A Letter to My Father
(Thanks to Jacob Spry for permission to share this exceptionally special piece.)
You have worn many hats over the years. You were super-hooked on your Browning camo hunting cap until the day you dropped it in front of the mower up north. You wore it less after it was shredded and marked with grass stains. Many baseball hats have graced your head. You typically donned matching head-gear corresponding to whichever team Aaron and I played for, expressing unconditional support no matter how awful our baseball team happened to be or how much you disagreed with the coaching. While you never officially coached us in public, I learned more from you while driving to-and-from games than from any coach I ever had.
When you became an old man and bought a crossbow, you started wearing the 10-Point camo hat that it came with, offering some pro-bono advertising. I have probably seen you wear 50 different hats in the 23 years we have been friends. Although your hat choice has often changed, I can always rest easy knowing it is the same guy underneath the hat. Doesn’t matter if it’s a hunting hat, baseball hat or even that bucket hat you decided to wear for an entire baseball season, you don’t change your personality, consistent love, calmness or wisdom based on the hat you wear. I am truly thankful for that.
Father’s Day is an odd holiday. I really don’t enjoy being told by society-at-large that on a particular day in June I must be especially thankful for the man who gave me life. I am thankful for you all the time, Dad--why celebrate this just in June? I reckon we have a national Father’s Day because so many fathers live their whole lives without being regularly told how truly special they are. They labor endlessly, sacrificing much for their wife and family. Fathers play a vital role in family and social life and it often goes unnoticed and under-appreciated. Growing up, I found myself occasionally forgetting exactly who was paying the water bill, car insurance and mortgage. To be honest, it was only in middle school that I came to understand that utilities were not a gift from our local municipality. I am thankful you came to that understanding long before I did and never failed to pay a bill.
Most Father’s Days I have offered you some lame gift--a free backrub gift card, maybe I made you a below-average breakfast-in-bed. This Father’s Day, hundreds of miles away, I will attempt to articulate exactly why I am so thankful for you, not just in the month of June, but all the time.
You own a NASA mug that has been around the house longer than any of us kids. On one side of the mug is a slew of mathematical equations related to launching a rocket into outer space. The other side of the mug explains the purpose and meaning of each equation and variable. You always loved that mug and I remember you using it often. I think that mug aptly represents an important aspect of your personality. You are an engineer, a numbers guy, a problem solver. You are a logical thinker driven by facts devoid of personal opinion. You navigate situations with a certain mental formula, separating emotion and passion from your reasoning. I have watched you use this method of reasoning often: when parenting me and my siblings, during your teaching career, while hunting, analyzing baseball games. Maybe it was your time as an engineer at Chrysler that molded your brain like this, maybe you were born this way. Whatever the case, I firmly believe that this quality you possess has allowed you to be the voice of reason and truth to everyone with whom you've come into contact.
A few years back your fingers swelled up badly, probably due to years of being our family bullpen catcher. This forced you to remove your wedding ring and switch to a flexible silicone ring. When I saw you without your gold wedding band, I was worried. I had never seen you without this ring. I think I asked if everything was ok with you and Mom, just out of concern. What is real crazy is that this July, you will have worn a ring on your finger for the past THIRTY YEARS. Being committed to anything for three decades is impressive, heck, I am just hoping I can keep my hair around for another thirty years. Maintaining a marriage through ups and downs, recessions and bonuses, fights and vacations, high points and lows, for thirty years, that’s just damn near amazing. You and Mom have an amazing marriage and an uncanny ability to work as a team, lead and love our family in your own unique ways and still find time to grow and foster your own relationship. You both are trustworthy and faithful, two essential qualities in earthly and spiritual relationships. I am overjoyed to have parents who daily set examples of love, humility and steadfastness. Thank you for showing me, and all my siblings, what a healthy, Christ-centered marriage looks like. Dad, your marriage and love for Mom is a blessing I get to experience and partake in the fruits of each and every day, for that I am thankful.
Oh man, do I distinctly remember the arguments that you and Mom used to have with Bailey over dressing modestly. Bailey would attempt to exit the house wearing shorts that were barely inches above her ridiculously long arm and finger length i.e. the hardline, historically-accepted, no-questions-asked standard of Christian modesty. Mom would come charging after her quoting scripture and threatening the wrath of God or something. Bailey would retort with some poorly constructed teenage know-it-all speech, attempting to outsmart and 'out-Bible’ Mom. If my memory stands correct, this method rarely was successful. However it exactly went down, you were always there to offer steady words and sound guidance. You never failed to support your wife in every motherly dispute and simultaneously ensured Bailey understood she was loved, she just needed to put on a HAZMAT suit before leaving the house. All jokes aside, you always found the perfect line to walk during those years, supporting your wife and daughter through disagreements, joys and struggles. Your sound logic and steady approach to life and relationships was contagious and probably the sole reason that Mom didn’t sacrifice Bailey on an altar, Abraham and Isaac style. You have always had a subtle way to diffuse tense situations and offer stability and peace. I am thankful for that.
Remember when Bella was born at home and you missed it? I can’t imagine the panic you felt during that moment, sitting helplessly in morning traffic. Bella came into the world on a beautiful summer morning and I remember waiting out front with Aaron looking for your car. I remember you rolling up so calm and collected to say hello to your newest daughter. Granted, you were beyond joyful and beaming with pride as you held Bella and hugged Mom, but you had a calmness about you. No anger poured out of you for being stuck in traffic, no amount of spite that your 45-minute drive to work was your downfall that day. You were steady, even as newscasters poured into our tiny little blue house on Clinton River Drive and stuck cameras in your face. I have never seen you express much anger in your life and any anger I remember seeing from you was either righteous anger or just after you missed a deer. You have always found a way to focus on the positive and harness any anger you might have had. Life can be difficult for many reasons and some kids have to navigate life with a father who cannot control his emotions. I cannot begin to express my gratitude to you for being a man in control; a father that can control his emotions and teach his children to do the same.
You and Aaron have always had a similar brain. The way you approach problems and solutions, your desire to understand how machines function and your interest in engineering are about the same. Some years ago, Aaron showed an interest and you taught him how to solder and build circuit boards, attaching tiny electrical components to little green boards. I always felt a little jealous you never taught me how to do this, and the truth is, I never asked or showed the slightest interest in electronics, so that’s on me. I remember being downstairs one day watching you teach Aaron how to solder, moving his hands ever-so-slightly, speaking softly as to not disrupt the work. You put hours into teaching Aaron the skills you knew, sacrificing your time and energy to share your craft with him. Your passion for engineering was so contagious it inspired Aaron to pursue a degree in the field. You are wicked smart Dad, and you have an incredible skill for craftsmanship and a dedication to problem solving. Raw intelligence and skills are wasted when used in the pursuit of personal fiscal gain and self-glorification. Their purpose is fulfilled when used to love and inspire others. I have never seen you waste your skills or intelligence, Dad. Instead, you have always freely offered to share your skills and wisdom with anyone who has been willing to listen. You are a giver, expecting nothing in return. For that, I am thankful.
I could tell story after story about you loving on us kids, being a good husband to Mom, providing for us and goofing around. I have 23 years-worth of memories about you, but I think one more story will do the most justice to your character and the point I am trying to make. This story was a defining moment in my life. It was April 26 of a year long forgotten. I was homeschooling, doing my typical daily routine, attempting to finish quickly so I could celebrate my birthday. I looked up from my work to see your car pull into the driveway. I was perplexed, it was too soon for you to be home from work, had something bad happened? I ran outside to greet you. You gave me a big hug and excitedly told me you were taking me to Comerica Park for a Tiger's baseball game. You had taken precious time off work to spend with me. At that time I was super stoked but didn’t fully understand the power of that day. To this day, I don’t remember the baseball game or anything else from that day, simply the fact that my Dad sacrificed his time to be with me. It may not seem like much, and it was probably a small sacrifice for you at the time, but it meant the absolute world to me. The World.
I can think of no greater act than that of self-sacrifice. For someone to put their own desires on hold and dedicate their energy and time for someone else’s betterment. It is a profound act and one I struggle to fully wrap my head around. Probably one of the most difficult virtues to practice daily is selflessness. It is what Jesus fully embodied when he died on the cross and He called us to replicate in our lives. Dad when I think about you and your life, I think of selflessness.
Other than our Creator, you are the best example of selflessness that I have been graced to experience. Your life is full of stories of you putting your own desires on hold, so that you can help others pursue their goals and dreams. You have never stopped sacrificing your energy to ensure all your children have a decent shot at life and the support that they need. You never have failed to put food on the table, a roof over our heads and gas in the cars. You work so unbelievably hard to ensure there is enough to go around and more than enough with which to bless others. Our house has always been an open door to those in need, not because we were rich, but because you worked hard so that we could bless others. In any given year you are working three different jobs, just to ensure that Mom can travel to see Bailey, Aaron and I can go to college and Bella can get a quality education. You are the rock of our family and the glue that has held us all together.
You have worn a lot of hats. I think your current hat is a rustic faded orange Hope College hat, a kind nod to my alma matter. I enjoy seeing what hats you choose as the seasons change, knowing that the man beneath the hat will remain the same. I have never had a nickname or fitting call sign (fighter pilot business) for you, but I would like to give you one now. I think “Old Pine” would be fitting. Not because of your age or your emerging silvery head (which is a sign of wisdom, as the Proverbs say). Old Pine because you are steady and trustworthy like a sturdy old pine tree. I always know when I come to you, you will offer your genuine self and wisdom. When life gets difficult or throws you curve balls, you don’t lose your calmness just like the pine tree doesn’t lose its needles in the winter. Trees are all about giving to others, offering shade, lumber and beauty, expecting nothing in return. You have always thought of others before yourself and never asked for anything in return for your services, wisdom and teaching. For you, Old Pine, I am thankful. Thanks for standing firm when I felt like my world was falling apart. Thanks for tying my tie on my wedding day. Thanks for offering wisdom and stability in times of distress and chaos. I appreciate you more than you know. Our whole family is thankful for your calmness and ability to navigate tough situations. We would be lost without you and honestly, probably without any running water as none of us would remember to pay the bill. Happy Father’s Day Dad, I love you. We all love you.
(Jacob Edward Spry lives with his wife Hailey Kate in Terre Haute, Indiana. They just celebrated their six-month wedding anniversary.)
"You have always thought of others before yourself and never asked for anything in return for your services, wisdom and teaching. For you, Old Pine, I am thankful."
"To this day, I don’t remember the baseball game or anything else from that day, simply the fact that my Dad sacrificed his time to be with me."
Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Praise the Lord, my soul;
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children— with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children—
Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
Father extraordinaire, Scott Spry, with Bailey June, Jacob Edward, Aaron Ray and Isabella Marie.
And, with the newest addition to the family, Scott is father-in-law to Hailey Spry . . .