It hardly seems possible that my father has been gone for almost 20 years. Dad died in 1988 — on Nov. 8 — without much warning. He suffered a heart attack in my hometown of Mt. Vernon in downstate Illinois; was life-flighted to Springfield, Ill., where my family lived at the time; and died during the night at St. John’s Hospital there. He was only 61, and he was gone too quickly.
Memory and retrospect are powerful teachers. That’s what our family and many of Dad’s friends have discovered over the last couple of decades.
As Father’s Day approaches, I would love to be writing about my 81-year-old father and some of the things I appreciate about him and have learned from him during the past 58 years. But when God welcomed a grateful believer named Bob Webb into His heavenly presence, I was 38 and my three siblings were even younger. In that regard, I’m sure those of us who miss Dad from this side are at least a little jealous of God. I am.
We are fortunate to have Mom, the love of Dad’s life, still with us. A medical condition limits Mom’s mobility, and Dad’s absence naturally manifests itself in loneliness in her life. But we admire her inner strength and value her unfailing love. From time to time her memories remind her children and grandchildren of Dad’s legacy.
If Dad were with us today, he would be a little uncomfortable with the praise he is receiving in this column. He would likely acknowledge he made his share of mistakes. All I knew was that I had a mother and a father who loved our family and showed it.
Dad was not a church-goer when he and Mom married, even though he was surrounded by loving in-laws who were. Dad resisted, probably in part because he recognized his own unworthiness before God. After his uncle and aunt — George and Florence Webb — came to know Christ, Dad didn’t stand a chance. He and Uncle George had grown up almost as brothers, and his uncle wasn’t about to let my father miss out on receiving Christ.
When I was just a few years old, Dad agreed to attend a revival service to get Uncle George off his back. Our whole family went, and I found it to be a terrifying experience. Near the service’s end, Dad was weeping as he gave His life to Christ; Mom was crying because of Dad’s commitment. I was scared because they were weeping.
But what occurred that night was the best thing that could have happened. Dad went to work the next morning, told his co-workers what had happened to him and threw away his tobacco products as a testimony to his changed life.
My father wasn’t sure exactly what a Christian was to do, so he did what others told him: Read the Bible. Pray. Faithfully attend church. Tithe. And so he did — we all did! Dad and Mom required us children to tithe on our allowances; the church received a nickel from each of us every week. We read what back then were called “daily Bible readings,” published in our Sunday School literature.
Not only did Dad’s life-focus change almost overnight, so did that of his entire family. All of us found ourselves on the path of seeking and following Christ. Our church soon became a second family.
We all still miss Dad, but he did what faithful believers do. He left evidences of his faith and his Christian character all over the place.
When I see my siblings, I see distinct qualities of my father. My sister Quetta has Dad’s exuberance and animation; my impression is that she — like Dad — has never met a stranger. My brother, Randy, has acquired Dad’s wisdom and his sensitivity to the concerns of people. My “baby” sister, Janet, has Dad’s compassion and a faith strengthened by some challenging life experiences.
Dad’s death certificate is dated Nov. 8, 1988. But we live with the assurance that death certificates don’t really matter for those who experience eternal life. At best, they are final change-of-address records.
When someone becomes a part of your life, there is a sense in which they can never be taken from you. Those of us who follow behind such persons have the power to enable these loved ones to continue their influence. We reflect the good in godly forebears, just as faithful Christians reflect their namesake Christ.
I know that not every father’s example should be imitated, and Dad would counsel his children not to follow his example at every point. But I am grateful for a father — already in heaven — who strove and a mother who still strives to place God first in their lives and to make that striving their legacy to the generations that follow them.
What a heritage.