I didn’t lay on eyes on my biological Father until I was eighteen years old and that was, in retrospect, probably for the best. When kids have kids things tend to go wrong quickly and it was no different for my parents. My Mom was not yet eighteen when I was born, my Dad was nineteen and both struggled under the burden of responsibility as many young adults do.
My dad’s struggle led him to flee from those responsibilities and my Mom’s now intensified struggle led her to move back in with her parents, not an uncommon scenario. That is where I met my first “Dad”.
My Grandpa was a World War II Veteran and Purple Heart recipient.
My Grandpa was a Millwright at Northwestern Steel and Wire Company from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. He came home every day looking like a coal miner. All visible flesh was as black as night, his clothing perspired through and he had a permanent grunge on his hands that probably never went away. He bore both the scars of war and of the molten steel that was permanently embedded in his flesh in several places.
My Grandpa worked hard, and when he was not at work, he worked. On his days off he worked, after dinner, he worked. After the sun finally dipped below the horizon he would sit in his old rocker and read. The next day he would repeat the process.
My Grandpa broke his back to provide for his family, he never complained and lived within his means.
His name was Lloyd, people called him “Hank” we kids always called him Paw Paw.
He taught me the value of hard work and that if Paw Paw had to take off his belt, you had messed up big-time.
On occasion we would fish, putz around in his work shop and go for rides in his World War II Jeep that he had repainted baby blue. It was on one of these rides that he taught me the second most memorable lesson of my young life. My Grandpa pointed to a big fancy house one day and said:
“ Do you see that house? Ole’ Man Smith lives there, they got everything they have by suing other people. You don’t ever want to be like Ole’ Man Smith”
This admonition was followed by a short tirade of mild profanities directed at Ole’ Man Smith that left an indelible mark on my young mind.
He taught me that no one owes me anything and that what I have should be obtained honestly.
Paw Paw used what would be considered “country cussin’” by today’s standards. He neither drank nor smoked in the time that I knew him and he was faithful to my Grandmother. Together they made sure that I was in Sunday School every week laying a modest bed of faith for a fatherless child.
My teenage years didn’t go well. I sowed my wild oats, got in considerable trouble but did finally give my heart to Jesus, for real, at the age of seventeen.
At the age of eighteen I finally met my biological father. Dad number two!
The main lesson that I learned upon meeting my dad was that, contrary to popular belief, sometimes it is best if an out-of-control element of your life is removed. My dad ran afoul of the law and would have been a terrible influence on me. I got in enough trouble on my own! I thank God for unanswered prayers of a lonely little boy in regards to his being reunited with his dad.
We spent enough time together in my early twenties that I managed to get some Jesus into him. When he died a few years back he was born-again and a member of the Worship Team at his church. Through him I learned that no one is beyond redemption.
In 1992 I met dad number three.
My pastor, mentor and best friend of the last twenty-four years.
Listing everything I have learned from the fourth generation Minister, Theologian and Biblical Scholar that I have been blessed enough to call “Dad” for half of my life, would turn this article into an essay. My meager writings are like sand castles lying in the shadow of the Taj Mahal of his life’s work. He is the leader of the band, and my life has been a poor attempt to imitate him, as he imitates Christ. I am the Timothy to his Paul.
Suffice it to say, that if he had not taken this rebellious urchin under his wing and taught me how to live a Godly life in a godless world, I don’t know where I would be today. Dead, or in prison, I assume.
Life is a journey in which we absorb many bits of information, and as we work out our own soul’s salvation with fear and trembling, those bits are compiled into something called wisdom. The wisdom imparted to me by my three dads, either directly or indirectly, has shaped who I am today in undeniable ways. I have been a Christian, following after the narrow way, since the day a loving man-of-God and his wife taught me exactly what the Bible says about being a man. And I have been a Conservative ever since my Paw Paw warned me about Ole’ Man Smith.
What a wonderfully simple, peaceful life it has been. Thanks to my three dads.
by CHRIS MILLS