The old man looked at me, aghast at the language he heard spilling from my mouth. At eighteen, I wasn’t the model of moral integrity. By that, I mean that I was one of those two-faced hypocrites you talk about when you want an excuse to stay away from church. In certain company, I was the paragon of virtue, all spit and polish, as straight-laced as you would want. But, with the right individuals (or wrong, if you prefer), I acted as badly as they and I could swear with the most proficient. I was in such company today, and I was turning the air blue, as I argued with a co-worker.
I had seen the man come into the drugstore, but I knew him to be one of those who didn’t mind the language; had even heard a filthy joke or two from him. I wasn’t concerned about what he would think. Or, so I thought. As I spouted off, he turned and looked at me and the disgust on his face was obvious. “You’re Harry Phillips’ boy, aren’t you?” I replied (a bit reluctantly) in the affirmative. His reply will ring in my ears until I die. “You don’t favor him much.”
I don’t remember a lot after that in the conversation, but when he left, my boss informed me that the man worked with my dad at the Post Office. I wasn’t worried about him talking to Dad. After all, I was eighteen and was an adult, don’t you see? I wasn’t afraid, but I was shamed beyond belief. This man, regardless of what I thought of his spiritual state; regardless of his own practices with respect to his speech, understood that I wasn’t living up to the example set by my father. As I have thought about it over the years, other aspects of the situation become clear. My father walked what he talked, even when he was in a place where it wasn’t the common practice. He wasn’t a chameleon, changing to fit his environment, but he was steadfast in how he lived out his beliefs.
I remember a friend at school once talking with me about his dad’s cursing. I told him my dad didn’t ever talk like that. His response was laughter. “Of course, he cusses! He just doesn’t do it when you’re around. I bet when he hits his thumb with a hammer, he does it then.” I responded that I was sure he didn’t. Even now, after fifty-four years of life, I have never heard one untoward utterance from my father’s mouth. Is he a perfect man? Not so much. I’m not so sure I could relate well to a perfect father. But, his intent is to live out what he believes and he works at it continuously.
Dad’s consistency in his talk and walk was once a frustration to this wayward son. And at eighteen, it served as a wake-up call, when a stranger “took me to school”. Today? I hope I look a little more like my dad. Well, the physical things, I couldn’t change anyway. I’ve got his nose and eyes, and even some invisible traits that can’t be easily altered, such as the high cholesterol. But a constant walk in the same direction he’s taken? I’d very much like to favor my father in that way.
I hope the family resemblance shows. Happy Father’s Day!
“Honor your father and your mother..”
“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”
(Bishop Desmond Tutu~African spiritual leader)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012 All Rights Reserved.