Five Years

How to start this post?

Today, it has been five years since my father passed awaysuddenly, from a fast relapse into an aggressive leukemia that took him at age 47. Next week Tom and I will celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary, so even if you didn’t know me then, you can sense how difficult this week was, five years ago. And how it’s still tough five years later, and will be in five more, and fifty more.

Last night I was thinking about this anniversary, of sorts, and wishing I went to the kind of church that lit candles in remembrance of our dead. He is my only “dead”I have all four grandparents, still, and all other relatives.

What I can do now, five years later, with less pain, is remember all of the things that I can see that I inherited from him. I didn’t inherit anything material from my father. He didn’t have much, and he didn’t live long enough to acquire much in the way of heirlooms, and the things of value he hadhis guitars, mostlywent to my little brother, and I’m glad for that, because he plays guitar like a rockstar.

So when I think about my inheritance from my father, I think about the things I learned from him, the things that shaped me into who I am. Most of them weren’t things he said to me: they were things he embodied, things he lived and practiced in front of me.

From Dad, I learned that fathers are good. Last year at the Glen Workshop, I workshopped a long essay about this very week. Several of the participants said they’d read the first two pages and thought, Oh no. Another story about a horrible father. And then they were surprised to discover it was about a wonderful father. Our culture is saturated with stories of bad fathers, and not for naught: there are many, and they have destroyed many lives. But my father was good, and he was good despite growing up in a home without a father. He struggled and didn’t know how to do it right a lot of the time, but he tried his best, and from him, I learned that our past does not dictate our future, and that calling God my Father would be something I could do and be glad about.

I learned to delight in creation and culture. Creation, in the real “nature” sense: Dad loved thunderstorms. He’d pop popcorn and sit on the back porch, like it was God’s cinema. This week, as the hurricane blew by and I realized with gratitude that at least for us, the effects would be minimal, I allowed myself to think about how excited he would have been to sit and watch the lightning and the wind and the rain. And culture, in the real “human” sense: Though Dad never put words to it, I first learned about common grace by sitting in his van as he drove me to some choir practice or another, listening to Prairie Home Companion or Nickel Creek or talking about a movie we’d seen.

I learned to love the church. And not some idealized version of the church, either, but the real thing, the kind made up of broken people who love one another. Dad’s life was the church, though he never worked in traditional full-time ministry. But there was nothing he cared about more, outside his family, than the people in the church. You could barely get him out the door before everyone was gone; the pastor’s kids would have gone home before we did. And he stuck it out at a very specific local church through some really bad times, and really good times, and from him I learned what it was to commit.

I learned to love learning. Dad only took a few college classes and I don’t think he was at school much in high school, either. He drove long, long hours for work and didn’t have much time for reading. But he checked books on tape out of the library and learned everything from basic Russian to Civil War history, and he knew the strangest random facts about everything from science and math to history and literature. I remember studying for the GRE and being staggered at his vocabulary. He never stopped learning and loving new information. So I learned, too, that learning doesn’t stop after graduation. (Or in my case, graduation, and graduation, and graduation . . . )

I learned to love coffee. Which probably means I owe every one of my accomplishments to him.

I knew, beyond any shadow of any doubt, that he was proud of me. They say when you lose someone, it’s a little like losing a limb: you keep going to scratch it and it takes a long time for the itch to finally disappear. Well, I no longer expect to see him when I go home, but I will say this: every time I write something and it’s published, every time I get asked to do something exciting to me, every time I’ve started some new pursuit and done well at it, my first impulse, still, is to call him. (The same holds for every time I discover a new band I think he’d like.)

It’s no small thing for a girl to have a father who knows her and loves her unconditionally, and makes that fact known to her. It’s the rarest of gifts, and it’s the sort of gift that gives a girl confidence to go out and chase down a dream. It’s the sort of gift that makes a girl have high standards for the other men in her life. It’s the sort of gift for which I am grateful, every year, on August 30, and every other day, too.

31 thoughts on “Five Years

  1. Wow, Alissa — thank you so much. Not least for inspiring me to be a father to my own son and daughter. May grace and peace accompany you this day.

  2. Alissa,
    Thank you for sharing this with us. It is beautifully written and celebrates a life worth celebrating. Praying for you today.

  3. You can’t say things more accurately than a child can. We can testify that if he knew you’d said “my father was good, and he was good despite growing up in a home without a father” he would have cried and laughed (simultaneously) with gratefulness and happiness.
    But you knew that.

  4. Alissa, thank you very much for using your writing talent to share this important part of yourself and your story with us. This is very moving, and very articulate, and very valuable. Thanks.

  5. Wish I could have met your father. So encouraged to pass on to my children an inheritance with lasting effects as he did. Grateful for your willingness to share. Susan

  6. My earthly father , too, taught me all the unseen and truly meaningful parts of life. My heavenly Abba, Father, teaches us as a daddy would, and I am hanging on His every word, His every WORD!!
    thankful for your child’s perspective, Alissa, don’t loose it, it will get you through this earthly place until you are with your dad and Father in your true home you are designed for.

  7. The best thing about this well written article is that none of it is contrived or embellished.

    Steve was and is all of that.

    RIP Steve, we will meet again.

  8. Our dear Alissa,
    I cried through your whole article. I (and We in the Rennells clan) still miss your Dad so much. We loved how he loved you, us, and everybody, and how passionate he was about everything that is important in life.Like Christ, he poured his life out for your family with his strong work ethic. Last year when our three got married, I told your mom how Steve would have loved those weddings, the spouses God had sent, and seeing prayers answered for each of them, and especially seeing you in Sarah’s wedding after all the years you and she were a “dynamic duo”. I am sure he is cheering you and all of us on with “Way to Go!” and is very proud of you.

  9. wonderful.

    i still remember watching you [from a distance] live through this week before your wedding with so much grace and strength from your Heavenly Father. and He continues to uphold you through each bittersweet year and anniversary. thank you for taking the time to share this. it prompts so much gratitude in my own heart for my dad and his love for us.

    God bless you, friend~*.

  10. Sorrow and love flow mingled. What a beautiful way to honor thy father. And what a gift, over time, to remember, and see the seeds of his love bearing fruit in those he loved.

  11. Tears in my eyes, dear Alissa, as I remember hearing the news of your father five years ago, days before your nuptials. You are a beautiful writer – it is no wonder your father was proud of you, for this and many other reasons. I had the same kind of father and felt that you were writing a page in my own diary. I miss him every day. God bless you, Alissa. Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

  12. Wow! Beautiful tribute to your Dad, Alissa! He accomplished everything what God called him to do. You had an awesome Dad! He lives forever!!!!!!!! Be blessed!

  13. Beautiful, and so moving. What a wonderful gift to have such a father. (My dad has taught me many of these same lessons.) Sending a prayer for comfort your way.

  14. Did e’er such love and sorrow meet…..Love so amazing, so divine……Demands my soul, my life, my all. Thank you to Laura for this reference. Thank you to you, Alissa, for reminding us of the depth of love which demands a response. It’s not just a legacy of Love and Life he leaves to you and Sean. It’s a call to all of us to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, mind, strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. Thank you for keeping the message and meaning of his life alive through your own. He got it right. God, help me.

  15. Thanks for sharing this, Alissa. I think of your dad often and miss him very much. There are some songs I can’t hear without thinking of him. He was such a good friend. I’m glad I’ll get to see him again someday. Sending love from over here…

  16. Thank you Alissa. I of course was remembering your dad and feeling like I can’t believe I haven’t had one of his bear hugs and enthusiasm for what ever I was doing in life. He was my biggest fan so I too felt his unconditional love. I only hope I made him feel equally as good about life. I’ll always miss him and I find it so comforting to know you adored him too, and that you realize you were graced by his presence. I love you and am so very delighted in the way you are living your life. Peace be with you.

  17. Alissa – I know we haven’t talked in years, but your beautiful words about your father have brought tears to my eyes and and a warm feeling around my heart. It has brought me back to our childhood memories as close cousins, wearing one of your dresses and go to church with you, laughing when your Dad would stuff himself with your Mom’s pancakes, and most of all listening to him play his guitar. Your father was a wonderful man and will always be unforgettable to me. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers and I ask for continuing peace for all of you.

  18. Alissa-
    One of my favorite memories of your Dad was when he drew you into the worship scene at LCC. You were so young! He was committed to having you share his passion for Jesus, worship, and serving. Our school verse this year is James 3:17-18. When I read it, your Dad comes to mind. His heart was so pure. He was so central to the church camping experience also and we will always remember that we as a community were able to begin healing because we were together that weekend. I don’t know if you know this, but that is the only Labor Day weekend Sunday that it rained so that we had to hold the service indoors. We felt heaven’s tears along with ours. The other point is that I had asked Bob Miner to preach that weekend. Who could have known weeks before that he would be the perfect person to comfort a hurting body? Only, God. Know beyond any doubt, our Lord God is intimately acquainted with ALL our ways. Thank you for reminding us to remember. I love you!

  19. Beautiful, Alissa, and made me think about my own gentle, loving father who had a major heart attack at 49. Though he survived another 20 years, he was never well again and aged so much in the interim that we in some ways “lost” him before he was finally gone. Even though he died twenty years ago, I still miss him almost every day. I love this tribute to good dads!

  20. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but I’ve been reading your blog for years (saw you linked online to some folks who used to wander the halls at TWU). Read this and felt so moved that I also had to comment; this is beautiful, Alissa.

  21. Dear Alyssa:
    You taught my daughters Grace and Rachel piano for a brief time (when you were a student at RPI).. but I remember you most as your father’s daughter. It strikes me that even though your father didn’t leave you any tangible inheritance, so much of you and within you is so like your father that you always carry what’s best of him. (And I bet you that your father would have easily written a music that fit your bribute to him perfectly!)

  22. Alissa, thanks so much for writing this. Everyone in my family still misses him, but I know that is not the same as missing a Dad.
    We miss him MOST palpably when we camp at WOL on labor day weekend. Somehow, he was such a strong presence on that weekend, that there is still and empty chair there, it seems. Daniel and I both referred to Steve so often, as Daniel prepared the worship singing set. Daniel said time again, as he did, “Steve knew what I needed, and transposed everything into the ‘people’s chord for me.” He did it all with ease, and laughter, and love. I miss his humor, and his depth of faith, and all that you articulated. Yes. dearly missed.

  23. My dear Alissa,

    Thanks so much for sharing this… I also cried as I read your reflections remembered again how hard that week was, what a privilege it was to stand with you at your wedding, and how much I still miss your dad. Growing up in each other’s homes, he really was like a second father to me. Always encouraging, always cheering us on.

    Memories of your dad singing with his guitar came flooding back again last week as I sang this song at a retreat:

    In the morning when I rise
    In the morning when I rise
    In the morning when I rise,
    Give me Jesus

    Give me Jesus
    Give me Jesus
    You can have all this world
    But give me Jesus

    In the evening…
    Give me Jesus

    And when I come to die…
    Give me Jesus

    Give me Jesus
    Give me Jesus
    You can have all this world
    But give me Jesus

    That is what Steve Clark lived and sang about and what he has now. I still think that he will be one of the first people I see when I make it over there to the other side… running up to the gates of heaven with a big smile, his deep joyous belly laugh, and a hug that will engulf you. You mentioned how he loved church and the people of God – and now he is worshiping forever the One he loved better than life itself. I love you.

  24. My mother sent me this link, and just seein it…what a beautiful tribute Alissa!! As a Dad, it filled me with the inspiration that the little things matter a whole lot…sometimes not knowing if your doin enuff, as the Dad, or doing it right…the point is, just to KEEP DOING!!! Am very sorry for your loss, but very inspired by your insight and depth as a daughter who lost her Dad…Thank you

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