I’ve been hugely blogging deprived recently and it shows. I started a new page on this blog today, wrote a letter to my daughter on my other blog “letters to lead you home”, and I can’t help but do this final blog post for this day.
This one is deeply personal to me. It’s got to be written. It’s been brewing in me for over a week now with no time or way of getting it out.
So here goes.
My dad was huge to me as a kid. Maybe all dads are. This may not be uncommon, just another normal childhood thing but it stands out to me.
Maybe it was because my world was so small. I grew up in a small community. Our family life was lived out in a small space. We attended our church Sunday morning, night, and Wednesday night and any other time the church doors were open. Didn’t matter what the weather, we were there and not only there but often the first ones there and the last to leave. No small feat when you consider that we were a family of seven.
I didn’t go to school functions much. I never attended a single dance my entire growing up years. In fact when I look at old pictures of high school acquaintances it seems like I’m looking at something I have no memory of because I didn’t experience things like prom, or parties, or hanging out on the weekends together with high school friends. I didn’t even go to a movie theatre til I was probably 16.
I lived out my childhood between church, home and school and our backyard, or the play ground on the other side of the fence from our backyard. An adventure or change of scenery was when I walked up to the local dime store to spend a little change if I had any. We didn’t go out to eat except on very rare occasions. We ate at home every night of the week.
Overall, I would say my childhood was very stable and structured, also quite small and safe.
In this world, being DC Dennings’ daughter was a big deal. At least it seemed like it at the time. I honestly remember people at church or out at our church camp saying…”Oh you’re Doyle’s daughter” and it was said with great honor and pride. Seemed like a great club to belong to.
When I became a teenager it became more obvious to me how much my dad loved to work. Well, I guess that aspect of who he was, was present from day one, but I started to notice more and more that mom would fix dinner and wrap dad’s plate in saran wrap for him to warm up when he got home.
He was a pastor originally, but when I was in fourth grade he changed jobs to becoming the secretary of finance for the conference office for the free methodist church in East Michigan. At this point in my life I realize that most of you have never heard of this or would care…but in my small world, this was a huge change and one that made him all the more a public figure. He took his job very seriously. Where most people would be ok with leaving work and finishing a task the next day, my dad couldn’t seem to do that. Where most people would do the minimum to get by, that was never my dad. He was Mr. above and beyond all the time. To the point where he always brought work home even when he did get home often way after office hours should’ve been done. He even got us kids involved. I remember typing up tax forms and helping to run figures through a calculator when he was auditing books or even just collating papers for the dreaded “Book of Reports” each year.
When I left home…9 hours away to Greenville College I started to realize that the world was a bigger place. I regularly went to the movies:). I was out of the “Oh…you’re Doyle’s daughter” ritual. My dad wasn’t quite so well known out of state as he was back home. Of course I also started to notice that my upbringing had some oddities and that my parents weren’t perfect.
I know this comes as an amazing surprise to you all. Not.
It was a natural transition, one we all make. One my own two daughters will make as well.
He didn’t actual know everybody or everything. Maybe even some of his choices were not always the choices that were right.
It was confusing really. Because when you work in a ministry position and work for God…and you really see all of your work as working for God it’s pretty hard to just call it a day and say….’hey God…it’s time for me to draw a line here.” I think that’s how my dad felt. He was passionate, visionary, and radical and not afraid of sacrifice or hard work even if he and my mom were the only ones working.
My mom tells me that he was this way even when they were dating. He completed college in less time than normal while working full time, getting married and having my older brother Jim all because he was so passionate about getting out there and saving the world and telling them about Jesus.
It’s clear to me that God gave me dad uncommon passion and the work ethic to go with that passion.
It’s also clear to me that my dad was a normal human being and is a normal human being in need of the grace of God. My dad isn’t perfect. Sometimes we set up our heroes for failure when we expect perfection.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve gone in waves. Sometimes I’ve felt so much honor and respect for my dad. I love him and am proud of him and still so proud to be a ‘dennings’ . Sometimes I’ve felt disillusioned and frustrated. I’ve been aware of imperfections and failures, struggles and areas of weakness.
We all have them.
Lately, my dad is getting older. He has been the camp director of our church camp for the past 15 years if I have the figure right, or at least close to that amount of time. He has done amazing thing out at the camp, honestly, it’s not even the same place I went to as a child. Roads have been paved, buildings built, and countless other great things. The camp actually gets used all the time now, it used to just get used a few weeks a year.
He has had a vision, and dreams and has worked himself like a crazy person to get them accomplished.
This is what I’ve discovered since the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Those of us who work ourselves like crazy sometimes just need to stop. But unless there is someone who we trust and respect enough to stop us, we can’t. People tried over the years. I honestly believe that some even did out of pure motives. But often people tried to stop dad but were unwilling to actually offer any help or to take up and fill the hole for him to take a rest so he felt like although people “talked the talk” about him stopping…they really didn’t put their money where their mouth was.
Right or wrong I’m not trying to throw stones. All I’m telling is my story and my perception of my dad over the years.
In the past 10/11 years I’ve only seen my dad a couple of times a year. I live 10 hours away and my parents get down to my house usually once a year and I get back to michigan a couple of times a year. My parents are getting older. My mom is 71 and my dad will be 70 in April. I’ve witnessed much change in them. Oh…they still worked like crazy. Because believe me, if my dad was working, my mom was right there beside him. But I’ve noticed all of the normal things that happen with age, a growing tiredness, the inability to physically do some of what they used to be able to do. Although, I can tell you, I hope I’m as active and healthy as they are when I’m their age! I’ve noticed changes that you notice when you only see people a few times a year. With each visit I started to notice that maybe retirement wasn’t all that far off.
I talked with my dad quite a bit about it for several years honestly. He was the type that was never going to retire or would tell me with each passing year that he still had certain goals that he wanted to accomplish and that would take him another five or so years. He was hoping to work til he was 75.
Ok let me just be honest. Translation. I knew my dad was really hoping that he would just work and at some point have a heart attack, die and we would ’roll him over the hill’ and that would be the end of it. If you know my dad you can picture him actually using those words:). He’s just the type of guy who has lived with such passion it’s hard to picture turning that off and he is humble enough to not want much to do about it when he does go.
I have mentioned to him that funerals and such are actually for the people left behind…but you get my drift. I hope.
This Christmas when I was home I could tell things were reaching a breaking point. I’ve always been able to sense that kind of thing. I pick up on vibes in the room. I ‘go there’ in conversations. Sometimes this creates awkward moments. When others say…’don’t ask’ or ‘don’t bring that up’ I feel this compulsive need to go there. I can’t avoid the elephant in the room.
It also happened that I was going through all of our family photos in preparation for my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary coming this June.
As I looked through the pictures I found myself wanting to reaffirm to my dad that he has lived life well. I wanted to reaffirm to him how much I love him and how proud I am of him and that even if seasons changed and he retired that I believe he has much more life to live that will be valuable. I wanted to confirm to him that the best thing he has done, far beyond buildings and numbers and finances and stats is to raise a family of 6 children who love each other and enjoy time together and who are all engaging in the world in meaningful ways and who love God. I talked to him about the generations coming up behind him and how he should feel incredibly proud of all of his grandchildren. I teach in public school and I can tell you without bias (or at least not too much:), that my children, my nieces and nephews are top quality men and women. I’m proud to be part of this clan, even with it’s quirks.
I told him that I was praying for him and mom to finish well. There were some signs that things might not be going well and that it was time for a change. I knew that my dad separated from work would be HUGE. I can’t fully express how huge, you wouldn’t know unless you knew my dad in real life.
So this is then what happened.
I went home after the holidays.
Two weeks later I got a text from my sister in all capital letters to call her. This is highly unusual. I called. I found out that my dad had on the spot chosen to retire after a meeting with his supervisor. His supervisor would’ve given him till the end of the year which is in July but my dad on the spot, in true radical fashion opted to be done immediately!
To say that all of our jaws hit the floor would be a vast understatement.
Literally…he came home from that meeting, told my mom, they started to pack and moved their first few van loads of stuff I think maybe even that evening or at least by the next day. They’ve moved into a one bedroom apartment attached to my oldest brother Jim’s house. Literally, by Monday night…we’re talking three days after choosing to spontaneously retire my parents had everything…and I mean everything moved and were sleeping at their apartment. Never mind that this was the coldest few days Michigan has had this winter!
I sat here in Illinois stunned.
I knew it was coming. I did. But I didn’t know how it would all play out.
My parents were pretty hush hush about it. Not shocking. That’s how my entire childhood was. Maybe it’s just how the time period back then was. You didn’t ‘air’ stuff in public. I guess if you don’t talk about it then it doesn’t exist…and honestly, they were too busy working like crazy people, as normal moving.
When I talked with my mom about it she told me…”You know your dad…” She didn’t have to say anything more. Yes I know my dad.
Ironically enough, last summer when they did the reading of years of service in our conference, they overlooked my dad. He had served for 45 years. He knew it would probably be the last time his name would be read and even that didn’t happen. The irony does not escape me.
My parents retired after a lifetime of service…pretty much silently. No fanfare. No party. Just quietly into the night it seems. So like my parents if you know them.
I didn’t write about it. I didn’t go on facebook and say….”hey world, my parents just retired.” They didn’t want me to. They’re private people. They’re humble people. Maybe a little insecure too. How do I know…the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
I have felt a variety of feelings. Relief in some ways. I never wanted to see my dad stay so long that he would be forced out. I couldn’t bear the indignity of that and knew he couldn’t either. Maybe that’s why he made such a quick decision. I also was very aware that the job was too much for my parents and was stealing precious time that they have left for each other.
My parents have given to everybody else their entire lives. Finally…they have a little bit of time to give to each other. Tonight I called my mom and they had gone and gotten groceries together and were then heading to Frankenmuth to see the Ice Sculptures. I told my mom…clearly retirement is absolutely fitting them perfectly. My mom talked about how she had made my dad pancakes and bacon this morning and how he’s sleeping in and how they are going to go through all of the boxes they hurriedly thrust in to Jim’s basement box by box and have a sale this spring. For once…my parents have time. This makes my heart smile.
I have also felt frustration at the way my parents did this whole thing. As their child I would’ve liked to have the whole exiting thing done with more grace and honor. It was huge upheaval and change on a dime. I’ve felt keenly the imperfections of my parents.
In the end…I’ve decided it’s all good. And I’ve also decided it’s time for those of you who know them to know about this change if you don’t already. They are excited. They are really looking forward to getting involved in ‘senior’ activities and new areas of service. They are feeling the sweet release of having the pressure lifted and having time to relax and breathe. Please pray for them in this transition. It’s huge.
I’ve decided that maybe the picture I had as my dad as a child as a hero and the connection I was so proud of as a kid is not what really matters anyway.
My parents are two unique individuals who have lived and are trying to live out their lives in a way that honors God. No two of us do that in the same way. My parents are two individuals who are in need of grace as much as anybody else.
Sometimes us kids…we need to come face to face with our parents imperfections and realize that they are in need of a Savior too and that it’s ok.
I want you to know that my dad served East Michigan Conference for 45 plus years. I want you to know that he was and is a man of integrity. He never asked anybody to do anything that he himself wouldn’t have been willing to do. I want you to know that my parents cleaned restrooms far more than the average person. No job was beneath them. I want you to know that my 70 year old mom was feeding the horses at camp, lifting bales of hay and filling their water trough even in the winter up until just a few days ago. I want you to know that my parents did all that did because they really took seriously the commission to do everything as if doing it for The Lord. They did everything over the top. I would try to get them to be satisfied for half way or good enough and I can tell you, every detail mattered to them. They taught me that quality matters.
My parents were excellent at taking in workers who were outcasts of society and churches and loving them, eating with them and including them. I don’t honestly think any person would’ve been viewed as beneath them.
I also want you to know that my parents were and are not perfect. And that it’s ok for you to know that. I think as their child I’ve felt the need to hold the banner high and not let a chink of imperfection show. But where is the victory in that. My parents have always championed The Savior. Only people who realize their need of being saved can do that.
If you feel led to do so…please drop them a card or letter, please acknowledge their service, not so they will be patted on the back. I know they aren’t looking for that from you. But honestly…when a job is well done, it should be acknowledged. We are human after all.
They have no idea that I’m writing this and would probably be embarrassed if they knew. I’ve held off for as long as I can in an effort to respect them. But I hope that as you read this entry that you are simply reading words from the inside of a little girl’s heart that had to come out. I love my dad. I will always be proud of him. I don’t always agree. But I was taught to show honor and respect and I will till the day I die.
My parents lives’ aren’t over. I’m exited about this new season they are in. Already they sound so filled with joy and hope. I pray that God gives them good years now to really just love one another and to love their family. I pray that they have new opportunities to be the hands and feet of God.
I have to tell you…when I called my mom a day or two after the decision was made to retire my mom was already excited about new opportunities to be a ‘witness’ in new places for Jesus. That’s who my parents are.
I am a woman blessed to be able to call Doyle and Margaret my parents. May many, many generations rise up and call them blessed.
I decided to add this picture…seems symbolic to me.