Finding Father

One Man's Journey to Discover Paternal Significance

Month: March 2014

The Dream

“A sweet thing, for whatever time, to revisit in dreams the dear dad we have lost…”
Euripides, Greek dramatist (485-406 BC)

dad dream 1Up until the time I was well in my 30’s, all I had ever known about my father was what had been told to me – that he was a career serviceman who died while serving in the US Army in Dachau, Germany.  That picture seemed to suffice for much of my childhood and adolescence.  The older I became, the more my lack of knowledge concerning my dad bothered me.   As a father in my 30’s, more questions began to creep in and the desire to know more began to blossom.  I realized that for most of my life, the majority of my thoughts concerning my dad were superficial.  I had no real conscious knowledge upon which to base any kind of emotion, opinion or memory.  That would all change with The Dream.

One could very well make the case that the dreams that we have are nothing more than meaningless, random thoughts – triggered and brought to the surface of our minds by the events of the day.  Others will say that dreams do have meaning and are sometimes the instruments through which God speaks to the human heart.  Perhaps my dream was a combination of the two. Regardless of its origin, this particular dream would change my life forever.

It was a summer evening in 1991 as I was putting our oldest son, Jonathan, to bed.  He was five years old at the time and he began asking questions about my father.

“How old were you when he died, daddy?” Jonathan asked.

“I was four,” I told him.  “Just a year younger than you.”

“Do you remember him?

“Well, Jonathan, I was so young that I really don’t have any memories of my dad,” I said.

That night, I struggled to recall my earliest memories.  As I shared in earlier posts, I remembered the sheriff coming to our home and my mother crying when she heard the news of my dad’s death.

Our boys grew up calling their grandmother, “Maw,” and that evening Jonathan asked me how Maw and my dad had met.  I didn’t know as much then as I know now, but I shared with him how my dad was born and reared in Wyoming and they had met while he was traveling with the Army.  I told him about the bus trip that my mom, my brother and I made out to Wyoming when I was six years old, two years after my dad’s death.  That would be the only trip that we ever made to see my father’s family.  I told Jonathan all that I knew about my dad that evening.  Then I kissed him good night and tucked him in bed.  As I did so, it occurred to me that my son was the recipient of something I could not remember ever having received.  I realized that there was yet another memory that was absent from my mind, that being, the warmth and security of a father’s embrace.

The quizzing about my father only accentuated the fact that I had more questions about him than I had answers.  As I went to bed that night, I recalled the innocence of my youth, the struggles of my teenage years, and the search for significance as a young man.  I pondered the question of how life would have possibly turned out had he lived.  As an adult, God had blessed me with a wonderful wife and two boys of my own.  However, it was at this point in my life that I realized there was something missing.  There was a void that needed to be filled.  I needed to know more about my father.

I drifted off into a peaceful sleep.  Before long, I was carried away to another place and time, and it was obvious that the world around me was that of the late 1960’s.  I was riding in the back of our old Chevrolet station wagon, and my mom was driving.  She looked much younger and was wearing a pair of those “cat-eye” sunglasses.  As she pulled over to the curb, a man opened the door on the passenger side and got into the car.  He had tanned olive skin and sleek black hair.  He was wearing a white T-shirt and khaki pants.  When he got in he turned to me and smiled.  Immediately I knew who he was and in that moment my heart soared with elation and excitement! In this one brief moment, that thin veil which separates dream from reality lifted, and I knew that I was in the very presence of my father.

He reached back and he began to hug me.  And when we embraced, a conversation took place, the words of which are emblazoned in my mind to this day.

“Oh dad,” I said.  “I have missed you so much for so long.”

“Why did you miss me?” he asked with a little confusion – almost implying that he had never left me.

“Dad…I just needed you to put your arms around me and let me know that everything would be all right…”

Those words absolutely stunned me.  Just recalling them now gives me goose bumps, because those words opened a window into my soul, revealing a profound need I honestly did not know I had.  I just needed my dad to put his arms around me and let me know that everything would be all right.

With that embrace, a warmth beyond words began to overwhelm me.  I felt ecstatic, relieved, secure and safe.  We held each other tightly and I didn’t want to let go.  No more would I wonder what it felt like to be held by him, for he was here.  I know that in my first four years of life, there had to have been times when he held me and hugged me.  I believe that what I felt in my dream were the actual feelings of my father’s hugs – tucked away in the subconscious realms of my mind and somehow elicited for this occasion.

I awoke suddenly and realized that I was crying uncontrollably, my pillow wet with tears.  I was stunned and had to go to another room to fully wake up and regain my composure.  Gradually, I realized that God had allowed me to have a few minutes with the father I never really knew.

I felt rejuvenated and renewed by the dream.  It strengthened my desire to find out more about my father. The compulsion to learn more would be met by a concerted and intentional effort to dig for answers.

A deeper spiritual reality emerged from the dream.  In addition to God’s giving me a glimpse of what my earthly father was like, He gave me a clearer understanding of my Heavenly Father.  It was almost as if God, Himself, put His arms around me and gently whispered, “Now will you believe that I have taken care of you for all these years, and that I will always take care of you?  Will you believe that I hold you in the palm of My hand and that I have wonderful plans for your life?  Will you believe that I have always been your Father, and my promise to you is that everything will be all right?”

The Dream is as vivid in my mind today as it was twenty-two years ago.  Each time I recall it, even now, I am moved to tears.  Although it would take a few years to come to fruition, my quest to find the truth would primarily be powered by this incredible dream.



The Dean of Grace


Dean Larry Wilson, circa 1980

In recent days, our beloved Alma Mater, Montreat College, has been in the local news, primarily due to a potential merger with another university. In the end, the merger failed to materialize, which has relieved many in the Montreat family of faculty, students and alumni.  It has put Montreat on the front burner of all of our minds, and has caused me to recall even more treasured memories, especially in the light of my previous post concerning father figures.

During the years I attended school at Montreat, Dr. Larry Wilson was the Dean of Students.  Dean Wilson was and still is a solid man of the highest degree of Christian integrity.  He was very visible among the college community, and had the gift and ability to engage the student body in an affirming and encouraging way.  Square dances were a regular part of student activities, and Dean Wilson was always there, calling the square dances along with the Stoney Creek Boys.  Part of his role as the Dean of Students at Montreat was to keep law and order, and to see that all of the students were treated fairly and responsibly by each other, as well as by the faculty and staff.  He was also in charge of appointing all of the RA’s in every dorm and making sure all of the dorm residents practiced civility.  Dean Wilson had the right balance of toughness and grace, and he garnered the respect of everyone on campus.

Montreat was not your typical college campus.  There were no fraternities or sororities, or any crazy wild parties.  College life at Montreat functioned more like a summer camp, and unruly behavior usually came in the form of mischievous pranks.  As the new kids on the block, my roommate and I wanted to make our mark by falling right into the ranks of the pranksters, so we constantly strived for new ways to pull them off.   Truthfully, they were all very mild in nature, ranging from the old standards of leaning a trash can full of water against a door and then knocking, to bowling in the hallway, to completely moving a friend’s room to the janitor’s closet across the hall.   One time we filled a Pringles can with baby powder and released it into the window fan of another dorm mate while he slept.  This one required that we position ourselves on the roof, just over his 3rd floor window, which took us to a new level, and one that would lead to our eventual retirement as pranksters.

One November evening, my roommate and I decided to go on, what we now called, “roof maneuvers.”  That particular evening, we came up with this hair-brained idea to take a 50-gallon drum that had been left on the roof and roll it off of the top of our three-story dormitory.  We thought that if it landed on our target spot, it would eventually roll all the way down the hill on to the parking lot of Gaither Hall, one of our classroom buildings.  The drum was full of rocks and dirt, which made moving it particularly challenging.  We put the drum on its side and rolled it to the edge of the building, directly over our target spot, out of the way of any potential bystanders.   It was the moment we released the barrel and sent it on its way down that we realized we had done something terribly wrong.  The barrel hit the ground and literally exploded on impact, shaking the ground and causing a thunderous explosive noise.  People came running out of the lobby to see what had detonated, and as we saw them coming out, we quickly ran across the roof, made our way off the building, and quickly went into hiding.

In the days that followed, word spread around campus about the infamous deed and that the fate that awaited those responsible for this incredible act of stupidity was possible immediate suspension from school.  After a few days of staying incognito, the guilt finally got to us and we turned ourselves in to Dean Wilson.

It is ironic and sad that my first ever conversation with Dean Larry Wilson came in the form of a disciplinary reprimand.   As a fatherless young man, I grew up having an innate fear and reverence for male authoritative figures.  Dean Wilson was that, but there was also a very compassionate and gracious side to him that emerged in that meeting.  He was very swift and stern in his application of justice.  He placed us on hall restriction for the remainder of the semester, which basically meant that we had curfews and could not leave the Montreat campus on the weekends.   However, Dean Wilson showed me much grace by allowing me to remain in school, when he had every right to suspend me.

That would be the last act of immature stupidity that I would commit, and I vowed from that day that I would regain the trust and respect of Dean Wilson.  I can’t speak for him, but I sensed that day that he must have also seen something in me – something worth cultivating and developing.  I say that because the very next year, he appointed me as one of the RA’s for Davis Hall, and for the duration of my sophomore year, I worked alongside Dean Wilson and the rest of the RA’s to help preserve law and order for the Montreat Campus.  To further add to his positive, graceful reinforcement of me,  Dean Wilson presented me with the Campus Life Service Award during a ceremony at the end of my sophomore year.  I was shocked, humbled, and appreciative of the grace Dean Wilson had showed me my freshman year and the confidence he placed in me to work with him.

Dean Wilson 3Dean Wilson retired from Montreat in 1993, and continues to live there in the Montreat community.   Living in Asheville for the past 23 years has given me the opportunity to see Dean Wilson on occasion.   When we do see each other, the conversations are always casual and somewhat brief, and they often revolve around our mutual Montreat experiences.  Recently we were able to get together and have an extended visit and conversation – one, in which, I shared about this blog and the motivations and inclinations behind the writing of it.  I brought up the infamous episode of the roof barrel, and expressed my appreciation to him for the grace he had shown a young, fatherless, immature freshman, and how his confidence in me had made such an impact on my life.  I had the opportunity to personally thank him for that and communicate to him just how huge and significant that was to me.

He proceeded to share with me his story, which I had never heard.  His mother passed when he was just 11 years old, his father died when he was 15.  We talked of the void that existed inside a fatherless child’s heart and the similar ways and techniques we used to cope and compensate for it.  When the conversation was over, we both agreed that our lives have been blessed in spite of the void, and that God has been better to us than we deserve.

The time we spent together that morning was precious and priceless, and I am so thankful for men like Dean Larry Wilson who showed grace when he had every right to execute judgment, who poured himself into many more people’s lives other than mine, and holds a special place in my heart as a shining example of the Heavenly Father’s mercy, grace, and love.

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