Yet it is one I have dreaded to see come and now dolefully bid farewell. It isn't the day itself that has caused such emotional duality, but what it represents.
It is the one year anniversary of the day we buried my dad, the last of those first anniversary dates that all mourners mark the year after losing a loved one. After tonight, I will no longer lament "A year ago at this time..." Instead I will fall into the verbiage of those long gone: "Back when dad was alive..."
The pain of such a loss has been at times unbearable. This is nothing unique. All of the "If only we'd gotten him to a doctor sooner" or "If only they'd found the problem sooner" that torture the soul of those left behind rip open wounds barely healed over, racking a broken heart with guilt and burdening a spirit with desperate thoughts of turning back the hands of time, if only for a moment.
But my dad deserved better than that. He would be in pain at the thought of my pain, because that is the kind of man he was. I don't think I ever asked him for help in anything that he didn't try his best to give, or wish he could if he was incapable of doing anything. His voice was usually tinged with compassion and apology for what he couldn't do. That always touched me so.
So as this final anniversary ticks away toward finality, I will end it with a more fitting tribute to a man whose life mattered, at least to a daughter who watched, listened, and learned.
Dad was a southern boy, through and through. Raised the redneck way, he loved guns and hunting, swimming holes and alligators, pulling pranks and playing war. Born during the depression and raised during WWII, he first fell in love with the Navy at Jacksonville Beach. The large ships never left him, nor he them. They bred in him a desire for a Navy career, which he attained briefly as a young man.
He was raised by a family who had a strong lineage in southern history. Being raised as a Yankee by him and my mother in the northwest, it was hard for me to fully grasp the fervent southern loyalty of his family. They puzzled me; often hard to understand in speech, even more confusing in their friendly admonition that the south had won the war. Dad had a love/hate thing going on with his heritage. He loved the reunions, the barn dances, the word usage that only another good ol' boy could possibly understand, boiled peanuts, sugar cane and maple syrup, and fresh watermelon from his grandfather's farm”but only the heart. The rest went to the hogs. He had a wonderful sense of humor, something I've noticed seems far more prevalent among Southerners than . So full of southern pride, his first words to my mother were, "I hear they teach ya'all up here that the North won the war." Everyone in the south knew "the war" had nothing to do with the one America was currently fighting. So long as a drop of southern blood flows, "the war" will mean what it means even in the middle of Armageddon. It makes me smile every time.
But there were sides of the south that left Dad cold. While he was raised in a family who had owned slaves, fought for , and who raised him to fear "coloreds," parents, cousins, and extended family who said "nigger" with the same ease they said "boy howdy!", he did not like the use of the word, and rarely used it himself unless he was quoting or telling a joke. His family wasn't necessarily using the word with malice; it was a word used for generations like so many other words, and in the beginning, had validity. In fact, if I listened closely, his families' rendition of the word sounds far more like "niggra." This makes sense if you know anything of the history of the word.
I once listened to a lecture on the roots of this modern day pariah. There are many who claim its origins are the Latin adjective niger, which means black, but this speaker said it had its roots in something far less formal. Given the normalcy of illiteracy among so many at the genesis of America, it should be no surprise that "niggra" was merely the southern dialect way of pronouncing Nigre, which according to this speaker, was the name of the river where most of the slave ships would pick up their "valuables." When the advertisements for slave sales were posted, it wasn't unusual for them to note something along the lines of "Fresh from the River Nigre." Hence the southern drawl would speak of these "Niggras" because that is how they thought the word Nigre was pronounced. It doesn't justify this most hated of all words, it simply tells a curious people how such a thing came about, as with most eventual perversions, in an innocent manner. I don't know how much of this is true, because the spelling and pronunciation of some of these words have changed since the time she was speaking of, but it certainly sounds plausible.
Regardless of its beginnings, it became a word that meant far more than a ship's landing point or a race of people. This was a side of southern life that left Dad cold. He remembered the white lines down the middle of the bus, the colored bathrooms and drinking fountains, the whites only restaurants. One story he told me always stood out in my mind. One day at the local five and dime, he was browsing through the toys and candies, fondling a quarter and trying to decide what to buy. The shopkeep waited on a woman, because in the South, etiquette dictated that women are waited on first, then men, and children last. That was just polite, and had been engrained into my dad since birth. Respect for elders was never up for debate.
On this day there were four people waiting their turn: the white woman, a white man, my dad, and a sweet black lady that everyone knew and liked. Of course my dad obediently waited while the adults went before him, but was stunned when after serving the man, the clerk turned to him and said, "Are you ready?"
My dad froze. He turned to look at the black woman he knew. She was his elder and a woman; why wasn't she being waited on first? He pointed at her, his mouth unable to make the "Ladies first" rule he knew by rote. But the clerk took the small toy from his hand, completely oblivious to the childish, ignorant faux pas. My dad had never seen a child waited on before an adult, and he continued to look at the woman. She must have felt his confusion and seen the red hot shame that was creeping up his neck, because with the class and decorum of a woman who knows what is wrong with the situation but cared more for the feelings of an innocent child, she quietly whispered, "Go on ahead now."
My dad didn't remember how he got out on the sidewalk, but he always remembered how he felt. This was wrong. The message was loud and clear: woman, then man, then child, and then colored, and something deep inside a boy not yet a double digit age churned with the dull ache of a great rudeness. In that one day he had been taught the double standard, the unspoken hypocrisy of rules for whites and rules for blacks, and he hated it. So when I would come home from school and ask him about Little Rock or Civil Rights or Civil War, he would get quiet and teach me in a way I would never forget.
That didn't mean he supported everything blacks did. He recognized the wrongs that our society had heaped upon a people simply because they looked different, but that went both ways. Equality, he taught, means you also have the responsibility to accept criticism when it is warranted, and this was an area where blacks have too often dropped the ball. Too many want only the good stuff equality provided, but none of the responsibility for said equality. While he taught me of the evils of enslaving one's fellow man, he also taught the wrong of the Watts riots, the Black Panthers, Luis Farrakhan, and those who think it's alright to defile whites but blasphemy to call blacks on such duplicity. He despised bussing because it was a law of force, and as he said, "You can't legislate love." He felt that forcing people together was more likely a recipe for contention than cohesion, and while he had friends from just about every race on the planet, he was quick to point out that it was by choice, not by force. Force, after all, had been the plan Lucifer put forth before the War in Heaven, and the plan that
God ”and the rest of us”soundly rejected. He felt that too many of the hippy generation of blacks were behaving exactly the same despicable way he'd seen too many southern whites behave. Wrong was wrong in his book, and that book was written in both black and white.
Dad knew history and loved it. To get to know him and to get him to like me, I spent multiple Saturdays on our family room floor, watching VICTORY AT SEA and WORLD AT WAR with him. I knew more about WWII by the age of 12 than I did about Andy Gibb. He was constantly reading history books, red marking pen in hand, taking notes and writing in the edges, and the only books he read more than those on WWII were the scriptures. He loved our Father in Heaven with all his heart, and studied Him with a ravenous hunger. This combination of knowledge and love made him the best teacher I've ever known.
When I came home from 11th grade history one day and ranted at him about my humiliation during our Civil War lesson, he wanted to know why. I pointed to the States of America badge hanging on the wall of our family room.
My dad looked hurt, but in classic style taught me again. "Yes, we owned slaves. Not our finest moment, but not quite the evil it's made out to be." He showed me a will of his great-great-great grandfather. He turned past the section that divided his land and worldly goods to the pages that referenced his slaves. I read as my ancestor carefully divvied out his slaves to his children. If this was supposed to make me feel better, it had failed miserably.
"Look! Dividing up his slaves like pirate booty!" I could feel my Politically Castrated education rolling to a boil.
"Read more," he said quietly.
I did so. This man was careful with his slaves, stating that they were to be distributed equally among his children, the only conditions being that they were not to be separated from parents or children, and that they were to be treated fairly and kindly as he had always done. I looked at my dad. We'd watched Roots together only a few years earlier, and the horrible scene of Kizzy being taken from Toby had always disturbed us both.
"So he kept the families together and didn't whip them. He still treated them like possessions."
This time he said nothing, pressing the document toward me yet again. I rolled my teenage eyes and sighed heavily as I read the paragraph before me. "In regard to my favored slave, Big Black Tom," it began.
"Dad!" I cried out. "Big Black Tom??? For crying out loud!" I couldn't help it; I just had to smile. It was just such an outrageous stereotype. Dad had to smile too. He usually found a way to make something uncomfortable into something palatable.
"Thatas how they spoke back then. It wasn't meant to be cruel."
I knew that. I mean, my relatives even referred to me as "boy," and most of them had some pretty absurd nicknames. It was just how they spoke.
I read on. Big Black Tom was to go to Grandpa's oldest son, and was to be given a portion of his land for his own inheritance. "He has been my friend all my life, and has been faithful and true. That is why I leave him to you, son, and expect you to both treat him as he deserves and seek out his knowledge, for he will run things better than you can."
My face felt red. This man had been more than Grandpa's slave; he'd been his friend, as much as was possible back then. It didn't justify slavery in any way, shape, or form, but it did show a side to the south that I had never, ever seen before. I turned page after page, learning that unlike other , the Kirklands did not have separate cemeteries for their slaves; they were buried together, master and slave; and apparently, friend and friend. I went to the genealogy box, pulling out papers that showed slaves taking on the Kirkland name, a name from Scotland and exclusively white until it came to America; to southern America.
This was the way my dad often taught me. On one of those documentary Saturdays while watching about John F. Kennedy, I asked my dad if he had been a good President.
"Some people thought so," he quietly replied, going back to watching and learning. While I knew that my dad was no fan of , he always allowed me to choose what I would believe. That meant he would teach me right from wrong, but not propagandize, so that when my moment of truth came, my choice would be just that: my choice.
He always tried to be fair, and loved a good laugh. When he was Deputy Director for Job Corps, he dealt with many troubled inner city black youth, for whom the summer spent fighting fires in Cottonwood, ID was often a last chance. Never once did he refer to them as anything other than young men. He was delighted in the 1970's when he watched "Smilin' George" Foreman fight. He loved to tell about the summer that George had spent in Cottonwood, still struggling with who he was and where he was going. I remember mostly how he would grin and say, "Yep, that name fit him. He had a nice smile."
Dad saw the Trinity test on July 16, 1945, as he stepped out into his morning paper route. Even from El Paso, the flash from Alamogordo lit the sky, and was later explained as an "ammunition explosion." He was thrilled when his love for history caused him to find out that he had witnessed this all important moment in history in that brief, child-time instant.
Dad loved deep fried food, hated vegetables, was an avid gun collector, always wanted to be a pilot, even after he gave up being a Navy fighter pilot for his family's sake; gave up hunting when he had to kill a deer up close and saw big tears roll down its eyes, loved America and its warriors, despised hippies, femmies, and commies, and gladly fought in our first war against communism. He supported the need to hunt so long as you used what you shot, believed the caribou could handle us drilling oil in Alaska, cheered when of Israel was restored to the earth, loved our heritage through Israel's son Joseph, lost his best friend in Korea, suffered from terrible asthma as a child and breathing problems that dogged him until his death. He hurt me at times, but probably less than I hurt him. Neither of us deserved it, both of us knew better, and I hope we've both forgiven and been forgiven. I have no doubt he has.
He cried when he saw the children in Romania, raged at the horror of the Holocaust, and marveled at the birth of each grandchild. He loved the law but hated lawyers. His head was bowed in humble prayer as often as it was flung back with a hearty laugh. He loved TV and reading, spending the bulk of his time in the depths of the History Channel, the Military Channel, A & E, FOX News, the Discovery Channel, and local news. He never missed a daily paper, read every magazine that worked its way into the house, and was reading new books on WWII up until he went into the hospital. He spent his last months waiting on my mother, who was also in the hospital fighting for her life after a diabetic reaction sent her falling down the stairs, shattering her leg and putting her in the hospital from the end of August 2004 until the night before Dad's funeral. Every day he would go to her side, sitting and reading when she was sleeping, talking and praying with her when she was awake. He did this selflessly as his own health ferociously deteriorated, placing him in the hospital with my mom for the last six weeks of his life. When he was told on January 4, 2005, that there was no hope for recovery, and that he only had a few months to live, he was at peace with it, telling me, "I can't hold on much longer, but it's OK; I'm not afraid."
He really wasn't. He held on for 12 more days, saying final goodbyes to old friends and family. On the morning he died, he waited until my brother showed up to say his goodbyes. Dad waited for the final words from the last of his children to let him go, then sat up, took his oxygen mask off of his face, and quietly died. Seventy years of an extraordinary life ended with little fanfare.
And now I am down to the last hours of this final one year anniversary. It has turned out to be a night like no other. I have smiled and laughed as much as I have cried while writing this; I guess it's kind of like life. We smile, we laugh, we love, we fight, we pray, we hope, we believe, and eventually, we die. The best we can hope for is that it wasn't all for naught. Dad's best will remain just that: best.
On June 29, 1934, Robert Talmage Kirkland was born. On January 16, 2005, Robert Talmage Kirkland died. On January 22, 2005, Robert Talmage Kirkland was laid to rest. And on January 22, 2006, Resa LaRu Kirkland finally let him go. In between all of those dates were the days that really mattered, the days of sharing and learning. What he taught me then I now teach to my sons, knowing someday the cycle of parent and child I experienced with Dad will befall my sons when they say goodbye to me. Teacher to student who becomes teacher to new students. What a wonderful cycle; what a wonderful teacher.
What a wonderful life.
Keep the faith, bros, in all things courage, and no substitute for VICTORY.
Posted on: Thursday, June 15th, 2006by Resa Laru KirklandFathers rule.And I dont just mean metaphorically.
God has many names-Jehovah, The Great I Am, Almighty, Everlasting, Omnipotent-all of which bespeak His power, His Eternity, and His desires for us.And yetOf all the names He has, isnt it interesting that the one He prefers most is that of Father? He could have chosen any of the plethora of names that lay before Him, but it was Father by which He has come to be known best. The ultimate ruler of the universe, the Alpha and the Omega, the final Judge in Israel, is, when its all said and done, a Daddy-Papa. He is indeed masculine, and His sons have Deitys DNA in them-the born-in ability to themselves have the ultimate power of a God--fatherhood.
Papa has given this hardest of jobs to His sons. And the man I think of most when I ponder on the burdens and joys of fatherhood isnt my own dad or even my husband. It is a man born centuries before me, rarely mentioned in the scriptures, but whose job was the most pivotal, most important, and most forgotten in history. I think of the man who had to raise a son who wasnt really his, born of a woman he loved madly. A son he felt unworthy to rear but loved without pause, a son who would call him "Father", a son he would raise as a sacrifice for sin.
Now the New Testament spends a lot of time discussing Mary, and Im not saying theres anything wrong with that. After all, she had been long foretold in the Old Testament, she would be the only woman in all of human history to conceive a child without the aid of a human male, not to mention a child who was half-God, half-human. We knew long before Mary was even born that the Savior of humanity would be born through the lineage of Judah, in Bethlehem, to a virgin. For centuries Jews looked for this maiden, and by New Testament times, her "name" was both popular and sacred. Every Jewish parent surely had to wonder if this was the fair maiden who would raise the Child of God, the King of the Jews. And each daughter of Judah surely had moments of wonder themselves.
But this particular woman was espoused to Joseph, and deeply in love with him. Her days were spent planning her wedding, not contemplating her role in history.
However, a few years ago, I began to wonder about Joseph. I wondered about the kind of man God Himself chose to bear the burden of raising this most unique and mortally vital Son to both manhood and Godhood, and the heavy role this Son was to play in the history of man and God. The chosen "para"-father would have to be a remarkable man indeed: taught well in the history of his people and God, but not so rigid that he could not accept a new way, a new time, an impossible situation, and a glorious miracle.
To understand just how remarkable a man Joseph was, we need to understand the thinking of the time. Under the laws of ancient Hebrews-those under which the Jews lived and legal matters were settled-a woman was to be a virgin when she was married. Laws were quite harsh then, and it is true that they did indeed favor the man. A woman who had sex outside of marriage could be open to public scorn and ridicule, exiled, or even stoned to death. While in written form they could be applied to men as well, they rarely were. Much of a mans sexual appetite was overlooked, or seen as the nature of the beast-even ordained by God at times of plural marriage--and therefore given more leniency.
But hold on here.
This in no way made it any easier for men. Just because a mans sexual indiscretions were "overlooked" it didnt mean he didnt suffer. His womans "sins" were heaped upon him with a fervor and cruelty that could be back-breaking. A wandering girlfriend, wife, or even a daughter was a cause for an "open-season" attitude on the men in her life unless they chose to punish her harshly, and publicly. Under the laws of the time, if you were espoused to a woman who was found to be dallying with another man, or who had lied about her virtue, you had three choices. You could put her aside quietly, breaking the engagement without public announcement and humiliation. You could bring her before the city and publicly humiliate her, breaking the espousing and letting the world know why, making an example of her, and a warning to other women who might find themselves tempted. You could also bring her before a tribunal, opening her to both public humiliation and the possibility of being exiled or-in extreme cases-put to death by stoning.
Now comes the difficult part for men within such a society. Once it became public knowledge that a man's woman had chosen to seek out sexual comfort in the arms of another, the men within that society could be heartless, relentless, and wickedly cruel. Such was the fear of the pressure exerted upon a scorned man that most fiances or husbands chose to, at the very least, publicly disavow this woman, therefore redeeming himself in the eyes of his fellow men. Even if he didnt want to do so-if he loved his wife and wanted to stay with her-the social pressures of the time were almost impossible to overcome, and most gave in to them.
Such was the world in which the love of Mary and Joseph bloomed. They didnt worry about the laws surrounding a broken engagement; such things didnt apply to them, for Mary was known to no man, and Joseph was secure in this knowledge. He was proud of his beautiful wife-to-be, and as anxious for the wedding as she was.
And then Josephs world was blown apart.
Mary decided suddenly to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and was gone for three months. Joseph was a little confused, but knew that with the wedding coming up, he would be busy building their home, and that Mary was anxious to visit her family, so he didnt object. For him the time dragged; he missed her so. But for Mary, it went all too quickly. She knew that when she went home, she would have to do the hardest thing in the world-tell the only man she had ever loved that she was with child-a child that he would know was not his.
The day came. Mary was home, and surely Joseph was overjoyed to see her. He must have seemed confused by her sorrowful demeanor and quiet voice. Perhaps she was pale with worry, and seemed older than her young years portrayed. What she had to say must have hit Joseph like a blow to the gut.He must have stared at her for a long time. How could she have done this to him?
I am sure that Marys eyes pleaded for him to believe her. After all, he had been raised knowing that the promised Messiah would be born to a virgin, a descendant of David through the lineage of Judah. But to Joseph, it just couldnt be HIS Mary. Maybe it is because the Torah made no mention of Mary being married, or even needing to be married, that he disbelieved that the foretold maiden was this Mary, standing before him. Maybe it was that all-too-frequent failing of mortals: while he believed in the words, the reality was just so ordinary, so unexpected, that it just couldnt be.
The emotions that flooded his being had to vary from shock to anger to deep sorrow. And yet in spite of what he had been taught and accepted as doctrine, Joseph could not bring himself to believe.
Still, Joseph was a good man, and looking into the warm eyes of a woman he loved, he promised to end the engagement and put her aside quietly, without humiliation. They both knew that she would suffer enough-she was already showing. Joseph would not add to that suffering.
Mary went home a broken-hearted woman, and I'm sure cried all night long. Joseph's tears were no less just because he was a man, and sleep was not his that night. So when the angel appeared and told him that Mary had spoken the truth, and not to fear taking her as his wife, he didnt have to be awakened. When the angel explained that Mary would need a husband to take care of her and shield her from the cruelty and scorn of man while she raised the Son of God, Joseph accepted the calling then and there, and could scarcely wait for morning to run and tell his beloved that all was well, and that they were still to be one. Their joy was complete, and the marriage went on as planned.
But while Mary was made a legitimate wife, Joseph was not so lucky. Understand that people were not stupid. Mary was well past three months along in her pregnancy when she returned from her cousin's, and by the time she and Joseph wed, she was probably at least half way through the nine month gestation.
Even back then people knew how long a pregnancy was.
How cruel the snickers and whispers behind their backs must have been. People assumed that either Mary had been with another man, or that Joseph was lying when he claimed to have not "known" her before the wedding. Either way, the scandal and backbiting-especially between the gossipy hordes of women in the marketplace-had to be brutal.
Oh how Joseph must have suffered! Not only was he not allowed to consummate the marriage with Mary until after the birth of Jesus, he bore the awful burden of the rumors and accusations alone. He loved Mary, and would have shielded her from the words of the others. And when I think of how the men of his town must have treated him-their taunts, their viciousness, their insinuations-I bleed for Joseph. Mary's burden grew in her belly each day, and would be relieved with the agony of birth. Joseph would live the rest of his life with the load he carried not just for himself and the cruelty of the community, but for this woman he loved, and the son he would raise as his own.
I dont know if there came a point when Mary and Joseph told Jesus about His parentage, or if this Son of both Heaven and Earth simply used that part of Himself that was God and discerned it. The Scriptures do not say. Nor is anything more said of Joseph after Jesus is found teaching in the Synagogue when He was twelve years old.
But here is what I do know to be true about the man who raised the Son of God.He was a kind man, because he did what most men in his place would never have done. He was a good teacher, because he raised and taught Jesus as best he could, under the weighty knowledge that he was responsible for teaching a child who was part God, and the promised deliverer of his people. He was patient and loving with this child, and loved Him as he did the other children that would later be born to Mary and himself. I am sure that he thought himself unworthy of the task of raising the Messiah, the Son of God. I am sure he prayed often, yelled occasionally, and even cried when the frustration and weight of his calling pressed down hard upon his shoulders. And perhaps most difficult of all given the times in which he lived, he was a loving, gentle, and long-suffering husband to Mary, carrying and fighting not only his own demons, but hers as well.
Joseph was not only a remarkable man, but the world's best example of a father. This man who wasn't even foretold in the Old Testament and rarely mentioned in the New Testament, I believe, was the second most important man in all of history.And to those feminists out there who would use the story of Mary and Joseph to somehow manipulate and twist into their own "I-told-you-so!" story of ultimate unfairness, I submit to you that Joseph played perhaps the ultimate role in shaping the future teaching of Jesus Christ Himself. I wonder if Joseph and his kindness, his pure love toward Mary was on the mind of Jesus when the adulterous woman was brought before Him by the hypocritical Pharisees of the time. He knew the law of the land; He knew that they had the right to stone her. I wonder if He thought of His sweet mother, and the law of her time that would have had the right to stone her. I wonder if He thought of the man He knew as "Papa," and the mercy and compassion Joseph had shown to Mary when he had thought she had broken her covenant with him and slept with another. I wonder if the example of forgiveness that entered His mind was that of Joseph, who had originally chosen to not humiliate and hurt this woman, even when he had every right to exact a pound of flesh when his pride was wounded, and his manhood shamed.
I wonder: did Jesus' mind play upon what might have been had Joseph not been the man he had been?I have no doubt that the role Joseph played in the life of Jesus was at least as pivotal as the role God Himself played. The story of Joseph wasn't just background noise to the "Greatest Story Ever Told." Joseph himself was the greatest story-the story of a father. Jesus had the benefit of being half-God--the only person in human history to pull off perfection had to be half-God to do so. Joseph was a fully mortal man--just as prone to weaknesses and failings as anyone else. And yet in spite of these things, he rose to the occasion. Jesus wasn't just the story of a Son, He was the story of a father--and not God the Father, but Joseph the father.
I believe with all my heart that the New Testament was more than just the story of Jesus, but the story of a father, and a magnificent one at that. The story of Jesus was God's way of telling the story of a father.
Thank God for men, and the fathers they are capable of being. They are magnificence in the face of mortality, glory in spite of failings, and great achievement in the face of overwhelming odds. In the tide of a justice system that has cut them out of the process, and a society that has left them impotent in the name of Political Castration, they still manage to rise to the occasion, showing that Deity's DNA is as embedded in them now as it was in the time of Joseph.
God is male, but most of all a Father. Joseph was a man, but most of all, a father. Within the realm of Heaven, there is a God who would be Father. It is no stretch of the imagination to believe that within all men, there is a father who would be God, and a son who is watching, and learning. Heaven decreed it; fathers confirm it.
Happy Fathers Day, men; you are man's closest link to God, and God's greatest hope for man.
Keep the faith, dads; you are in all things courage personified, and victory hoped for.