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When my father threw away his cane

March 26, 2016
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My family circa 1956. Far left: me, oldest sister Nancy, Mother, little bro Terry, Dad, next oldest sister, Linda (Pert).

Ten years ago today my father threw away his cane. He began walking again (if souls walk in heaven) and he promised he would even be dancing.

Imagine, a somewhat straight-laced Mennonite farmer, dancing. That was part of his vision of what it would mean for him to finally be rid of the earthly limitations brought on by diabetic neuropathy where he ended up in a wheelchair for a few years, then fought his way back to a walker, and finally a cane. Pretty good for a man in his high eighties. My biggest regret of that last year is that we didn’t gather to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary on January 1.

Instead we gathered to say goodbye to his body in late March and honor his memory and all that he stood for and accomplished in his 89 years. During March, there were also some days and weeks when all of us were able to visit Dad while he was in the hospital and even an amazing last Sunday—the week before he died—when he could be present at his home church, North Goshen Mennonite, when he whispered to Mom he was hoping he could maybe have a hot dog for lunch.

It’s not too hard to believe he might dance in heaven since as a Mennonite deacon (who often served earlier in an assistant pastor capacity, especially when it came to visitation and helping lead worship and perform baptisms) he had given his senior pastor a bow tie, encouraging him to give up the old Mennonite straight coat or plain jacket. I wish we still had Dad’s old straight coat. Daddy had begun wearing the bow tie himself and thought it was time to move away from the straight coat. Yay Dad.

As with many young Mennonite fellows of the time, his formal education stopped around eighth grade—eager to help instead on the farm. But he never never stopped learning. He read the church papers from cover to cover, farm magazines, Sunday School lessons, books published by the church publisher Herald Press, the newspaper, and more. He would often—TOO OFTEN—push a magazine or article under my nose and urge me to read it. Soon.

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Dad working on crafts in his spare time during Civilian Public Service, circa early 1940s.

He wished to impart his deepest values and the Christian teachings he had come to embrace so fully as he served during World War II as a conscientious objector in a mental hospital and other civilian work of national importance. His four years of service equated to his college education as key Mennonite and other Christian leaders visited the camps where he lived, to instruct and educate the young men—who were taunted as “yellow” by their peers—on why they were doing what they were doing.

I’ve often written about him here on my blog, in my newspaper column and in my books. While he was not a perfect man or dad, I honor his memory and his long example of Christian love put in action. Here are some of my other favorite posts about him: 1. 2. and a commemorative post I did last year.

I won’t say RIP. Instead, dance on, dear Dad, kick up those heels celebrating your joy of the Lord. In the lives of those of us who loved Dad, Husband, Grandpa, Great Grandpa, Great Great Grandpa, Uncle, Great Uncle, Cousin and more, let us pay him and his memory our greatest respect in the ways we choose to live our lives.

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Dad slicing apples real thin for the grandchildren: my oldest two daughters, Michelle at 4 years, left, and Tanya, 2, right.

HAPPY EASTER, DADDY.

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Easter Sunday, circa 1954. We never wore hats any other time. Dad with his beloved hat and his straight coat.

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From → Faith, Family Life

7 Comments
  1. Your love for your father has been most evident here, Melodie. I love the image of the dancing Mennonite father. Happy Easter to your daddy.

    I remember walking across the Goshen College campus in 1980 in May, just after the death of my own father and feeling the presence of his spirit very strongly as I approached the Adelphian Fountain in front of the Ad Building. Daddy dancing with angels. I didn’t exactly “see” this, but I felt it and recognized it. I laughed out loud. Daddy was not a dancer on earth. But in heaven, he was free to move and had the best dance instructors of all!

    • I shouldn’t do a “post and run” but I was enjoying the Easter weekend with my family and grandkids, of course but had wanted to post on the 10th anniversary of his homegoing. Thanks for the shared memory of your father–I do know what you’re talking about here, feeling a presence so strongly that your dad was there with you. Our lay leader at church yesterday shared a Good Friday moment with us along those lines from a friend who was not given to overly religious expressions. Holy moment at the Goshen fountain. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler permalink

    Thank you for these dynamic memories of your father. Deep bow to you and to your dancing father.

    I am invited to spend some time with my own father, whose birth and death dates, both, are in March, and who also made the transition from plain coat to v-necked jacket (though he never wore a tie). I will never forget my father’s work roughened hands and his commitment to the land.

    • Thanks, Dolores, for sharing and I’m touched and pleased that this “invited” you to spend some “time” with your own father again–and the memories of those roughened hands.

  3. I love your dad’s bow tie story. My own Mennonite dad wore a plain, frock coat with a little black bow tie when he walked me down the aisle on my wedding day at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Charlotte.

    My dad didn’t dance, but he yodeled. Though I had a complicated relationship with my father I treasure his many gifts to me: love for music, respect for the land, interest in world events. After he died, it was sad to see the US News and World Report and Decision magazine subscriptions expire.

    What a model of perseverance, your dad. Few men his age reverse the cycle from wheelchair to walker to cane. You are a worthy torch-bearer of his legacy, Melodie.

  4. Marian, indeed there is more to Dad’s story although I didn’t live at home then, but Mom recalls how he would lay on the daybed they had moved the living room for him during his convalescence, and how he was depressed about just laying there (after always being an extremely active and involved man) and he began working so hard at therapy and was determined to prove the fatalist doctor wrong who said he’d never walk again.

    Do you still have pictures of your dad’s frock coat and bow tie when he walked you down the aisle? (I’m sure he had his qualms about you marrying outside the Mennonite church as well. Story coming in your memoir??) Thanks for these memories and the yodeling I hear in my head right now!

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