The sun dog was unusually brilliant, fully encompassing its cloud wisp; and the added pink jet trail that striped through it stood in stark contrast to the bright blue sky around them. The jet stream resembled Cupid’s arrow puncturing that lopped-off rainbow. I was transfixed by God’s glorious surprise in the sky—undoubtedly not a wise thing when you’re driving across the prairie—but I couldn’t keep my eyes off it until it slowly faded from view. Strong, conflicted emotions about my dad immediately arose in my mind. My dad had taught me about sun dogs.
“WYN! *&%# You KNOW that salt and pepper are NECESSARY ingredients at EVERY meal! Why can’t we ALWAYS have salt and pepper on the TABLE?” screamed my father at top volume, accentuating every few words with his fist slamming the dining room table. One of the six kids would run to the kitchen to grab the “necessary ingredients” while another would inevitably grab rags to sop up someone’s spilt glass of milk from the cherrywood table. We’d finish our meal as fast as possible so we could escape any further onslaught. While awaiting being excused from the table, we sometimes would face yet another tirade for rushing our meal that our mother had slaved over or for not having answers to our father’s questioning about how our day was (as if everything was totally normal at the table). Of course, swallowing was difficult, tightened from tension, as well as trying to talk. So many meals were like this one that we were thrilled when Mom would ignore Dad’s call for us to wait until he got home late from work so we could all eat together, and she would serve us something like macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches at the kitchen counter. After a quick meal, she’d then send us off to our bedrooms to dive into homework—or anything at all—that would keep our heads below his line of verbal fire.
My memory then tried to counter those negative recollections with happy memories of my dad. Every Christmas Eve, our dad shook sleigh bells and called out a deep “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!” to us as we were nestled snug in our beds, waiting for Santa’s arrival. Another memory popped in after that one about how we all learned how to mix a “good” martini and escape to our bedrooms after he began drinking it to save ourselves from the verbal assaults that were sure to follow. And, on it goes….
How sad that the same man who taught us to observe and love our amazing natural world would terrorize us at the dinner table and color so many parts of life with his venomous tongue. How did we six siblings learn to cope in this roller coaster homelife?
Some of us hid out in drugs and/or alcohol; some totally shunned them. Some of us grew close to Dad, hoping to control his emotions; some fled as far away as possible. One of us became the family comedian. Another immersed in deeply held beliefs in a sequence of religions (Buddhism to Islam to agnostic to conservative Christian). Another conjured even more heinous (and false) “repressed memories.” Some developed strong, close bonds with their own spouse and children; some had no children in fear of continuing the same unhealthy roller coaster life.
Certainly, all of our foibles cannot be placed on my father’s doorstep but having an unhealthy homelife surely didn’t help get us off on the right foot. It’s no wonder that these verses resonate with me:
21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Colossians 3:21)
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
How much happier and healthier our family might have been had my mother not become cowed into dropping her early insistence that we attend church with her. There’s a 17-year age spread from the oldest to youngest siblings in my family. The older siblings were at least exposed to church, while the younger ones had no instruction in the Bible at all. One sibling in the older group raised his children to love the Lord; they all have healthy, productive families who openly share that love with all.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
Perhaps due to our early church attendance, the three oldest children became regular church attendees early in our adult lives, while two of the youngest three eventually drifted to church. Maybe due to our examples, the sixth has now begun a search for the appropriate church.
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:33-34)
It does me no good to reflect on the negative aspects of what has been, so I continually remind myself to apply Christ’s teachings to my own life. Take time to appreciate the simple joy in witnessing one of God’s surprises, like that brilliant sun dog. Counsel myself to rein-in acidic thoughts and mull over how to say something in a loving way instead. Give thanks for the many gifts in my life.
1 My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart,
2 for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity.
3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; (Proverbs 3:1-5)
I pray that more families learn God’s teachings and develop strong, healthy families. I also pray that my father has found his own peace in the afterlife.
Your friend in Christ,