Thoughts and a Prayer for Fathers’ Day

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
Within your house;
Your children will be like olive shoots
around your table……
May you see your children’s
Psalm 128

I’m thinking about my father. He died too soon, when he was 59, of emphysema, from smoking several packs of Camels a day all his life and working as a railroad fireman and engineer in the days of steam locomotives. I was 30 when he died, serving my second congregation in Lafayette, Indiana. Sue and I were busily raising four of our five children and still trying to figure out how to be adults. After some earlier tension with my father we had become close again. I had come to admire his hard work at a job he didn’t like, and I had come to respect his lively mind.

In the days when the only vacation we could afford was a several week sojourn to our home town to stay at Sue’s parents’ house, I rose early every day, stopped to pick up a New York Times and drove to my childhood home where I knew he would be in the kitchen with a fresh pot of coffee waiting for me. We talked every morning, and smoked of course. I don’t remember what we talked about but we drank the coffee and made a second pot when my mother appeared. It is a precious memory.

I gratefully acknowledge what he gave me: his sometimes irritating insistence that there was a right and wrong way to do every task, whether shoveling coal into the furnace, cutting the lawn, raking leaves or driving a car – defensively, drive the car, don’t let the car drive you, don’t ride the clutch, you’ll wear it out; his confidence that I could do whatever I chose to do – a bit of an overstatement, to be sure, but a great encouragement; his insistence that I go to college whatever it required of me; his big-hearted love for country – he teared up every time he heard the National Anthem; his love for his family and for me. I am so grateful that he lived long to know and love most of his children’s children.

I’m thinking about Bob Kearney, my father-in-law who worked as a laborer for the Pennsylvania Railroad all his adult life, never earned a five-figure income until he retired, was a faithful husband who took loving care of Sue’s mother when she was ill, somehow, on that modest income, provided a secure and loving home for his family and lived into his nineties, long enough to know and love his many grandchildren and great grandchildren.

And I’m thinking about John Boyle, the Rev. Dr. John H. Boyle. His wife Kathye invited me to preach at his Memorial Service yesterday and I did. He was the founder and long-time Director of the Counseling Center at Fourth Presbyterian Church and an Associate Pastor for the entire 26 years I served the church. John was a 19 year old Army Sergeant during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and was in the first American unit to enter and liberate Dachau. He was the kindest, gentlest man I ever met, an old school gentleman, utterly dependable and responsible. As a counselor/psychologist he touched the lives of thousands of vulnerable, hurting people who came to him for understanding, encouragement and comfort. He was 87 when he died last week after a valiant battle with cancer. In my sermon I said that he was my colleague, my mentor, my hero and my friend.

He, too, was a father and grandfather and, in a sense, he was my father in the faith.

I’m grateful for his life and the way he touched my life, too.

Dear God,
Jesus called you “Abba”, and we know it was an intimate word – “Dearest Father, Daddy”. He must have had a fine relationship with his father, Joseph, to use that word to address You. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for all fathers, for my father and father-in-law, for my fathers in the faith, for John Boyle. In their love I see a reflection of your intimate, encouraging, accepting parental love. I’m grateful for the great gift of being a father, for my daughters and sons and their children, my grandchildren. Thank you. And bless all fathers. In your holy name.


  1. Nola Taracko says:

    I can smell the coal from my PA grandparents’ furnace and I can see the trainyard as I look over the banister of their back staircase. I can smell the coffee—always on the stove. I remember Vandergrift and my grandparents and my dad – faithful to God, Country, and Family. I fondly remember JMB visiting me in my office at BSPC, eating candy and asking me about people. If I lose my memory, I hope it’s the short term..because the long term is too precious.

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