An Open Letter to My Dad

Hey Dad,

It’s been a while.

Too long.

But it only seems like yesterday.

While we didn’t talk every day, we talked enough during the week that the silence is often deafening.

Today is 6 months.

6 months to the day when God said, “Come home, my good and faithful servant. Come and see the place that I have prepared for you.”

And you did.

6 months from when your family surrounded your bed and sang, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

And it is.

And it still is. Even when you are There and we are here.

Memories flood my soul and my eyes as I think back……

A friend from kindergarten (I can’t do that much math – how long ago was that?) waiting to be one of the last ones at the visitation.

A hug from a seminarian, “Your dad is the perfect blend of “grandpa” and “professor” that we seminarians needed. He is already and will be missed.”

Sitting in church on Father’s Day morning with tears rolling down my face, texting my wife who was taking her turn caring for really sick NICU babies, “I miss my dad.” Knowing that I couldn’t go over to see him or call him or hug him that day.

Sitting at the next generations’ Dr. Vanderwell’s graduation knowing that we missed having Dr. Vanderwell and Dr. Vanderwell together by 33 days.

But then the memories flood in from farther back……
⁃ the phone call to let him know he was probably less than 36 hours from being a grandpa (I’ve never heard him that startled before or since!)
⁃ Throwing three surprise 60th birthday parties for him in one week (yes, I think he was clueless). Looking back on it, I think it really helped him realize that age is just a number – it’s what you do with it (that’s part of why he never retired) – and was working at the Seminary two weeks before God called him home.
⁃ Hearing from people what a difference he made in their lives.
⁃ Learning by example that there are things that are more important than yourself. And that putting the needs of others ahead of your needs can often make you a much better and deeper person.

But you know what I miss most?

I miss the every day little things. The forwarded e-mails about things that went well. The questions about what the doctor said. Meeting for coffee and asking for input on this or that or just shooting the breeze. I remember him telling me one time that he didn’t believe it when he was told it but one of the biggest privileges of being a dad happened when the roles switched from parent/child to friends.

Dad, while you will always be my dad, you are more than that.

And Dad, I think I miss more today than I did 6 months ago. The reality of it has hit – I’m not going to see you again until such time as God chooses.

But I frequently picture you up in heaven and you are doing one of your favorite outdoor activities – walking. But you aren’t walking around the neighborhood, you are either walking with Peter, Paul, David, Solomon or a host of others and soaking up the knowledge that they have and can share. I can’t imagine, “Hey David, How’s it going?” Answering questions that you’ve wrestled with all of your time here on earth. Or, I can also see you meeting new people and walking and talking with them and sharing what you’ve learned. One thing I’ve learned in my time as a preacher’s kid is that almost everyone knows “Howie” so there’s no shortage of people in heaven who want to talk to you, I bet.

And Dad, I can see you smiling, from ear to ear and can’t wait to share heaven with more of us.

Dad, you fought cancer 5 times (and yes, I know you didn’t count the skin cancer on your finger – but guess what – the doctors did – so I’m going to) and you beat it. You beat it soundly and in the process of beating it, the scars, well, let’s just say the scars led to complications that ended the fifth fight with a glorious entry into heaven.

I wish you were “here” to walk with us on the medical journey that I’m currently on. But I know that even though you aren’t here, you’re watching and you’re here.

And I thank God for the way you’ve been here for me, for my wife, for my kids our entire lives. I miss you Dad. But I’m blessed by you every day.


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