My dad passed into eternity 10 years ago today.
While in Virginia with my son, who was just entering college, my husband called me with the news. The following night I arrived home in California, twelve hours late. A storm had hit D.C., causing an eight-hour layover in Chicago. I hung around the airport, praying and thinking and remembering.
The next day I dumped everything out of my suitcase and re-packed. On Monday morning my daughter and I drove to my mom’s for the funeral.
Martin Herbert Brill had suffered from multiple health and heart problems for many years, and spent the last couple years of his life battling cancer. He slipped away after that final heart-attack on a Friday morning while at the hospital for a check-up. The doctor had already informed him and my mom: the cancer had returned.
My dad was a big man, with a deep voice, a giant’s laugh when life was good, and a hard look and firm hand when I did wrong. He and my mom sang together at church, holding hands to keep her nerves in check. And his booming voice filled the role of narrator in more than one cantata.
The last time I saw him was six months prior, just before packing our belongings in a rental truck to relocate to California. What I didn’t understand then is why he walked out the door without saying, Goodbye.
From bits and pieces of information I’ve gathered, I now realize what he must have already known—he wouldn’t be around much longer. Of course he wanted us to follow God’s lead by moving, but in concern for my mom, he wished we would stay.
He always did worry too much. That was something else I came to realize later in life. It explained his moods.
It was during my brother’s and my teen years when he cried out to his Father, I’ve made a mess of my family. Please take over.
Actually, I’ve seen a lot of families a whole lot messier than what ours was, but I can appreciate his honest plea for help.
My dad worked hard to provide for his family. Two careers filled his days: first in serving his country; second in a prison complex. When he didn’t go to church himself, he made sure we went. He sacrificed to keep us in a Christian school.
And he loved my mom passionately every day of the 44 years they were married. Not one time did I ever fear a divorce or see him walk out on her. As I get older I can recognize more and more the value of a stable marriage in the lives of children.
Although I wasn’t as close to him as my sister was, there were times when he opened up. I do have some treasured recollections of fatherly devotion… when his timing and intuitiveness and love all combined in exactly the right moment, bringing out the very best of him—connecting father and daughter in a special way.
Like in my junior year of high school, he drove me back to the store to buy the (more expensive) dress I had really wanted, after someone else at school wore the same one I had come home with from the first shopping trip.
His military career in quality control demanded attention to detail and discipline with no room for error. And his dad had been a police officer. That strictness transferred into his family life. Still, I’m thankful for the qualities it developed in me.
Did I have a storybook childhood? No. Did my dad understand how much I needed his affirmation? I’m not sure.
Am I grateful for the good that has come from the struggles? Very much so.
After I was married with a family of my own, he apologized for his mistakes. I never realized what a good girl you were, he told me.
A lot of parents I know of, including Ron and me, have had to make similar apologies. It’s just a part of family life, I think. As a package deal—we accept the good and the bad, and make the best of what we’re given.
I know beyond any doubt, when I step into eternity my dad will be standing close behind my Savior to welcome me into Heaven—with his signature bear hug and his unmistakable laugh… to the place where human failings are forever forgotten. The very fact that I’ll be in Heaven someday is partly due to his influence. Another thing to be grateful for.
Yes, earthly parents fail at times. But in my young life God used those failings to draw me to Himself—He who became my Heavenly Father.
We’re a family, and through the storms families stick together. I know you would change a few things if you could, Dad, because that’s the kind of man you were. And I love you for it. But there are a lot of things I wouldn’t change. I was always proud that you were my dad, and I still am.