A Father Who Led Me to Community

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By William

“Hand me the 3/8 inch socket.” I dutifully glanced over the socket set, and with renewed purpose, quickly selected the 3/8 inch socket, the socket handle, and the short extension. Expeditiously, I assembled the pieces in my hands. My dad was grunting and struggling under the jacked-up car. He reached out his hand and I proudly held out the assembled tool. He grabbed it, and soon I heard the familiar sound of the socket ratchet against the nut. A few moments later. “Thanks.” And then “Got it,” as the nut broke free from 30 years of sitting against its metal partner. Slippery little devil, three more to go.”

This was a typical Saturday for me during those weekends visiting my father when I was young. I was sitting on the garage floor amongst the spread of tools, while my dad lay up to his knees underneath the old 1960’s British roadster we were restoring at the time. Often, I was the one on the floor, my full body beneath the car, breaking free a nut or bolt that had not seen a turn from a wrench in 30 years. On our first car, a red 1962 British Triumph TR3, we fixed as much with only elbow grease as we could. However, the engine seized up and my father got a second Triumph TR3 with a good engine but a rusted-out body. We swapped the engines and made one, new, restored car out of the two. Then there was a series of project cars: a Triumph Spitfire and an Austen Healey Bug-Eyed Sprite that he bought for a few hundred dollars a piece. We fixed them up as best we could without spending a lot of money and sold them off. Soon he had bought an old 1960 MGA. Its engine was seized up. It was powder blue, as the advertisements called the original color. My dad took to calling it wuss-blue. But it was that car that we stripped down, removing every nut and bolt over several years, until it was just a rusted frame sitting on his garage floor. He had the frame sandblasted and painted black. Then we began the slow process of building the car back up from scratch. All the parts were neatly laid out and categorized in plastic bags in the attic above the newly-painted frame. Those parts that were too degraded to be functional, we replaced with newly-manufactured replacement parts from the great British classic mail-order auto parts store: Moss Motors.

I remember the distinctive smell those cars had. It was a sweet mix of oil and mold and gasoline–something that I only smell on old project cars. That smell takes me instantly back to those bright days in my childhood. Still to this day, when my father takes me out to get a part for my modern car, we take that old 1960 MGA to the parts store. This time, I am the one laying on my back up under the passenger’s seat dashboard of my 2010 Mazda 6, pulling out the dead fan and replacing it with the new one we had just picked up in our excursion to the parts store. Now I’m 47. My dad is 78. Along with fixing stuff on my car, we still sometimes work on that same 1960 MGA roadster together. When I was young, my dad was skillfully teaching me teamwork and cooperation. At the same time, he was teaching me about cars and in general, how to attack and solve problems.

Now I do projects like this with my six-year-old daughter. She sprayed the “gunk remover” can while we scraped road tar off of my bumper. We plant things—like a Japanese Maple tree in the front yard of her mom’s house. We do odd jobs and fixes around my wife’s house. I am passing on some of the lessons to my daughter that my dad taught me.

I am a seminary dropout. I never could accept that Jesus was literally divine. My current pastor lovingly categorizes me best as a modern “Jewish mystic”. I still have that deep connection with God the Father: Jesus’s abba (translating to Daddy). It makes sense to me because I know the love of a human father. Other people think of God in different ways. In the Christian tradition, in the ancient Jewish scriptures that is the Old Testament, God is at once Sophia (the personification of God’s wisdom), a father, a wild unrestrained artist of the cosmos, a lover–softly wooing his beloved, the Great Gentle Gardner, and a creative force. I think that there are as many ways to think about God as there are humans on this planet. And that is ok with me. I believe that He meets us each in ways that make sense to us. I think of God as a good father. He or it, (or the vast creative energy that created the cosmos), is always teaching me to be better. And I believe that He (or She or It) led me to community.

I have struggled with bipolar depression I, the most extreme form of the disease, for about 29 years. I have been in and out of hospitals, and even some poorly-run mental health facilities, more times than I can recollect. And I’ve had many, many more long, dark nights of the soul. But I find a lot of solace in having a Perfect Father Creator somewhere within or behind the vast expanse of the cosmos. It has gotten me through so much. I hang out with a lot of retired pastors and an 88-year-old chaplain friend who taught me chaplaincy and Stephen Ministry (a peer-counseling program that was popular in many churches.) And, though I personally don’t believe Jesus is literally God incarnate, I have found some churches in my life where I am accepted, even with my “odd” beliefs. I go to these churches to hear the wisdom in the stories and teachings of Jesus and to have a community of loving people around me. Community is such a very important thing. Especially now, in this isolating Western world, where we tend to not even know our neighbors. In the Augustinian tradition, from which most Christian churches derive a great deal about the nature of God, God is said to be Triune–Father, Son, and Spirit–all in constant eternal community with one another…And in constant community with humans and the Church. So, I go to a church where community is such a fundamental thing. It is baked into the fabric of most churches. I serve meals to the homeless. I hang out with others in the church as part of my social circle. We tend (literally) the gardens of this good green Earth. I try in my own little way to make this world a better place by giving from what I have been given. It has done so much for me. And I have found community in places all around the world. From the Ghanaian Interior in West Africa (building houses with Habitat for Humanity) to the villages ringing a dormant volcano in Guatemala (where I went with a church group to help a nun build houses and teach English to the school children). I was once scared to be known. Now I seek out community wherever I can find it. Community is such a very precious thing. 

My earthly Father, though he was not perfect, taught me what a loving father is like. This led me to have a relationship with a Father in “Heaven.” This led me to community. Our lives are such circuitous paths. But I believe there is a light in the universe that never goes out. And it holds us up when we fall, surrounds us with people who love us, and leads us to find community. Here’s to you, my friends, my readers. I am always praying for you. May the road rise to meet you on your own journey.

William lives in mid-Michigan. He has a five-year-old daughter. He has written poetry for 28 years, wrote for a spiritual blog for five years, and writes for various blogs and newsletters.

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