suspend running for about 8 weeks.  The leg is feeling much better, and I am looking forward to more running in 2014.

I also learned to play another musical instrument this past year – the alto saxophone.  I played clarinet during my junior and senior high school years, so the transition to sax was a very natural one.  In the latter part of 2013, I collaborated with my friend Patrick Boland, a jazz pianist here in Asheville, and we put together a jazz medley of several Christmas songs.  We played together on two occasions during the month of December.  On the 11th, we played for Pastor Charlie Sams and the folks at Starnes Cove Baptist Church in Asheville, and on the 22nd, we did a concert at my home church, Grassy Branch Baptist.

However the most challenging project that I took on in the last half of 2013 was the writing of this blog.  The burning compulsion to finally put the story of what happened to my father into words blossomed into fruition around the end of the summer.  The words began to flow, the blog was born, and your reception to it has been quite an encouragement to me.  Many of you have shared your own personal stories of how your journeys with your own fathers have impacted your lives.

As we have turned the corner from 2013 to 2014, I realize that this journey must continue.  I also know that the closer I get to revealing the events of what happened in December, 1965, the more challenging this journey will become.  I am reminded of how life is a series of choices, and that we will forever live with the consequences of those choices for the rest of our lives.  And not only will we have to live with them, but everyone around us will be impacted by them.  Sometimes we try and wish those terrible moments in our lives would never have happened.  And it is then that we need to be reminded of the words that Tolkien wrote, “so do all who live to see such times as these, but it is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time we are given.”

My choice is to stay adventurous and keep on sojourning.  My resolve is to keep writing so that the story might be told, in hopes that it will continue to inspire those who find themselves in similar situations, and that it will bring all of us closer to the understanding that we are not here by accident.  That we are here to discover that the God who brought us here is, above all, a loving Father, himself, who loves us more than we could ever imagine.  Thank you all for your feedback and your support, and I look forward to continuing this journey in the coming months.


Here is a clip of Patrick and me playing “The Nearness of You”

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