As my father would have turned ninety this St. Patrick’s Day—typical German, trampling on another country’s pride!—he’s on my mind. Here are some of the things I hold most precious about him.
Reminiscing is an activity of affirmation. Sure, I could recount some of Dad’s weaknesses, but those are easily overcome by his strengths, the things which made him a person who was of value to many. I gladly ignore the lesser things to promote the greater.
Besides, my father gave me so much. In many ways, he gave me exactly what my mother gave—a good work ethic, faithfulness to family and friends and work and community and to the Lord, to value money and things and take care of them, and a friendly spirit which shows respect to all. My folks were people you both wanted to be around and were glad to have around.
Dad taught me both directly—“When you hoe around potatoes, heap the dirt toward the plant to keep the spuds from the sunlight”—and indirectly—listening to him on the phone with Montague citizens (Dad was city manager), his patience and respect were always present.
He was, in a word, practical. He saved scrap metal. When he had enough to trade in for a few bucks, he took it in. His smile shined as he proclaimed, “There. I have some pocket money.” He gardened—usually having more than one, utilizing space at either of his brothers’ farms, and at my brother’s in-laws’—and canned and froze bushel upon bushel. He composted, turning vegetable scraps into soil-enriching material.
When I got married, I immediately put in a garden and started a compost pile. Every stop I’ve made—from Michigan, to Indiana, to Iowa, to Michigan, and back to Indiana—I have put in a garden—in every place, needing to begin from scratch, and knowing how to do it because Dad had taught me—and started a compost pile. I have canned and froze countless pints and quarts of produce.
I am about as bad with a knife as any human, but by watching and helping Dad carve up many deer (I never knew you could take them to a meat processor), I found myself doing that when I got the only one that I bagged when in Iowa, with him not around to take the lead, plopping that buck onto our dining room table and methodically carving out steaks and roasts as I envisioned how he had showed me the way to slice up the venison, and taking the rest and canning it, turning once-chewy portions into the tenderest meat treats.
There seemed to be no project which Dad, whom I loved to call Pop, could not tackle. Depression Era farm boys grew into men whose first thought was, “How will I do this,” not, “Who can I hire to do it?” With that attitude, we tore a house down to the studs and rebuilt it for my brother and his family, who has now lived in it for four decades, and then did it for my family and me.
The one thing that brings Pop to mind the most is when I am doing a chore which I might not be able to complete that day. We used to cut firewood together—another lesson: use wood that you can get for free, cut and split it yourself, and save loads of cash heating your house—and as we stacked it, he said, “When you think you are done, you’re pooped, say to yourself, ‘I can do one more load.’” (This earned him our playfully mocking him as we would say, “Just peckin’ away.”) A few weeks ago, as I raked my front yard, my arms wearing out from a job they are not used to, I found myself saying, “I can do one more section. Just keep peckin’ away.” Thanks, Pop.
For all of the important, similar traits my folks had, they were starkly different, too. Mom was easily flustered; Dad was unflappable. Mom’s frustration came out verbally; Dad never gave away if he were feeling any angst. Mom suffered more physical maladies than a person ever should; Dad made it to his final month nearly ailment-free.
As many things which form us are learned, just as many come from how we are built. For example, my older brother, Tom, resembles Mom in suffering many physical ills, and he is, um, shall we say, just a bit impetuous when he feels foiled.
I find myself having inherited Dad’s nature. I love telling anyone who will listen that at his funeral many remarked how, of all of us kids, I was most like Dad. And, if you are wondering, now that I am transgender, do I feel differently about this? Nope. Not a bit. Transitioning aside, I remain John Eilers’ son, and most gratefully so.
One thing that all of us kids got from both of our parents is the gift for gab. I suspect this, too, is both a thing of nature and nurture, how one is built and is influenced.
My sister, Sue, got married when I was eighteen. At the reception—Montague folks can picture the VFW hall jam-packed—as folks finished eating, I observed my parents, with Mom going one way and Dad the other, visiting each table.
The next day, I asked Mom about it. She said, “They were kind enough to come. It was important that we thank them.” As my years rolled on, I saw in myself the need to honor and respect folks in the same manner.
It’s even more than this. The ability to make conversation with anyone, anywhere, about anything, is such a gift. I have so valued it that I have deliberately cultivated it, using it to my advantage in every sphere of my life. With it, I hope that I glorified my Lord Jesus when I was a minister, as I was comfortable in every situation, with people of all ages, in all of life’s stages. Nowadays, wherever I go, this capacity to chat, to make a joke, to put people at ease, is as important an attribute as I possess, and is doubly important for my new situation in life. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for this cherished gift.
Another lesson both my parents taught was to appreciate what you have. Thankfulness is a powerfully important attitude. It shapes so many aspects of our everyday life, from the smallest things to the biggest, the easiest to the hardest, the most common to the unusual.
And this takes me to one final way to appreciate being John and Floye Eilers’ child. They brought up us kids in the Christian faith. More than in the faith, faithfulness was key. We were in worship every Sunday. We were taught to pray. This faithfulness to the Lord spilled over to family and friends and community. I observed it in my folks. It profoundly impacted me as I matured.
In his later years, after Mom had died and I had moved away and became a pastor, Dad and I would talk about what we were reading. Often, he commented about where he was in the Bible. Faithfulness. There’s always more to learn.
Often in our conversation, Dad commented about the bounty he had just picked from his garden. Thankfulness.
Often, Dad spoke of his post-retirement charity work at the food bank. Hard-working. Giving spirit. Community.
Often, Dad remarked about one of my siblings or a grandchild, reveling in the latest neat thing. Family. Unity. Joy.
Always, Dad closed with “Love you guys.” Love. A father’s love. MY dad’s love for ME.
Precious. Priceless. Imperishable.