A tottering old man waves to me from across the street. The front porch is the old man’s post. From it he can observe our home or the busy intersection where traffic whizzes through our quiet neighborhood. Although he has long forgotten why, the old fellow fixes his attention upon our house across the street like a faithful sentinel.
He is more frail now, more unsteady on his feet. The ravages of advanced dementia have extracted a terrible toll.The old man sees me and recognizes my face as familiar, but he has forgotten who I am in his life. The old man is my dad.
Dad is much different now than when I last wrote about him. He still loves to go places, but he no longer recognizes where he is nor remembers where he has been. His conversations are much more limited now, more simplistic. He prefers to sit quietly in the presence of others.
He forgets the simple things: that he is married to my mother, and who she is; that he needs to eat; how to shave. My brother and I are pleasant strangers to him. He accepts that we are his sons if he is told, but we cannot tell whether he understands that we are his family. The personality I once knew as my father is all but gone.
When my father reached his ninetieth birthday, our church gave him a huge party. Dad enjoyed himself and the attention he received. No one watching this frail old man trying to maneuver a piece of birthday cake on his plate could imagine the life he has led.
My father was drafted into the U. S. Army at the beginning of World War II and assigned to the 2nd Armored Division, 41st Armored Infantry. As a staff sergeant and mortar squad leader, he was constantly in the line of fire.
During more than three years of overseas duty my father saw action in North Africa, the invasions of Sicily, the beaches of Normandy, and the Battle of the Bulge. By any measure, the man is a hero. He was wounded three times and narrowly escaped capture on several occasions. He was awarded the Purple Heart, two oak leaf clusters, four Bronze Stars, and numerous additional ribbons, medals and citations. Only years later, when I read his honorable discharge papers, did I begin to take in the full measure of what he had endured. But those aren’t the things that make my dad a hero to me.
Dad trusted Christ as his Savior shortly after I was born and determined to follow the Lord with the same tenacity that had carried him through the war. His sense of dedication became the absolute hallmark of the family. Nothing – not accidents, inconvenience or his brothers (who had a habit of visiting us at church time on Sundays) could keep us away from church. I can’t remember a time when our relatives came with us to church, in spite of our many invitations, but they were always invited and always welcome.
My father is still a hero to me, not so much for his war record as his faithfulness to Christ. It was his faithfulness that brought me to Christ. His unwavering dedication has registered in my own habits and left its mark on his grandchildren. Although Dad has lost touch with many things in life, his faithfulness remains intact. He does not remember where the church is located, but he is always ready to go. The Lord comes first, always. That will be Dad’s legacy long after the medals are gone.