My dad, Ken, turned 90 last week. He is a bona fide Northwest Healthy Dad if ever there was one. Northwest born and bred, this is where he raised his family.
Ken was a tall, skinny kid with lots of thick, curly hair. When he came home from the army after World War 2 his friends introduced him to Helen, who would eventually be my mom. I once asked her when she and Dad got engaged. “When did I get engaged, or when did he?” she asked. It seems that she decided to marry him about two years before he asked. And when Ken did ask, he took her to a big house and said, “Do you see that house? Someday I’m going to marry a girl who will have enough kids to fill it up for me.” Helen said, “Is that right? That’s just how many I’d like to have.”
By their seventh anniversary Dad and Mom had five kids. I was the second born. His family meant the world to him. Dad worked long, hard hours to provide for us, but when he was home he was completely there. Well, sometimes he fell asleep while he was reading to us, but otherwise he was 100% present. We shared daily meals around our kitchen table, and it was there that we fed each other’s souls with shared stories, laughter, and tears. And it was there that our parents taught us to honor each another, have good manners, do our best, and love Jesus.
Dad was a storyteller. On Saturday mornings when we were little all five of us kids would crawl in bed with Dad and Mom, wiggling in wherever we could find space, and beg Dad to tell a story. While Mom made breakfast (too many people in that bed!) Dad would make up a story for us. Usually it was about Preacher Mohod, a traveling minister who lived in the olden days and road his horse Scar from village to village, stopping in general stores and schoolhouses to tell Bible stories to the children and preach God’s Word to the adults.
Some of our best memories were made in a pop-up tent trailer with all seven of us crammed in. By the time we were teens we had graduated to a travel trailer and a tent. But it wasn’t just his own family that Dad took camping. When he and Mom worked with the youth at church they would take us to Camp Casey or Cedar Springs and run and play with us until we were all worn out. He never missed a chance to love on kids.
When we took a drive, we sang, all of us. Hymns, camp songs, whatever came to mind, we sang. Dad’s happy voice was always clear and strong. One Saturday he drove his work van to SPU to pick up some of my girlfriends and me for a day at Fort Casey. We were all chattering and laughing, then somebody began to sing. We all joined in, including Dad. My friends looked at me, a bit surprised, but I just smiled and kept singing. So did Dad.
Dad would do anything he could for us if it was within his power. My brother Tom, a year older than I, wanted a tandem bicycle when he was in junior high, so he and Dad found a couple of old bikes, welded them together, and created a tandem themselves. It was bright yellow, and the hit of the neighborhood.
Over the years my parents doubled the size of our house so that we could have our friends over. Not many weeks went by that there weren’t pingpong games or fifth quarter parties or overnighters at our house. Dad and Mom always welcomed our friends as if the kids were their own friends.
So when Tom died in a car accident the day after his 18th birthday, the kids started showing up at the door. One or two kids or groups of five or six, hurting young people came to be with my parents, just to be there, to talk, to cry. Dad and Mom loved on those kids, even in their own pain, and in the midst of it there was healing.
Dad’s integrity and his gracious spirit permeate his life. When we were growing up he always gave us the benefit of the doubt, as he does to this day. Still full of grace and kindness, I know you’d love him too, my Northwest Healthy Dad!