Fathers Who Have Blessed Me
By Pierre Hjartberg, Writer and Consultant
New Orleans, LA
Seems to me that I have been blessed with many fathers. As I have grown in both mind and stature-aged really-a father to me has become a male who has had a great influence on my life. There have been many of them. Here, quickly, are just four of them.
First, my real father: he was a fun fellow. As I grew up in my native Sweden I often heard him say, "The first thing I do when I get home in the evening is to whip the boys. I don't know what it's for, but they do." Well, during my youth in Scandinavia, when you sinned you paid for it. But I survived.
He had a fine tenor voice. To this day I can hear his clear voice echo across the lake at our summer home. "Oh, Store Gud," literally translated "Oh, Great God." We know the hymn as "How Great Thou Art."
When I was 16, my father, then 49, fell unconscious over the steering wheel in his car as we were driving in my hometown of Eksjo, Sweden. I was able to bring the car to a stop, shove him over and drive to a local hospital. It was 6 PM. At 10 PM I felt him squeeze my hand and went over to the other side. I have missed him ever since.
About two years later I came to the United States. After my freshman year at Northeastern University in Boston, I met some Baylor kids working with me as counselors in a camp on Cape Cod. The girls were cute. The guys were fun. They talked me into coming to Baylor. Said I would get a scholarship. That the Marshall Plan was still in effect! It was.
The man who really looked after me at Baylor was Vice President Guy Newman. He was responsible for my getting substantial financial relief at the Purser's Office. Without it I could not have survived. He also got me a job at the Union Building's Cafeteria. A 6-9 A.M. shift provided me with three meals a day. And Dr. Newman constantly checked on me. Cornered me about bad grades. Encouraged me about my writings in the Lariat. And every time I left him, whether it was his car or his office, we would shake hands. Warmly. And left in the palm of my hand was always a 5, 10, or 20-dollar bill. That was big money in those days. And it came out of his pocket, of that I am certain. He was a father to me.
I grew up in a devout Christian environment in Sweden. In fact I was confirmed in both a Lutheran as well as a Mission Covenant Church. OK, so it was not only a devout exercise. The girls were also an influence on a young teenager. It's tough to grow up. In any event I was told from the day I could comprehend that Christ wanted us to love everyone. That this was the Christian thing to do.
Later, as I grew and developed both in Sweden and the United States I found that there were people I just did not care for. People who frankly irritated me. I found this feeling to be a terrible conflict with the Christian beliefs I had been instructed to follow. It became a burden which was sometimes difficult to bear. One day at Baylor I got a note from Dr. Charles Wellborn, then Pastor at Seventh & James Baptist. He complimented me on a column I had written for the Lariat. I had never met Charles but decided to go and see him. My column, aptly titled "Much About Nothing," had by chance had something in it which interested him. A lifelong friendship ensued.
It was Charles Wellborn, now retired and living in London, who convinced me that you could love someone and still not like them. That the world was big enough for that. Wish them God's love and speed. But away from you. This took a big load off my shoulders and changed my life. I was free, at last. Through that and many other pieces of sage advice, Charles Wellborn has indeed been a loving father for the last forty-something years.
Then there is Matthew. He is but 9 years old. The first of four grandchildren. He still looks me in the eye and seldom blinks. It's been said that it is in the spring and autumn of a man's life that the world seems clearer and there is more time to enjoy it. So it has been with Matthew and me. While the 58 years between us will never shrink away, there have been times when we have been in the same time zone, the same wave length, communicating as equals. It has been a rare experience.
I am convinced that he did not just appear in September of 1993, but that his soul had been out there, somewhere, for some time. He was just waiting for his name to be called. For the curtains to part so he could enter the stage. As I have tried to teach, I have really been the one to receive. Not too long ago as I sought to share some wisdom with him he said, "Pappa, why do you always tell me things I already know?"
And I thought about Robert Frost and his poem, "What Fifty Said":
When I was young the teachers were the old,
I gave up fire for form till I was cold.
I suffered like a metal being cast.
I went to school to age, to learn the past.
Now I am old my teachers are the young.
What can't be molded must be cracked and sprung.
I strain at lessons fit to start a suture.
I go to school to youth, to learn the future.
Once again Frost proved to be right. Not only do "good fences make good neighbors," but in my case, too-"I went to school to age, to learn the past" and now, some sixty years later, "I go to school to youth, to learn the future."
You are a good teacher, Matthew, and I love it in your class. And I am still learning. Just like I did from my own father, Guy Newman, and Charles Wellborn. I loved and love them all. Also, thank you, Lord, like them. But one has to keep on going because, like Frost wrote, "I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep."