My Father, My Hero

My dad, David Jensen, at the Dr. Seuss Art Gallery in Chicago, Illinois

By Amy Speck

Naturally, my father was my hero while growing up, but he has become an even better, more heroic, hero in his older years.  When I was young, we had a green tandem bicycle with a white leather seat, and on some Saturdays, Dad would pump up the tires with air, and then put me or my little brother on the back seat.  We couldn’t reach the pedals, but we’d hang on to the back handlebars and let Dad do all the work.  He’d ride the bike to the 7-Eleven a couple of blocks away, past the elementary school, and across the busy Main Street, to buy us a piece of Bazooka bubble gum, and pedal home.  Once home again, it was the next kid’s turn and he’d make the exact same trip.  Take one of the two smallest kids to the 7-Eleven, buy the gum, and ride back.  I remember him giving his turn signals with his hairy left arm, as he taught us bicycle-riding rules and how to share the road with cars.  It was the 70’s in suburbia, so no helmets were worn, and truth be told, we were barely hanging on.  Another thrill we would have is when he would put us on his shoulders and ride the skateboard downhill.    It was a lot of fun to be so tall and moving so fast!  We were never scared as he hopped on the thick, yellow, plastic skateboard, much more narrow than the ones made nowadays, and cruised down the driveway into the street.  Now, as an 83-year-old man, he doesn’t think that was a very bright move, but that never crossed our minds!  We always felt safe with Dad, our hero. 

Family adventures, career advice, ugly neckties, corny jokes.  All the things you can count on a dad for, my father provided well.  But in the past few years, I have come to count on my father as a hero in different ways.  He’s never retired, though there have been two official retirement parties held for him.  One, from a former Fortune 500 company, and the other, from a local Baptist church.  He told me once that he wasn’t ready for the rocking chair, so he kept moving forward by continuing his education and receiving his Master’s degree during his 60’s, after his first official retirement.  He worked in ministry for another 20 years, which he continues though he has officially retired from the church.  He travels as much as he can, visiting my brothers and sisters who live at least 12 driving hours away in different directions from Mississippi.  Sometimes my family might tag along, but oftentimes he travels alone by train or plane.  Yes, we worry about his safety, but I remind myself that I am the child, and he is the parent, and he doesn’t need my permission to do anything.

My mother died a few years ago, after a four-year battle with bladder cancer.  Dad faced his own health struggles during those years of care taking, but he never gave up, and never complained, though it took a toll on him physically.  It was the epitome of the “in sickness and in health” part of the marriage vows.  After she passed, I worried for Dad about the separation, but he took it in stride, and if you know him, you can ask him about his heavenly math, which he bases on Paul’s teaching.  It helps him, and others who have experienced loss, cope with the thought of years without seeing their loved one.  I was never good at math, especially heavenly math, because it’s a whole different realm of math, but, basically, the earthly separation seems long, but the heavenly separation is not long at all, so it’s easier to deal with when you know how short the separation is.

When she died, there were three important bits of advice he gave me, which he gleaned from years of grief study and counseling:  1) Take it one day at a time.  2) Always have something planned you look forward to doing.  3) Do something meaningful for someone else.

For this upcoming Father’s Day, I will be blessed to have him home after three weeks of traveling in the Midwest seeing family and friends.  I’m fortunate to be the only kid in town, and will be the only one who gets to spend time with our hero on Father’s Day.

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