I have many fond memories of my father—memories accumulated over the 43 years we shared this earth. I have fond memories based on my first twenty-one years when I lived in his home and saw him nearly every day. I remember him taking me to old Exhibition Stadium to watch the Blue Jays play. I remember going on a road trip together—just the two of us traveling across Georgian Bay and onto Manitoulin Island. I remember getting up early in the morning and finding that he was already awake, already reading his Bible, already spending time with the Lord. I remember this and so much else.
Then I have fond memories based on the next 23 years of life after I had gotten married and moved out, and after he and the family had left Canada to settle in the American South. Our visits became less frequent then, but no less significant. I remember his joy on those rare occasions when the whole family could be together, the entire collection of kids and grandkids under a single roof. I remember looking out from many church pulpits and conference podiums and seeing his face in the crowd. I remember notes and letters he would send at important moments or following significant events.
But my favorite memory of all is my final memory of all. In June of 2019 dad turned 70 and the family threw him a surprise party to mark the occasion. I made the long journey from Toronto to my sister’s home in Georgia to be part of the fun. It was a wonderful afternoon spent with friends and family, all of whom had gathered to honor dad as he reached a significant milestone. Though I talked to him on the phone after that day, I never actually saw him again and formed no other lasting memories. Just a few months later he collapsed and died at a time that was unexpected but in a way that was exactly as he wanted—with dirt on his hands.
Just months after my father went to heaven, my son followed. It has been more than a year since I last saw Nick, more than a year since I dropped him at Southern Seminary and watched as he walked away, arm-in-arm with the woman who would soon be his fiancée. Though we often spoke on the phone after that time, and though we sometimes connected by video chat, I never actually laid eyes on him again before he, too, collapsed and died at a time that was unexpected and in a way we could never have imagined.
In the aftermath of those two great sorrows, I often find myself thinking back to dad’s final birthday and to my final memory. Though I had decided to make the long journey, the family had determined they would not tell dad that I was coming. Because of flight schedules I was not able to arrive until an hour or two after the festivities had gotten underway. Dad was by the side of the pool when I got there, chatting with a friend. He saw me, he blinked in shock, and his face lit up with joy—the joy of a father who is surprised and delighted to see his son. It was a special moment.
It was a special moment that, in its own way, points me toward another special moment, for on his birthday dad unknowingly foreshadowed the joy I will experience when I finally see my Nick again—the pure and sweet and unadulterated joy of a Father whose heart has longed for the son he loves, the son he misses, the son he so wishes to see, to hug, to hold, to enjoy. The delight that flashed in his eyes, the smile that broke over his face, the tears that glimmered in his eyes, all point me to a time in the future when what is broken will be made whole, when what is sorrowful will be soothed, when what has been torn apart will be stitched back together, a time when son and father and father and son will be reunited, never more to part, never more to grieve.