Growing up I had very few restrictions set by my father, but it was well understood that there were five major rules, that if violated, would cost me plenty:
- Don’t bring the cops home.
- Don’t drink liquor.
- Don’t act disrespectfully toward women.
- Don’t swear.
- Do what Dad tells you to do.
Those were the standards he set and lived.
Let there be no misunderstanding; I had violated most of these rules at one point or another, and it had always cost me something. Dad had done his part to keep me on track. Aside from those rules, I’d been given plenty of freedom. He expected me to know what was right by watching him and thinking for myself.
Dad’s gas station was in a small town in the Central Valley of California. The seasonal farm hands worked through the summer, and saved what little money they could to see them through the winter months.
When there hadn’t been enough work for them to make ends meet all the way to spring, they’d come to Dad’s station. Gas was about thirty cents a gallon then, and he would loan them money for groceries and gave them gas on credit.
Every family had a little credit book with their name on it.
Each time Dad helped them, they signed for it with either their name, or an “X” if they couldn’t write. His desk was full of these little books and he didn’t charge any interest on the loans. When spring came and they found work, they’d start paying him back. This went on for years.
The railroad tracks were about a half-block from the gas station. In those days, most of the homeless had been hobos, winos, or bums. Dad got to know most of them by name. Very often, one of these guys would get off the train and come see Dad for a handout. Some of them he paid to do small jobs around the station. Some he took to the grocery store and bought staples such as bread, canned soup and lunchmeat before they went on their way. Others he took to the café next door and bought lunch..
The first thing Dad wanted when he got home from work was a hug and a kiss from Mom. It was easy to tell how much he loved her. He set a good example for me. He took our family to church regularly, where sometimes people stood up and talked about how God had helped them. Most of the time I found it pretty boring, but if Dad stood up to speak, I always sat up and listened. I knew that he would only talk in front of people if he had something of real value to say.
When I was leaving for Vietnam after a short leave at home, Dad and Mom stood on the front porch together, watching as Beth and I left for the airport. We had said our good-byes, and I looked back as we got in the car and saw my father’s head down, with tears on his face.
“I wonder why he’s crying,” I said to Beth as we drove away.
I guess he knew far more about war than I did.
My father taught me some valuable things. He showed me the way to befaithful in hardship, tender to the wounded, kind to the weak, generous to the poor, strong for the fearful, steadfast to the truth, and humble before a forgiving God.