I watched intently as my little brother was caught in the act. He sat in
the corner of the living room, a pen in one hand and my father's brand-new
hymnbook in the other.
As my father walked into the room, my brother cowered slightly; he sensed
that he had done something wrong. From a distance I could see that he had
opened my father's new hymnal and scribbled in it the length and breadth
of the first page with a pen. Now, staring at my father fearfully, he and
I both waited for his punishment. And as we waited, there was no way we
could have known that our father was about to teach us deep and lasting
lessons about life and family, lessons that continue to become even
clearer through the years.
My father picked up his prized hymnal, looked at it carefully, and then
sat down, without saying a word. Books were precious to him; he was a
clergyman and the holder of several degrees. For him, books were
knowledge, and yet he loved his children. What he did next was remarkable.
Instead of punishing my brother, instead of scolding or yelling or
reprimanding, he sat down, took the pen from my brother's hand, and then
wrote in the book himself, alongside the scribbles John had made: John's
work, 1959, age 2. How many times have I looked into your beautiful face
and into your warm, alert eyes looking up at me and thanked God for the
one who has now scribbled in my new hymnal. You have made the book sacred,
as have your brothers and sister to so much of my life.
"Wow," I thought. "This is punishment?"
The years and the books came and went. Our family experienced what all
families go through and perhaps a little bit more: triumph and tragedy,
prosperity and loss, laughter and tears. We gained grandchildren, we lost
a son. We always knew our parents loved us and that one of the proofs of
their love was the hymnal by the piano. From time to time we would open
it, look at the scribbles, read my father's expression of love, and feel
Now I know that through this simple act my father taught us how every
event in life has a positive side - if we are prepared to look at it from
another angle - and how precious it is when our lives are touched by
little hands. But he also taught us about what really matters in life:
people, not objects; tolerance, not judgment; love, not anger. Now I, too,
am a father, and, like my dad, a clergyman and holder of degrees. But
unlike my father, I do not wait for my daughters to secretly take books
from my bookshelf and scribble in them. From time to time I take one down
- not just a cheap paperback but a book that I know I will have for many
years to come, and I give it to one of my children to scribble or write
their names in. And as I look at their artwork, I think about my father,
the lessons he taught me, the love he has for us and which I have for my
children - love that is at the very heart of a family.
I think about these things and I smile. Then I whisper, "Thank you, Dad."