My father, Robert Webb, died unexpectedly on Nov. 8, 1988, at the age of 61. Dad had been disabled by a heart condition years earlier, but his first heart attack and death took my mother, two sisters, brother and me by surprise. He died within 24 hours of suffering the attack.
The eldest of four children, I recall thinking at 38 that his passing was too quick. My 13- and 11-year-old sons had lost their maternal grandfather to illness before my second son was born. Dad was a positive influence in their lives. Now their beloved paternal grandfather was gone. I’m sure my three siblings felt the same way.
My mother, who still lives in our hometown of Mt. Vernon, Ill., reminds us that it has been a long time — nearly a quarter of a century — since she lost her husband. Living without him is lonely, she periodically reminds us. She has lived the past 16 years with Parkinson’s, a painful and debilitating disease.
Most of what I learned about the best qualities of fatherhood I learned from my Dad. I have come to the conclusion early on that he was very good at it. Over the years, his value as a Dad has only grown.
The Dad who raised Quetta, Randy, Janet and me realized the task wasn’t easy but he had the support of parents, a sister, and my mother’s parents and seven siblings. He valued them all, including the sizeable contingent of in-laws reared out on a small southern Illinois farm.
Dad was good to his children from Day 1, but he really stepped up as a person, as a husband and as a father when he unexpectedly found Christ in a revival service on the south edge of our town one night. I don’t really recall him ever “darkening the door of the church,” as we used to say, until that evening.
Mom was already a Christian; she had been raised in a Baptist family. Suddenly, we all were earning attendance pins, first at the little country church my mother attended growing up and very soon after that my home church in our town.
What happened that night was life-changing for our whole family. At the latter church, our family loaded up to cross town and attend Sunday School and morning worship services, then did the same Sunday evening for Church Training and evening services. We were there on Wednesday evening for mission organizations and then prayer meeting.
I sometimes joke that once we even showed up when the part-time custodian opened the church on a weeknight to clean it. If something was happening there, Dad and Mom saw that our family was present.
By the way, Dad was my Royal Ambassador leader at church growing up. When state convention leadership needed someone in our part of the state to talk with a church about staring RAs, they enlisted Dad. He took along my brother and me to read Bible passages on cue.
Dad — and Mom — opened the lives of their children to God. And the training took. My siblings are all outstanding Christian adults and parents today. Most of us are grandparents, too.
Dad’s faith commitment enabled him to develop qualities I attempt to emulate myself. He was a good listener; he was not bashful about his faith; he was honest in his dealings with everyone; he stood up for those who didn’t have a voice; his word was his bond — he could be trusted; and his family was only secondary to God.
I could have used his counsel many times during the past 25-plus years. Now that I am a little older than Dad was at his death, I am still trying to cultivate those qualities so evident in his life that I want to be a part of mine.
Father’s Day is a time to give thanks for our own fathers, of course, but it is an appropriate time for each Dad to recommit himself to this God-given privilege and responsibility. Few things are as important.