by Dr. Neil Franks
I am proud of my dad. He turned 85 today. He was born on a farm outside of Amity, Arkansas, on April 22nd, 1935. His father moved the family from the small community of Mountain Pine to a company town. Yes, the one where you sold one’s soul to the store. He grew up poor, like almost everyone in that town; his mother with a clearly undiagnosed mental illness and a father who was strict and distant, who never told my father he loved him.
My dad decided to break out of his family curse and became the first one to get a college degree. This mostly due to his high school principal personally driving him to the Teachers college 60 miles away; he got him a scholarship, got him enrolled, and got him a job on campus. My father would go on to earn a Master’s degree, despite after giving his first speech, his communications professor asked him to stay after class. He thought for sure my dad was putting on a show, as no one actually spoke like that, not even Andy Griffith. But, it was no act, and my dad became the prof’s “Special Project.”
My dad also ended up serving his country in the Army right after the Korean war, where he became a lieutenant, eventually serving as a company commander even though junior in rank. He was also entrusted with a squad who carried atomic weapons and whose mission was to secure the flank by detonating it, creating a radioactive minefield of sorts. (I still think that is cool for not everybody’s dad has done that.)
He spent most of his career working for the State Department of Education, and yes, contrary to popular belief, Arkansas does have one. He served both as a supervisor to guidance counselors across the state, and on the assessment and development (student testing) side of things before eventually retiring as the unofficial czar of homeschooling compliance. It was a 60 hour a week job where he left the house at 6 AM and returned right at 6 PM, which gave me just enough time to get the yard mowed if I started precisely at 5:34 PM.
More than those things, I am proud he has been a follower of Christ as long as I have known him. He was the reason for my “drug problem” as I was drug to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. But he did more than just attend as he was Sunday School Superintendent (for those who remember those days), served on committees, and tithed.
More importantly, though, he acted like a Christian, even though too many people did not, in the church in which I grew up, especially during a business meeting. He was always willing to give the shirt off his back to help a person in need. (I will never forget the day he sent me out with an extra $20 to give to the trash man who would pick up the ashes from the burning barrels that never burned. The gentlemanly aged African American wept openly)
He has always been there for me as well, whether I wanted him to be or not. I will never forget the time my dad was in line with me while I was checking into the dorm as a freshman. I was visibly disturbed by his presence. I was ready to be on my own, and no other students had their daddy with them. I, of course, changed my tune when they required $5 as a deposit on the room key (to which I had nothing in pocket) as I sheepishly turned toward my dad. He had a five-dollar bill already stuck out in his hand.
But, those are not the reasons I write of my pride in my dad. All of those and more are surely worthy of such feeling, but I am most proud of how my dad has lived the last three years. Right before thanksgiving of 2017, the worst thing that could possibly ever happen to him, the one thing he had been hoping would never happen, did. His wife, my mom, died.
He had spent the last five years getting everything ready for her so she would be taken care of after his passing. He had his estate plan brought up to date (an excellent thing you actually should consider and we at MBF can help), completely remodeled the house, made extra financial preparation. He always had hope and prayed he would go first because he could not bear the thought of living without her. But for the last three years, he has.
He has created a new rhythm of life, out to breakfast with the old guys at the local diner in the morning, lunch at the senior center every weekday, serving tea and lemonade to the kids who come to the Wednesday night AWANA meal. Sunday School and Church on Sunday, moderate the monthly business meeting and checking on the widow women every night via a series of phone calls.
He wouldn’t call it living, just existing, after a 55-year partnership collapsed, but with the power of God, his pastor (who is another person worthy of honor), his friends, and his trusty old dog “Joy,” he powers through every day. I call him almost every day, and he is mostly “up.” Every now and then, not so much, but every time I experience the same thing in the call.
A man who is not bitter, but thankful for what the Lord has given him. He often says if he were to die today, he would have no complaints. It really has been a wonderful life the Lord has granted. Though he may fear the actual moments of how his dying may come, he does not fear death. In every call, he is always gracious and understanding that I cannot be there much (I live over 8 hours away), but he offers no guilt or animosity, but thankfulness that I call when I can. He always tells me he loves me and is proud of me. How could I possibly ask for anything more?
I know it won’t always be like this. It will change someday, but for now, he still drives, manages his own affairs, and has a better daily support system and friends than I ever have. This is why on his 85th birthday, when he can still know, I wanted him and you to know that I am proud of my daddy. Every day he faces his greatest fear, and with kindness and grace overcomes. Dad, I am proud of you, and mom would be too.