Today is my wonderful dad’s birthday! To celebrate him, I’m posting a passage that I wrote about him two years ago. It was published in a special issue of Missionalia, a journal he edited for many years, that was dedicated to him. I’ve chosen this picture of him, taken at our wedding, because this is the view I’ve grown up with. Looking up at him, listening to him preach most Sundays: solid theology, carefully structured arguments and empathy – a superb public speaker.
My father is not afraid to speak his mind. He’s never been one to shy away from saying things OUT LOUD. Saying the things people don’t want to hear. Not allowing comfortable silences. When I was growing up and learning to speak English, he regularly used to correct my grammar and critique my creative writing. I hated it! I referred to him as ‘correctional services’ because it felt to me like constant correction of anything that I said or wrote. He never intended to hurt my feelings, but also he never told me what I wanted to hear. He told me the (sometimes uncomfortable) truth.
My father’s feedback did not break me down. On the contrary, it made me want to work harder (partly due to the bloody-mindedness I must no doubt have inherited from him). It kept me from becoming complacent. I was always aware that there was more to learn. It kept me moving forward. He taught me the root meanings of words. He taught me the origins of idioms. He taught me the preferred preposition to use with ‘partake’. I partook of his knowledge.
I realised later that he held himself accountable in the same way. He is always expecting more of himself. He is often too critical of what he hasn’t yet accomplished. He challenges himself to learn more, understand deeper. Which is why his office is always filled with papers, his inbox is eternally full, and his bookcases and filing cabinets extend throughout the house and into an outside storeroom.
In the same way as he expects much of himself, he holds people around him accountable: whether his students, church leaders, university managers or government representatives. He questions processes. This makes people uncomfortable, because there is no resting on laurels when he is around.
One of his many strengths is understanding how things work, which stems from his affinity to engineering and mathematics. He understands the mechanisms that drive things forward. He can see the various parts needed to make a whole, how things fit together and work together. I believe this contributes to his unique leadership abilities.
One of my favourite images of my dad is seeing him sitting at his desk in his book-filled study with a mug of black tea. I have spent many many hours talking to him in there. Halfway through any conversation on any topic, he gets up and says “I have a book on that” and then he gets it for me.