11 Mar My broken hero…
Writer’s note: Please bare with me…this story ends happily.
My father—my hero—was transferred to a nursing home last night.
I can’t believe it’s come to this.
A week ago he still laughed and joked. Five days back he was able to walk his yellow Labradoodle and play cribbage. Heck, even last Friday morning he accompanied Mom and my youngest child, sweet Sarah, to Costco.
I fear that now that man is gone.
Strangely, it wasn’t ‘til a few months ago that I finally, clearly told my dad—Knut Sakarias Johansen—how greatly esteemed he is in my eyes. For one of only a handful of times in my life, I saw him tear up.
Over many years I watched Dad become a great father to us kids, and a terrific husband to Mom. In my opinion it wasn’t always that way…
‘Cause God’s work takes time.
Dad’s earliest memories are of the German blitzkrieg sweeping through his valley in Northern Norway.
Maybe it was finding dead bodies in the local creek (or seeing prisoners marched by his farm each day), that made him stoic—a defense mechanism of sorts.
Perhaps the dire poverty little Knut experienced, once the enemy withdrew, grew roots of fear, which Pa thereafter battled, about running out of money.
Best I can figure, he partly left his faith behind when his cherished sibling, Annbjørg —the most passionate Christ-follower he knew—died of meningitis while at teaching college. ‘Course it could’ve also been seeing the tiny, blue body of his deceased little brother, Christian.
At 17 Dad immigrated to America. The only relative waiting for him was a shirttail uncle who has long since passed away. Wanna guess where he took Dad for Christmas? A strip club. Challenges were born.
For most of my childhood, he wasn’t perfect, but he certainly wasn’t terrible.
Even though my father worked a lot of overtime, he attended plenty of my little league games.
Despite drinking for effect, for many years (‘couple shots each day to take the edge off), he made sure we went to church most weekends and he stayed true to my mom.
He may not have led, but he held down the fort. Though he didn’t know how to fully engage me—his emotional, youngest son—he came home each night. He was there. He was a good enough parent.
That all changed in his mid-50’s. God made him great.
At a Promise-Keepers event in the old Kingdome, something tore loose in Papa. When a rock band blasted a modern rendition of “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” Dad began belting it out in Norwegian. You know what he told me afterwards?
“Years ago Annbjørg came home from a Bible camp and she was so excited about [her faith]. When she sprang through the door she sang praise songs, smiled, and told us about Jesus.”
Dad’s words, pouring fourth in that ol’ “concrete crypt” of a Seattle stadium, were the beginning of massive change in him.
That afternoon I bought Papa a New Living translation of The Yearly Bible. Little did I know, but from that day forth Dad shared each day’s readings with Mom. He even began to lead them in morning prayer!
He threw out inappropriate items that had formerly caused him to stumble, stopped drinking for effect, and ceased to be controlled by worry related to money.
As Christ changed Dad from the inside out, Mom began to look on him with deeper love. He was a veritable rock for my sister and older brother. And, for the first of what would be many times in my life, I asked for his advice.
In short, after my father recommitted his life to Christ he became a more doting husband, father, and grandpa. It didn’t all happen overnight. Rather, it grew month-by-month, and year-by-year. Dad became my hero.
More than two decades slipped by.
A little over a year ago he and Mom moved to my town of Gig Harbor. I began spending most Friday afternoons quietly playing cribbage with him.
I knew that Parkinson’s was slowly robbing him of strength and coordination, but I figured we’d still have at least five good years, for, if old strokes had stolen some of his mental acuity, he remained far wiser than I.
Though age, and a myriad of faint skin-cancer scars increasingly pilfered his looks, his eyes fairly crackled with the Holy Spirit.
I should have been prepared for Mom’s frantic call, just before midnight, this past Friday. But I wasn’t. Dad couldn’t stand. He words were gibberish. 911.
By Monday morning it took all my strength, while teaming with a fit nurse, to move Pa two feet to a portable toilet. He winced in pain the whole time—courtesy of a new compression fracture from having fallen the night before. The staff moved his room closer to their station.
I tried not to weep while the blue-eyed RN gently cleaned Pa. I managed to withhold tears when Dad’s eyes darted to and fro, looking for his pup in the hospital room.
And by God’s grace, I kept it together each time my father tried to climb out of bed while pleading, “If we don’t leave now, we’ll miss the beginning of the Mariner’s game,” or, harder still, “Can’t you take me home?”
As tough as all of this is, I really do sense God’s “peace that passes understanding.” By last night Dad was tracking better in conversations.
Perhaps my father will rally. Maybe his thoughts will untangle. It might be that he’ll come home in time. I pray so. But even if those things don’t come to pass…
I know that Dad’s new, Heavenly body will surely rally. In the Golden City, his thoughts will be clear, and precise, and beautiful. It might be that he’ll go Home soon. If so, I know I’ll see him there someday.
Dad’s body seems to be failing him.
But his spirit…
It has never, ever been more beautiful.