My father is not under thirty. He is, however, a hero to at least one person who is under thirty; I admire him with all my heart, and I know many others do too. He not a blogger or a novelist, but he is a wonderful thinker and one of the best people I know. He wrote the following words, and I’ve decided to share them with you because they are worth reading.
Father’s Day Redux
by Ken Boersma
My father passed away twenty years ago this August. He was a member of the generation that came of age in the Great Depression and served during World War II. There are many things I remember about my father. Like many men and women of his generation, he knew how to put in a full day’s work. When he came home from work he would relax by spending time in his garden, tending sweet corn, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, peppers, and onions. He loved to sing, and members of our family spent many an hour harmonizing around the piano. He was also a man who would tease and play pranks, something I found out too well one hot summer day when at supper I took a couple of long gulps on my cold milk, only to discover that it was not whole milk, but buttermilk. I would like to say that I was able to drink the buttermilk without giving my dad the satisfaction that it gagged me. That would be a lie. I did notice his mischievous grin as he proclaimed his innocence.
Two things about my father stand out, however; he was someone who gave of himself in service to others and who treated people with care, dignity, and respect. After he died, a notice of appreciation appeared in the newsletter of the Oak Forest Hospital recognizing the more than sixty years that my father spent regularly visiting the patients of the hospital. This hospital specialized in providing long term care, ventilator care, chronic disease and rehabilitation services to persons who were destitute because of poverty, mental illness, alcoholism, and other problems. I also remember that my father made monthly trips with members of his church to the Helping Hand Mission in downtown Chicago, a mission that offered religious services, overnight lodging, and meals for homeless and destitute men and day programs for women and families. He would attend, and often participate in, the Sunday afternoon worship service at the mission and then spend time afterward visiting with the street people, mostly men, who were in attendance at the service.
Growing up, I occasionally went with my dad to both the hospital and the mission. I saw the way in which he interacted with the patients of the hospital and the clients of the mission. I remember that after a worship service at the mission he would gather with some of the men to sing around the piano just like we did at home. He knew most of the men at the mission by name and would joke with them and often tease them. I saw faces light up when people saw my father approach. He showed that he cared for them and served them by acknowledging their dignity and respect, even in their often-difficult and sometimes-self-created circumstances.
My daughter Lauren served at Camp Roger, a Christian summer camp, for a number of summers. I was able to offer my time as a volunteer at the camp on a few occasions and had the opportunity to observe Lauren’s interaction with the campers. I remember seeing her work with a camper who was upset about something that happened during a game. I noticed the little girl crying. Lauren also noticed and walked over to the camper. I saw her kneel down to be eye to eye with the camper and spend some time with her. Lauren asked her some questions about what had happened, allowed the camper to describe how she was feeling, and, after listening carefully to her, offered some suggestions. Soon, the young camper was back in the game, involved in the action, smiling, and enjoying her time at camp. Lauren also had given of herself in service to another and treated the young camper with dignity and respect.
Back in March of this year, a video surfaced of students at the University of Oklahoma, members of the university chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, chanting offensive, racist comments suggesting that African Americans should not be allowed to pledge the fraternity. The president of the university, David Boren, posted a statement regarding the incident soon after the video appeared online. With regard to the students who were involved in the chant he wrote, “You are disgraceful, You have violated all that we stand for. You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves ‘Sooners.’” President Boren also ordered the immediate closing of the fraternity house at the university and the immediate dismissal of the students who led the chant when they were identified. Boren concluded his statement with these words: “All of us will redouble our efforts to create the strongest sense of family and community. We vow that we will be an example to the entire country of how to deal with this issue. There must be zero tolerance for racism everywhere in our nation.”
I can agree with President Boren’s forceful denunciation of the offensive video and his statement that racism should not be tolerated. I can agree that it is necessary to hold these students responsible for their actions.. I wonder, however, about the kind of example shown when those involved with the incident are not treated with dignity and respect. I am not comforted when the leader of a major public institution of higher education denigrates a group of students, acts unilaterally without going through the standard university disciplinary process, and then asks to be thought of as an example for the entire country of how to deal with this kind of offensive behavior. I find it troubling when we seem to believe it is ok to hate the hater. It is not what my father taught me; it is not what I have tried to convey to my children. I do not believe it is how God would have us respond to those who are made in His image.
One last thought that falls in the “do as I say and not as I do” category: among Richard Nixon’s last words as he left the White House after his resignation in 1974 were, “Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”
We love because He first loved us. Even in the hard cases. I am grateful that my heavenly Father demonstrated his love in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. I also appreciate the ways in which my earthly father showed me how to love those who are difficult to love. Those are examples I can seek to follow.
Lauren (Boersma) Harris (’13) is a spontaneous, idealistic, independent, fierce, over-thinking, damaged, adventurous, ordinary megalomaniac with a healthy sense of self-worth and a high word count. She has been a teacher both indoors and outdoors; she loves improvised comedy, backpacking, and writing, even when it’s required.