They say that there are two things you can be sure of in life – death and taxes. Most of us run from them both for good reason.
Death is the scary one, but I guess one gets more used to the idea the older they get. But it still seems to catch us by surprise.
Several years ago I was surprised to learn that my good friend and colleague Jack Burrell had died at 81 years of age. I had known Jack for almost 40 years and he was a bit like a father to me. He was certainly a man I looked up to with immense respect, so I was keen not to miss his funeral.
I squeezed into the packed church at Brownsville, Dapto and was ushered into the front row as every other seat was taken. They say that you can always tell how many friends you have by the size of your funeral. If that is the case, Jack sure had a lot of friends.
A number of Jack’s friends spoke about him that day, but it was the words of his now grown-up children that touched me the most.
Jack’s son Greg, spoke with dry and eloquent humour that was punctuated by bouts of heartfelt tears. It is amazing just how much Jack did teach his son, I think even Greg was amazed – such keys as how to ‘use’ things but ‘love’ people.
You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Most of the saints were never recognized while they were alive. It is only in their passing that we realize the treasure has departed. The really great people are often the one’s we don’t think of as great while they are alive.
The Chinese wisely said, ‘A leader is best, when people barely know that he exists’. Such is the case with a good father, until he is gone.
Jack’s daughter, Julie’s speech, was very touching. Jack was a wood turner and his woodwork was so special that his children made him a ‘Jack Burrell – Made in Australia’ stamp to put on his creations. Julie poignantly suggested that Jack was a living stamp on each of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren that would last long after his wooden bowls were discarded.
Here are some of the things Julie thought her dad passed on:
The most important thing Dad taught us was the importance of a relationship with God. Dad modelled an authentic natural faith to us. He lived his faith. There was no separation between his faith and his everyday life. He was open and honest about his relationship with Jesus with everyone he met and he didn’t hesitate to offer to pray for people if he saw they were in need and very many people were happy to allow him to do that because I think they sensed that it was always an expression of his care and concern for them.
Family was always really important to Dad. They say the best thing a man can do for his family is to love his wife and I know that Dad loved and was totally devoted to Mum as she was to him and we benefited from that. I also know that Dad loved each of his four kids equally but differently – he knew just how to make each of us feel special in his eyes.
Dad loved the family party, the joy of celebrating the milestones of life…Dad passed on to us his love for the bush and the beach… He taught us to appreciate the simple things in life.
Dad taught us not to be afraid of getting our hands dirty – that there is value and joy in manual tasks – he had me under the car when I was about 12 with a grease gun…One of the greatest things he passed on to us was his love of music and what we call the “Performance gene”… All four of us kids have found a love for music and that has been a real joy for all of us.
You may not be aware, but I doubt it, that Dad also loved to show off a bit and make people laugh. He had a ditty about everything and was always whistling or singing a tune usually with whacky lyrics. Who could forget his ballad about the Sunburnt Sheila at his 80th birthday party?? Or his exhortation not to leave your chewing gum on the bedpost overnight. He had the ability to wear silly hats with aplomb. We have so many photos of Dad with a silly look on his face and a hat or a wig or something on his head. That is one trait we have tried very hard not to carry on but some of us seem to have married people with that ability – which is a bit of a worry.
So Dad has put his stamp on us as his family and I think that if you have known him, been his friend then you are blessed and he has probably put his stamp on you a little bit too.
We all need the ‘stamp of love’. That’s what dads are all about. That’s why we do the things we do!
Just accept the fact that you won’t be present at your own funeral to hear what your children say about you, but that shouldn’t stop you giving your children something worthwhile to talk about.
If I could be half as good a dad as Jack Burrell, I would be very, very happy.
Yours for the stamp of a father’s love
PS: Mark Stiles and I had a great week touring Humble Hope across Victoria, the Garden State. Melbourne, Warrnambool, Bendigo and Mildura kindly hosted a pre-screening fundraising dinner for Humble Hope. Many childhood sexual abuse survivors came forward and shared the pain of their journey with us both. These three dads share their encouragement for others to see Humble Hope on the Dads4Kids Facebook site.