A Son's Tribute to His Father

Started by Richard Johnson, July 22, 2007, 10:38:51 PM

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Richard Johnson

[Pr. McCain posted this on his own blog, and I found it quite moving; with his permission, it is reprinted here. ---roj]

A Tribute to My Father: Pastor Paul B. McCain, 1934-2007

The most important man in my life, my father, died today, at around 4:20 p.m. after being diagnosed with lung cancer over a year ago. What a blessing to have had him this long after that diagnosis, which, as you can imagine led to an ugly, though mercifully brief, end. But I must say that watching him over the last four days slowly come to the end of his earthly life was the most painful and yet deeply and richly meaningful thing I've ever experienced. Beautiful moments indeed. When one of us asked him, "Dad, are you looking forward to meeting Jesus?" He said, in a slow, small whisper to which he had been reduced, "I already have." And how wonderful to hear him say again, "I love you."

I held my dad in my arms as he took his last breath, even as he held me in his arms shortly after I took my first breaths, and most importantly as he held me during my baptism, something not at all common in 1962 when the thing to do was to have the female godparent hold the child. But my father insisted on holding his son as he was brought into the kingdom of God through the washing of water and the word. And it was my father who first placed my Lord's body into my mouth when I received Holy Communion at my confirmation, as he assisted the pastor in distributing the elements. I remember looking up at him and seeing the tears in his eyes.

My father was the principal of the Lutheran school where the very first Bible verse I was required to memorize was: "God is love" and the second: "We love God, because He first loved us." As these beautiful truths were unfolded, the faith given me in Baptism, I was deeply routed in Christ and His Gospel. Profoundly rooted through the nurture of my parents and my Lutheran school teachers.

My parents literally scraped by to provide for me and my brother in a time when Lutheran teacher salaries were worse than they are today, and if you know much about Lutheran teacher salaries, you have some idea of just how low their salaries were. But I had no idea how poor we were, for I recall only very, very happy memories of a loving father and mother.

I remember fondly sitting nestled next to my father in church, in the very first pew of church, on the left side, where I now sit with my family. People wonder why I always sit with my family in the first pew on the left side of any church we attend. I've always sat there, and it began next to my father. The thought of sitting as far away as possible from the pulpit and altar was something my parents never found attractive, and I'm glad for it.

My father set an example for me of absolute devotion and dedication to God's Holy Word and the Lutheran Confessions, instilling and nurturing and encouraging in me a deep love of Lutheranism. He set an example for me of how one lives as a Christian husband and father. A Christian husband who loved his wife with honor, respect, devotion and kindness. My parents had a partnership that I've rarely witnessed in any other couple. They provided together a warm, loving home to my brother and me. My father devoted his whole life to work in the church, serving as a Lutheran principal and school teacher. My mother's and father's example of service to Christ and His church, unselfish, total service, is why I decided to become a pastor. And then, my father, watching me attend the seminary, decided himself to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a pastor and so, at age 50, picked up and left his home of 26 years, to attend the seminary. He could have taken an easier path toward the ministry, a quick year of study and out, but instead he chose to pursue a full seminary education, opting even to take Hebrew, in addition to Greek, back when choices like that were rare among colloquy type students.

What fun it was to attend seminary at about the same time. I was the upper classman! I even was able to preach his ordination sermon. My father startled a few of his fellow seminary students when the other men heard him slip once in public and say to me, "See you later, sweetheart," one of his many terms of endearment for his sons! He caught quite a bit of good-natured ribbing that day, and he just smiled and the men smiled too, nodding knowingly of the special love between father and son. My dad was a strong, tough man, with a loving, tender nature.

During his years of service in Pensacola, Florida he patiently and persistently worked toward the integration of black and white teachers at a time when such behaviors resulted, not infrequently, in cross burnings in the front yard. He was not doing it to "make a statement" but simply because Christians do not treat their fellow men as anything less than fully human, and Christian brothers and sisters even more so. It was a time in our country where a little boy could take a drink from the "black only" fountain at the Sears Roebuck, with the permission and encouragement of his mother, only to have the sales clerk nearby glare and say, "That's only for blacks!" My mother responded, "Is the water any different?" My father supported a white man who hired black people, encouraging him to remain strong, even when his store was burned to the ground by racists. He stood with his black brothers and sisters and worked to have the teachers' conference in the Southern Distict integrated. Why? Just because it was right, and anything else was wrong.

My father was beloved by students, parents, coworkers and members of the congregations he served as a pastor in Indiana and Michigan.

Sons, of course, tend to put their fathers on pedestals. And may our good and gracious God grant to all Christian fathers the faith, confession and virtues that justify the high regard in which their little boys hold them, so that they, like me continue to hold them in that same high regard.

May God grant my father peace eternal! I love you Dad.

Your loving son, Paul

PS -- Several lessons learned through this experience:
God used my dad to teach me how to die. Thanks be to God for that.
The classic Lutheran chorales are the greatest sermons ever preached.
The Pastoral Care Companion is a priceless treasure.
Pastors: please never forget that you visit a home at at time like this you are truly Jesus to the family. You come in his stead, and by his command. You bring us His word of Absolution and His body and blood, which you put into our grieving and hurting bodies and souls. What a blessed ministry you have. What a wonderfully peace-giving and calming presence you bring when you bring us Jesus and the power of His resurrection as we watch our loved ones fading away.
What indescribable comfort the Gospel is.
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

J. Thomas Shelley

The classic Lutheran chorales are the greatest sermons ever preached.

Aye.  Pr McCain's tribute was profoundly painful for me to read, because the death of my father (also from cancer) is barely one year and two weeks past. 

But is was the Chorales that helped to sustain me then, as I shared with my congregation :

Lord, Thee I love with all my heart;
I pray Thee ne'er from me depart,
With tender mercies cheer me.
Earth has no pleasure I would share,
Yea, heaven itself were void and bare
If Thou, Lord, wert not near me.
And should my heart for sorrow break,
My trust in Thee no one could shake.
Thou art the Portion I have sought;
Thy precious blood my soul has bought.
Lord Jesus Christ,
My God and Lord, my God and Lord,
Forsake me not!  I trust Thy Word.

In mid March I attended a single day Retreat with the Susquehanna Chapter of the Society of the Holy Trinity at St. Peter Lutheran in Middletown, literally in the shadow of the cooling towers of Three Mile Island and, to that island's west, the island which three 18th and 19th century generations of my Shelley ancestors called home.

The Chapter Dean had asked me to play the organ for the closing Eucharist, which I gladly obliged, although I questioned why so many of the hymns selected were 16th century German chorales spanning two pages of the Lutheran Book of Worship with no fewer than three verses.  The hymn quoted above served as the Post-Communion for the liturgy, the tune allowed me to dust off a Pachelbel prelude that I had not touched for nearly eighteen years.

Later that evening. less than twenty minutes after arriving home, my father called to say that he could not get out of his chair.   Weakness from anemia fueled by the spread of cancer plus out of control congestive heart failure was on the verge of taking a deadly toll.

The hours in an emergency room never pass quickly.  But the time was filled with the music I had practiced repeating in my  mind, especially the final phrase of the verse of the Post-Communion hymn:

Lord Jesus Christ,
My God and Lord, my God and Lord,
Forsake me not!  I trust Thy Word.

Just one day before, on the First Sunday in Lent we had prayed to be "[kept] steadfast in your word, and when we fall, raise us again and restore us, through Jesus Christ our Lord..."

Fallen and unable to raise ourselves, we were nevertheless granted a temporary reprieve that night so that the unspoken goal of living to see John finish High School could be achieved.

Yea, Lord, 'twas Thy rich bounty gave
My body, soul, and all I have
In this poor life of labor.
Lord, grant that I in every place
May glorify Thy lavish grace
And serve and help my neighbor.
Let no false doctrine me beguile
And Satan not my soul defile.
Give strength and patience unto me
To bear my cross and follow Thee.
Lord Jesus Christ,
My God and Lord, my God and Lord,
In death Thy comfort still afford.

The weeks and months which followed brought increasing difficulty.  "This poor life of labor" was steadily diminished.  Falls and episodes of severe weakness grew more frequent and need for watchful care became more urgent.  Strength and patience to bear this new cross was never more needed.

Your response to this challenge was to continue to be faithful stewards of God's "rich bounty".  You would gladly "serve and help [your] neighbor" in so many wonderful ways: in the steady supply of meals; the kind and wonderful visitors; the round-the-clock nursing car; and the understanding that while emergencies would be met routine business would be set aside.

This wonderful response often caused Dad  to wonder "where are the people from Calvary Church?"  [My father was a member of city UM Church ten miles from his rural home]   So it was fitting that his very  final moments would be hearing a card and note from an elderly couple from that congregation, assuring him of their love and of their congregation's prayers.

Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abram's bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my Fount of grace,
Lord Jesus Christ,
My prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.['i]
            --Lutheran Book of Worship # 325
Greek Orthodox Deacon - Ecumenical Patriarchate
Ordained to the Holy Diaconate Mary of Egypt Sunday A.D. 2022

Baptized, Confirmed, and Ordained United Methodist.
Served as a Lutheran Pastor October 31, 1989 - October 31, 2014.
Charter member of the first chapter of the Society of the Holy Trinity.


This also touched me deeply.  I lost my father several years ago and I still miss him.. He was a simple man, a farmer, who never talked much about his faith but I saw how he lived it.  I would like to share one incident.

I was probably 12 and we were working in the hay mow.  I told him there was something I just couldn't understand.  He laughed and said there were a lot of things he didn't understand but go ahead and ask.   So I told him I did not understand the trinity.  He took a minute and then said, I do not know if I can explain it but I think I can show you what it means.  He then took three strands of twine from the bales, tied one end and hooked it over a nail.  He then began braiding them together making a rope.   He explained how each strand was independent and keep it's own shape and substance but when braided together they were so much stronger and a part of one and the same thing.  I could see each individual part of the "trinity" but also how they went together to be one.    I think that is one of the best descriptions I have ever heard and I have remembered it for 50 plus years.   


Wow, your dad was a great theologian, and a great father.

Is your memory of your father as vivid now as it ever was. In some ways, my memory of him is more powerful and present to now that he is no longer here, in the flesh, than when he was. I know that probably sounds weird, but it's true.


Quote from: ptmccain on November 19, 2010, 04:33:42 PM
Is your memory of your father as vivid now as it ever was. In some ways, my memory of him is more powerful and present to now that he is no longer here, in the flesh, than when he was. I know that probably sounds weird, but it's true.

A wonderful tribute to your father, Paul.  It seems we both were blessed, like many sons, to have such special and loving fathers.

My father died 31 years ago yesterday.  (Still can't type that without shedding some tears.)  I was 22, just out of college when he died.  Debbie and I took my parents out to supper the night before to announce our engagement.  When Deb showed him her engagement ring, he looked at it, then looked at me and said, "That didn't come out of no Cracker Jack box!"  Then he winked.

I hope your memories of your father remain vivid.  Perhaps it is because it was so long ago, and I have put more years under my belt without him than with him, but it troubles me that, although I still have wonderful memories of that special man, I can no longer recall the sound of his voice.  Oh, I remember the things he said and when he said them, but the "audio portion" of the "tape" no longer will play back in my mind.  Hope that never happens to you.

Nevertheless, here's to your father and mine, and to all fathers who have raised their children well.  Every child needs that special man in their lives, and God willing, they will be there for them.
The Rev. William B. Henry, Jr.
Interim Pastor, St. Peter's Lutheran Church, Evans City, PA
"Put on the whole armor of God."


Rev. Paul T. McCain

Yes, I still remember his way of doing things, things he taught me and the ways he showed us all he cared.  I always teased him saying he got a lot smarter after I got our of the Navy.  He had a good sense of humor and was an honest man.  I once heard another old timer tell me, "Not everyone who Knew you father liked him but everyone who knew him respected him.  He was the kind of person who could find something to be thankful for evey day. Thanks for this thread and the memories it brought back.


Thank you for sharing this with us.  As my Dad gets older, I find myself replaying old memories, over and over.


Thank you Rev. McCain for writing this.
Thank you Rev. Johnson for posting this.

Like Rev. McCain, I lost my father to lung cancer.  That was 4 years ago.  It is an awful process and terribly unfair for such a gentle, kind and loving man.  Like Rev. McCain I put my father on a pedestal.  It was unreachable for me to attain what he did.    Like Rev. McCain I concur that of the many things he did, his constant instruction to me on how to live a God-pleasing life was the most lasting and that included how to accept your impending death with grace. 

Fathers are more precious than they are given credit for in popular culture.  I work in a community that is short of fathers.  The results are not good.  May all of us raise up our sons, grandsons, nephews, and neighborhood boys to be good fathers as those that are written about here.  This includes the men and women who read and write here. 

Rev. McCain's wonderful tribute should be read often. 

After some of the pain wears off, I would recommend to Rev. McCain the late Tim Russert's book, Big Russ and Me.  Probably most have read it.  The follow-up, Wisdom of Our Fathers, is even more fabulous and takes on a whole new aspect after the death of a beloved father. 

My deepest sympathy,
Brian J. Bergs
son of John Bergs 1926 - 2006
But let me tell Thee that now, today, people are more persuaded than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet. But that has been our doing.
The Grand Inquisitor

Rev. Kevin Scheuller

Thank you both, Pastor McCain and Pastor Johnson for sharing this.  My father died 4 years ago this past September 24, which is also my mother's birthday.  He died of cancer in his duodenum at the age of 72.  He was also born in 1934, Pastor McCain - I suspect you'll agree that year was a great vintage.  Pastor Carl McKenzie (my pastor, who is retired) was also born in 1934 and is, thankfully, in fine health.

My dad came to the U.S. in 1958 at the age of 24 from the Netherlands.  He and my mom also worked hard, with their own tax accounting business run out of our home, to provide for us.  We were blessed to always have them around. 

May Christ comfort you in the days and months ahead.


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