‘What would my dad do if he were in my shoes?’
That is a question I’ve asked frequently since he died in April of 2013. Since his passing, it seems I’ve begun numerous chapters of life in which I would give anything to once again receive just a few carefully distilled words of counsel from one of the wisest people I’ve ever known. Yes, a part of me believes the challenges of marriage, fatherhood, & post-grad school life would be a little easier to navigate with the sound guidance of that seasoned soul.
Last year I did something that made me feel like I was, in a way, following in my dad’s footsteps: I took my family on a trip to Minnesota. You see, my parents were both from northern MN before they moved to Seattle where they settled down & raised my big sister & I. Every other summer until I was about 14 or so, my dad would drive us out to visit relatives who still lived in the area in which he grew up. Driving the roads & highways upon which he learned to drive, hitchhiked, & set out on countless adventures made me feel very near to him. Taking my wife & child with me through the marshy countryside of northern MN made me feel like I was retracing the steps of the trips my dad took his wife & children on when he was approximately my age; but this time I was the husband/dad instead of the child.
However, despite the nearness & similarities to my dad, I began to note many contrasts between him & I as well. Instead of knowing precisely where I was going, I followed directions my wife gave me as she obtained them from Waze. In place of Creedance Clearwater Revival, Sam Cooke, & James Taylor, I chose Seu Jorge, En Espiritu y En Verdad, & Propaganda to serenade us through the rental car’s sound system. Cold-pressed organic green juice in the cup holder, not diet root beer. A Black Lives Matter bracelet in place of an inexpensive, but trusty wrist watch. At first glance, these contrasts may seem trivial, but each is a cultural artifact that conveys the differing worldviews possessed by my father & I. These differences are certainly understandable, given the contextual & generational variances in which we’ve lived our respective lives, but reflecting upon the few feet the apple has fallen from the tree drew me into a space in which I began to compare myself to him, wondering if I “measure up” to the man he was.
Anyone who knew my dad would readily agree that he was the archetype of what could be called the “quiet, consistent witness”. I don’t remember a single time I saw him engage in any sort of debate with someone(s) of opposing views; I do remember him being a humble yet shining exemplar of Galatians 5 “fruit” in his neighborhood for 3 consecutive decades, spending 4 years gradually leading a lonely dying neighbor to faith in Jesus Christ, & not thinking himself particularly special for doing so. His quiet, consistent witness was a quality that many who knew him always admired. Contemplating said admiration as my family & I traveled up highway 64, I realized that the aforementioned quality is highly esteemed in my parents’ social circles. In fact, I’d venture that it is one of the most widely prescribed foundational character traits for white American Christian males across the board, especially those born before approximately 1970. But I also began to realize that, while I also deeply respect this characteristic, my life experience has made plenty (if not more) room for a more outspoken & even confrontational brand of Christian witness. Consequently, over the last few years, I have leaned much more toward the stuntin on Pharisees (Luke 11:37-54) & flipping over tables (Mark 11:15-17) end of the Christ-likeness spectrum than the “Put your sword back into its place” (Matthew 26:52) end of it. There is no shortage of empirical evidence that developing a voice in this capacity has been much to the chagrin of some family members & various other Christian acquaintances, but I often wonder what my dad would think, since he passed away about a year before I was awakened to the fact that our Savior’s beautiful gospel possesses irrevocable horizontal (social, or human to human) implications, which are, unfortunately, oft overshadowed by its vertical (spiritual, or human to God) implications. Sometimes I think he’d disapprove, given that he & I have had incongruent exposures to numerous features of our world’s social systems, which, naturally, would lead to different conclusions regarding how the gospel informs a Christian’s public engagement. Other times, I am fairly certain my public stance(s) would have (at least partially) gained his approval by now, as his honesty made him more open to self-assessment & worldview reformation than most I’ve known. In his absence from this earth, there’s no way to discern how he’d view the specific perspective(s) that I bring to the 21st century public square. However, I do know that he was a man of unshakable integrity, who stood steadfastly for his moral convictions, & would at least be pleased that he raised a man who’s doing the same; correct, mistaken, or neither.
Kirby Smith was a man who wholeheartedly believed in every person’s right to be his or her own person; so much so that he cringed at the very idea of naming me after himself, & despised “love language” & “personality type” tests that group people together based on a few general traits. I don’t know how my dad would’ve received the work of his post-Ferguson era son, but I do know he would vehemently object to being used as the measuring stick against which my life is appraised. After all, in days gone by, when I was trapped in a self-made prison of sin, this was the person who asked God to do with me as he pleased, as long as he brought me to saving faith in his Son, Jesus Christ; I believe that prayer is being answered. Soli Deo Gloria.
So, ‘What would my dad do if he were in my shoes?’
“Don’t worry about it, son. What is God telling you to do in your own shoes?”