Seventeen years…

At 6:25 PM tonight, my dad will have been dead for seventeen years.  It’s odd how this day is more easily remembered than his birthday, or any birthday for that matter.  My dad was a good man with a tender heart.  He could cry easily, but he was strong.

For years he was a top narcotics officer with the Gregg County Sheriff’s Department in Longview, TX.  His arms were solid like granite.  He loved fishing and hunting.  I remember many Saturdays running in front of his mower to pick up sticks and pine cones.  He was a country boy, and could survive.  He taught me how to shoot a pistol and a shotgun, how to aim a rifle, and how to skin a buck or a squirrel.  He loved to cook things like stew or chili or gumbo, and he could split wood with one swing of an ax.

He knew how to dance.  I remember watching him grab my stepmother spontaneously with some country ballad playing in the background and spin around the kitchen or the living room.  I remember when he threw me a “sock hop” in our garage, and deejayed the event himself.  I remember my embarrassment at watching him demonstrate to my sixth grade friends the proper way to mash potato or twist.  I’d give anything to see him lively and happy like that again.

I was with my daddy when I smoked my first cigarette, just because I asked him if I could try it.  I was with him when I opened my first beer, and took my first shot of Southern Comfort.  I remember my dad catching me kiss Courtney in our back yard, and I remember hiding in the bushes down the street when he drove the block at midnight to check and see if Corey and I were causing trouble.

He taught me to ride a bicycle, to drive a car, and to change the oil.  I remember when he picked me up from school in a giant Mercury, and in a sporty GT convertible.  I remember the day I loaned my dad $1000.00 from my savings account, and I remember the day he paid it back.

Sitting on my desk is his Bible.  In the front of his Bible is a picture of Samson grinding out the grain in the basement of a Philistine temple.  I think my daddy felt like Samson at times, especially toward the end.  Yellowed from liver damage, weak from atrophied muscles, easy chores became difficult for him.  I remember the winter day when I found him with blood coming out of the corners of his mouth, seizing on the floor of our garage while trying to stack firewood.  I remember the night he wet the bed, as a grown man, unable to get out in time to use the bathroom.

I remember helping him shave, or tie his shoes, or comb his hair.  In the end, my father was very sick, and there were days that I was alone with him.

This morning I went out with two men from our church to pass out 300 tracts and church invitations to homes in our community.  They went together, I walked alone.  I’m kinda glad that very few people were home, because they would have seen the red, puffy eyes and the tear tracks running down my cheeks.

I wonder to myself how he would have responded to some of the things I now face.  My dad would defend what he loved with everything he had.  Like the time he broke through a locked bathroom door and pulled my stepmother off of me, releasing my arm from behind my back where she was threatening to break it.  He would spend his last dime to help a Hispanic man named Manuel and his family have a better Thanksgiving or Christmas.

In Longview, Texas, there is a grave.  In that grave is the body of a man named Stroud.  Seventeen years past have robbed me of his counsel, his correction, and his embrace.  In nine years, I will have outlived him.  But at least I have thirteen years of life with my dad to think about on days like today.  When I’m 39, will I have spent my time in such a way that somebody sheds a tear of gratitude for my love?  Or will I have wasted precious energies on fighting battles that mean nothing for eternity, or opposing men whose children cry when they read the things I write?

To those who didn’t know my dad, he was an unemployed alcoholic.  To me, he was a hero.

To me, some men are scoundrels and tyrants.  To their own children, they are daddy.

Not bad thoughts to have while trying to reach your community for Christ.

14 thoughts on “Seventeen years…

  1. I remember the day we lost my mom as well. My little brother (who died a few months later) and baby sister were there with me. I recognize so much of what you’ve written.

    Heros. We remember them.

  2. I think I just got my PhD in Benjaminscole.

    So well spoken. My dad died 18 years ago this past March. He was an ideal father in every way I can think of, aside from spiritually. My feelings toward him, from well on the farside of 65, and having known him for 79 years, are just about like yours for your dad.

    You’re a blessed man.

    Bob Cleveland

  3. This is very moving. It drives me to my knees thanking me for God’s grace in my life, and in yours. I am especially moved by your dad’s busting down the bathroom door to protect you. I don’t know if you have kids, Ben, but the thought of not being able to control myself if someone hurt my kids scares me.

    It is funny how love is the lens through which we perceive people, and not always truth, even as we are called to uphold truth. Even anger has that same effect, it seems. I think that is one of the Bible’s paradoxes that is subtle and often overlooked, because as we know and love a person, even his break from orthodox doctrine is harder to confront. I think great heresies in the church may have been quelled early if a brother in love did not confuse his friendship with his virtue.

    One more thought on this… God did a work in you through your dad that is obvious. It reminds me of the lady who, with great internal strife, stayed in the same church with a pastor for over 10 years whom she believed was leading the flock astray- but upon his leaving and the new pastor’s arrival, she rejoiced, not at the new pastor, but at the work of patience and complete faith God instilled in her heart through her sleepless, prayerful nights.

    What would have happened if the people who viewed your dad as a scoundrel and tyrant decided to remove him from your life, and replaced him with a dad who they thought was not a scoundrel and tyrant, and they did it because they thought your dad was raising you and leading you in the wrong direction, not letting others have more influence on you than he had? You would have missed the great blessing and molding God wrought in your life. You would have fought, I imagine, tooth and nail. And you would not be Ben Cole today if they did, the Ben Cole God was sovereignly using your dad to bring about.

    I will pray for you tonight, brother. If you don’t have a family, and don’t care to be alone tonight, let me know. You are welcome to come hang out with mine.

  4. God bless you, Ben.

    I wish that all Dads really understood the reality about which you write. The power of a father in the life of his child is atomic.

  5. Ben,

    Thanks for this post. As I sit here tonight, I just finished changing the oil on my son’s car. He and his wife are going on a short vacation this weekend and by the time he realized he needed an oil change, he had to go to work. I’m not feeling very good tonight and the last thing I wanted to do was change oil. However, I have this overwhelming sense of satisfaction because I know I just did something that my dad would have done. No matter how bad he felt or how tired he was, if one of his kids needed something, he was there. He died on March 10, 2005 and I miss him more each day.

    Thanks again for this post and keep taking a stand.


    Jeff Parsons

  6. Lost my Father just before Easter, 1994. It was a very difficult time in our ministry and our marriage as well. I will never forget the feeling of hopelessness I had. Because of his drug use and mental problems we had been seperated from the time I was about 5 until I turned 18. At that reunion I realized I would be the adult in the relationship. Twelve years later I stood at the graveside and realized I would never really have his affirmation. I would never get the answers I wanted as to “why” about so many things. The funny part was I had to pay for the funeral!

    Still, I am glad that I got to know him a little. The pain of not knowing would have been worse. Notice I said that I lost my Father; I did not lose my Dad. My Step-Father became my Dad when I was 8. I am thankful that he was there to stand in the gap. Yes, he taught me some interesting things, he smoked pipes and cigars so my first experience wasn’t with the wimpy Marlboro Man stuff! He was also a Master Sargent in the military and that was the modus operandi at home too. We prayed for him for sixteen years after my Mom and I became believers; then he yielded his life to Christ as well.

    Thanks, Father, for bringing me into this world. Thanks, Dad, for teaching me to live in it. Thanks Ben for getting this started. Any Father would be very proud of you and I know THE Father must be beaming as well.

    Chuck B (bloginafogpastor)

  7. Ben,

    Reading this reminds me how blessed I am to still have both of my parents. It’s hard to watch them continue to decline in health, but it would have been even harder to lose them at an earlier age. It seems like you have inherited your dad’s tough and tenacious determination and his compassion for the less fortunate that you referred to. Even in the brief time you were together, it is apparent that he made a powerful impact on you.

    We would all do well to remember what you said near the end of this post: “To those who didn’t know my dad, he was an unemployed alcoholic. To me, he was a hero. To me, some men are scoundrels and tyrants. To their own children, they are daddy.”

  8. Ben, I can’t add much to what has been said other than to echo that I understand the power of a father, although mine is much different than yours was.

    Thanks for shaing this Ben, it touched me and made me want to be a better dad.

  9. Ben –

    Something short and profound … that is what I have been seeking to comment here. But the power of the words you have written in honor of your father compels me to avoid anything that might seem trite or pithy.

    I think I would have liked to have seen your father dancing through the living room to that country ballad, and your embarrassment as your dad taught your friends at the sock hop how to dance. It made me smile through tears as I was reading. It reminded me of the times I would say “oh mom” and blush at something she would do or say around my friends.

    You have challenged me to see my own father in a new light and to put a greater value on his presence in my life.

    I cannot see into your heart and mind to know the measure of success or worth you place on the various instances, occurrences and paths of your life. However what I do see from my vantage point is a man of polished, exterior refinement with the heart of strength of a country boy named Stroud. You carry his name with honor.

  10. Thanks for sharing Ben,

    I can’t imagine what it must be like. I guess I take that for granted. I was at a funeral two days ago for a 43 year old father of 3 under 15. It makes you realize that we have to live life to it’s fullest. Thanks again.

  11. I was blessed to have my father for 47 years of my life. He’s been gone just two years ago this past August, and, while I am getting used to the fact that he is gone, I haven’t gotten over it, and probably never will. I will just learn how to live with it.

  12. Ben, the moment I started reading about your father I began reflecting on mine. A different story, but the same emotions. I was adopted, but my father was the most influential person in my life and my hero.
    I could see how God has worked through these circumstances in your life. Through your words I was able to see your fathers strengths, not his weaknesses. But that we all could see people this way. God bless you and yours.

  13. There is nothing more meaningful to me than a dad’s relationship with his children. I remember the years when my dad wasn’t involved in our lives. He was broken, hurting, depressed, working around the clock, and when not working, he was drinking. But one night, in a small bedroom of a small two-bedroom duplex, on an army cot acquired at Goodwill, my 16 year old brother told me about a God in heaven who wanted to be my daddy. He taught me the scriptures that showed about that God, His love, and what it meant to have Jesus as my Lord and Savior. But, most of all, I just yearned for a daddy, and I cried out to Him, and He saved me. I know not what it’s like to lose my earthly father to death, yet. He’s still with me; praise God. And, today, we have a wonderful relationship. Thank you for sharing with all of us this incredible story of a father’s love, a Father’s love, and of your own love.

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