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Wed. Aug. 31

“A Father’s Love”

This is a favorite story of readers as well as one I use often in speaking.

It’s the best kind of story: funny then touching.  I’ve seen listeners go from laughing to crying in a minute.

Enjoy!

Curt

Hear the audio read by the author:   05 A father’s Love


It’s graduation night at our high school.   My wife DeDe and I are sitting in the reserved seating section at the football stadium.   Our son Clint is graduating tonight and it is a very special night.  Most of the fifty plus graduates who’ll march across the stage have traveled throughout their school journey together.  It’s hard to believe that thirteen years ago they were in Kindergarten and I was watching many of them play T-ball.

I always feel sorry for kids who don’t get to attend a K-12 school.  To start school with a group and finish twelfth grade with most of them creates a special bond among students. They know each other as well as their teachers. Due to this, they hold a special camaraderie that urban students can never quite understand.  

We’ve settled in and gotten comfortable in our chairs down on the track. I look around for our principal Mr. Cooley.  Graduation night is one of the most stressful nights for a high school principal.  As a former school administrator, you never know what a student, parent, or visitor may do on this night of celebration and success.

I’ve seen or heard of it all – senior boys coming by, one by one, putting a pebble in the principal’s palm as he shakes their hand and presents their diploma.  The principal must keep stopping and putting the pebbles down to perform the ceremonial duties of handing out the diplomas.

Then there are the loudmouths who will wait until that “pregnant pause” in the ceremony and holler out something.  Two years ago at my oldest son Clay’s graduation, a fellow graduate named Chad walked up to receive his diploma.  It was a Kodak moment because Chad had labored a long time to get on this stage. A smattering of surprised applause broke out when his name was mentioned.  Most of us had never expected to see him walk across this stage.   We were all happy and I thought about how many teachers and adults had pushed, taught, and begged to get Chad to this moment.

Just as he was handed his diploma, someone way up in the stadium with good lungs hollered,

“Run, Chad, run before they take it back!”

Even the principal had to laugh at that.

So sitting here as an ex-principal, I can relax and enjoy the night.  My only concern is that Clint is making a speech and I have no idea what he’ll say.  But I’m confident our man will do just fine.

It’s now about fifteen minutes before the ceremony begins.  I look behind me to see the stands filling up.  There is a murmur of anticipation throughout the crowd on this beautiful May evening.

That’s when I first see him…. A man in a cowboy hat strides to the podium on stage.  Removing his hat, he leans into the microphone and blows on it.   Yes, it’s on… and he literally has the stage to himself, as well as the mike. Most people haven’t even noticed him.  I look around for Mr. Cooley, but don’t see him anywhere near.  For the thousandth time since I left the school ten years ago, I’m glad I’m no longer a principal.

Then our man at the mike begins to sing.  With no accompaniment he sings,

“Son, let me tell you about a father’s love,

A secret that my father said was between just us.

You see, Daddies don’t just love their children  every now and then,

It’s a love without end, Amen.

It’s a love without end, Amen.”

I faintly recognize the tune and remember it – It’s the chorus of a George Strait song entitled,    “A Father’s Love.”

Then about the same time, I recognize the singer on stage – it’s Greg Fontenot.  Greg’s son David is graduating tonight.  David is a favorite of all of us – a wonderful smile and winning personality, an excellent athlete as well as a good student.

Although I don’t know Mr. Fontenot extremely well, I’ve always enjoyed visiting with him.  He is an expert in a trade that always brings respect in rural areas- he is an excellent welder.   He is also a true country man as evidenced by the fact that on the side of his welding truck is painted,

“I ain’t J.R. and this ain’t Dallas…

But I can sure plow, plant, and hoe.

…and God bless.”

By now Mr. Fontenot is singing the first stanza.  He has now captured the attention of most of the crowd.  Glancing around, some are sniggering; others sit in gape-jawed wonder.  Someone behind me says, “I believe he’s drunk.”   But watching closely, I can tell that Greg’s not drunk, he’s just singing a George Strait song from his heart.

I got sent home from school one day

with a shiner  on my eye.

Fighting was against the rules and

it didn’t matter  why.

When dad got home I told that story

just like I’d rehearsed,

then stood on those trembling knees,

expecting the very worst…

…and he said,

Son, let me tell you about a father’s love,

A secret that my father said was between just us.

You see, Daddies don’t just love their children   every now and then; It’s a love without end, Amen.

It’s a love without end, Amen.

And Mr. Fontenot is singing this song well, which is not easily done acapella.  He has a fine country singing voice that does justice to this song.  As Greg Fontenot begins the second verse, it is very evident that he has practiced and prepared for this night a long time.  He continues,

When I became a father in the spring of ’81,

There was no doubt that stubborn boy

was just like my father’s son.

When I thought my patience had been tested to the  end, I took my daddy’s secret and passed it on to him.

This time when he gets to the chorus, I hear a few voices in the large crowd join in:

“It’s a love without end, amen.”

By now I’m thinking to myself, I bet David is dying of embarrassment and wanting to hide.  I think about my own three boys and remember the cardinal rule of raising teenagers:  “Don’t embarrass me in front of my friends.”

When Greg finishes the second stanza, he pauses and spits into a bottle he is holding.  I think to myself that I’d need a lot more than a dip of Skoal to have the courage to stand on a stage and do what he’s doing.

Then, just as he begins the third and climatic stanza, someone cuts off the microphone.  I’m sitting close enough to hear him exclaim, “Dang, if they didn’t cut me off.”

Someone sitting near us says, “Well, they should have let him go ahead and finish it if they’d let him sing that much.”    Another local music critic adds, “He was really doing pretty good and by the way, that third verse is the best one.”  A smattering of applause comes from the audience, mixed in with many good hearted shouts, and a few whistles.

Greg Fontenot stands there as if they’ll turn back on the microphone if he just waits long enough.  After what seems an eternity, but really is only ten seconds or so, he walks down the stage steps onto the playing field.

. . .Now, what happens next is why this is such a memorable  story:

From across the field, where the graduates are assembled, comes a flash.  It is a student running with his robe trailing behind him.  He is holding onto his cap as he sprints.

You’ve probably guessed who it is running across the field – it’s David Fontenot, running full tilt toward his dad.   He’s running across the same field where last fall, wearing number 80, he ran so many times with the football.

He runs up to his dad and embraces him warmly.  I can read his lips repeating, “Thank you, thank you,” over and over.  I now realize we have seen a special gift from a

father to his son. An act from a father that will help “weld” their souls together for the rest of their lives.

I realize that this country father understands about more than one type of welding- and I’m not talking about metal or welding rods – but a welding of the human heart.

Only later do I learn that Greg Fontenot had been planning this song all year.  He had even asked the principal to allow him to sing before the ceremony started.  Mr. Cooley had kind of put him off and probably forgot about it until on graduation night when Greg sang his first solo.

During the coming days, I enjoyed sharing the story of David and his dad.   I also began thinking of all of the many ways a man can give his “blessing” to a son or daughter.

In the Bible we see this in several stories.  Each one unique but conferring the same story, “You are my child and I see something very special in you. I am proud of you.”

By far the most powerful Biblical example of a father’s blessing is at Jesus’ baptism.  As Jesus begins his public ministry at age thirty, he chooses to be baptized in the Jordan River by his older and more well-known cousin, John.

Jesus, being the perfect Son of God, did not need baptism for repentance of sins- because He was sinless.  He sought baptism as an example of obedience.  John the Baptist even initially refused to baptize Jesus, famously stating that he was not worthy to even untie Jesus’ sandals.

After John relented and the newly baptized Christ came up out of the water, the scriptures state, “The Holy Spirit came down like a dove and a loud voice spoke from Heaven:

‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. ”

The statement above was one of a father blessing His son.   Jesus needed to hear that from His Father.   Jesus, being perfect and having existed with God from before eternity, still needed those words of approval.

The excellent book, The Blessing by John Trent, shares numerous accounts of the importance of fathers and their words and actions of approval and blessing on their children.

I started thinking about my own father and how he gave “the blessing” to me.  My father came from a very good family.  However, they weren’t much on flowery words or saying, “I love you.”  Because of that he was never really comfortable sharing, “I love you.” with us.   But I never felt shortchanged one bit.  There was never one moment in my life where I ever doubted the love of both my mom and dad for me.

Daddy had many ways to say, “I’m pleased and proud of you.”  Here are a few ways that I cherish:

When I was a young Christian in high school, I led one of my friends, Jimmy, to the Lord.  Next week at our church youth meeting, Daddy asked me to tell the story about how it happened in, of all places, the parking lot of the Sugar Bowl Skating Rink.   He let me know that he was proud of my spiritual growth.   God used that to continue to fan the flames of my young love affair with Jesus.

My dad was a tremendous athlete.  One of the joys of my life was playing on the same softball team with him.  In his prime years, up through age forty, Daddy was the finest leftfielder you’ve ever seen.  He could cover some ground and made many fabulous catches throughout our years of playing beside each other in the outfield.

Sometime in his forties he moved in to pitch and leftfield became my spot.  I enjoyed the challenge and opportunity.  I’d had many good lessons on how to play this position that my dad excelled at.

Once we were playing and a guy hit a long fly way over my head. As I sprinted back I turned the wrong way and saw the ball was going over my other shoulder.  I attempted to awkwardly turn around and adjust.  Twisted like this I just threw my glove up over my shoulder.  The sweet thud of the ball landing in my glove surprised me way more than it did anyone else watching.

When I came in to the dugout, Daddy simply said, “That was the catch of all catches.” That simple statement meant more to me than if I’d been on the cover of Sports Illustrated or on that night’s ESPN top ten. My dad was giving me his blessing – and it came in an area that was very special to both of us. You see, the best parental blessings always take place in an area of shared love and passion.

I became camp manager at Dry Creek when I was thirty-six.  Not too long after that a friend came up to me and related, “I was at a meeting where your dad sang.  He introduced himself as ‘Curt’s father’ and called you ‘his hero.’ ”

Over and over during the last decade of his life he would say that about me.  Many times he said it in front of me.  Words cannot describe how much it meant to me.  It amazed me that the man who was always my hero thought of me as his.  That motivated me, and still does, to be the father, husband, and man I should be.

Here’s a final thing about my dad’s “blessings”- It released me from ever feeling like I had to be just exactly like him.

Since his death a year ago, I’ve heard repeatedly, “Son, you’ve got some big shoes to fill.”  I always smile and agree with them.  But I’ve never felt like I must fill my dad’s shoes.  As great of a man as he was, he gave me the freedom to be my own man- allowing me to make my own decisions and choose my own path.

That’s one of the things about the blessing – it brings freedom and release.

Yes, the blessing…

Coming from a father’s love….

It’s priceless…..

Finally, Greg Fontenot’s graduation song, which really started off this long spiel, had a wonderful third verse. Even

though Greg never got to sing it on that May night, it bears repeating.  It tells of the best blessing of all, our Heavenly Father’s love for us:

Last night I dreamed I’d died and stood

Before those pearly gates,

When suddenly I realized there must

be some mistake.

If they know half of the things I’ve done

they’ll never let me in.

Then somewhere from the other side I

heard these words again,

And He said,

“Son, let me tell you about a father’s love,

A secret that my father said was between just us.

You see, Daddies don’t just love their children every now and then,

It’s a love without end, Amen.

…Yes, it’s a love without end, Amen.

A love without end,

Amen.

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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