It was Sunday, March 13, 1977, and a group of people from our church, including my wife and I, were preparing to leave for a ten day tour of Israel and the cities of Rome and Amsterdam. I don’t remember if I hugged my mother as I said goodbye to her, but I probably did. However, at almost twenty-six years old, I was too old to hug my father. I’m not even sure if I said, “I love you,” before we boarded the motorhome that would take us to Little Rock. From there we would fly to New York City and then on to Amsterdam. The trip was enjoyable and uneventful, that is, until the following Sunday, March 20, 1977.
I remember that day as if it had just happened. We were getting ready for a day of touring and worship services when, shortly after seven o’clock, our pastor called and asked if he could come to our room to talk with me. I agreed but told my wife, “I hope he’s not wanting me to read a verse of Scripture or lead in prayer somewhere with all these preachers here.” (I was dealing with God’s call to preach at the time.) When our pastor and his wife arrived at our room, he informed me that my dad had been in an accident. He said he had fallen off a ladder and broken his leg and was in the hospital. This both concerned and confused me. I wondered, “How tall was the ladder? From what height did Dad fall?” That’s because my dad was always pretty tough, and what might cause a major injury for some would hardly phase him. Also, I could not understand why Dad was in the hospital with a broken leg. I had a broken leg once, and, yes, I was taken to the hospital to have it x-rayed and have a cast put on it, but I was not admitted as a patient.
Our tour continued, and finally we left Israel and flew to Rome. I think it was there that I first talked to my mother about the accident, although I did not get a lot of additional information. Our next stop would be Amsterdam again, and then home, and I was anxious to get back and check on my dad.
The day finally came to leave Holland and fly back to the United States. I remember the excitement I felt when the pilot announced that we had just entered U.S. air space. Just about every passenger on that KLM 747 began to sing “God Bless America.”
After a layover in New York City and a late flight toward home, we finally arrived at Adams’ Field in Little Rock. It was late when we started back to Texarkana. On the van ride home I learned a little more about my dad’s injuries. Not only did he have a broken leg, but he had lost the end of his right thumb. My wife and I arrived at our house around two in the morning, and after a restless night I was ready to go to the hospital to see my dad.
The next morning I met my mom at the hospital where she had spent every night since the accident in the ICU waiting room. My dad was in ICU! Upon arriving at the hospital, I learned the full extent of my dad’s injuries. He had fallen around thirty feet, not from a ladder, but from an electric pole. Yes, his leg was broken — into about a hundred pieces. He had lost the end of his right thumb. It was literally ground off by the asphalt when he landed with his right hand under him. His right hand was broken. His hip was out of joint. His pelvis was broken, and his scalp had been torn off. He had been give eight and a half pints of blood on the day of his accident as he spent from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in surgery. Two weeks after his accident, when the doctors were finally able to get good x-rays, they found that he had a hangman’s break in his neck. He spent eight weeks in the hospital and many more weeks recovering at home. Dad made as full a recovery as one could from such a horrible accident, but, with his right leg about one inch shorter than the left, he walked with a limp for the rest of his life.
In March of 1978, we went to Israel again. This time, as we prepared to leave for Little Rock and our flight to New York City, I was not too old or too much of a “man” to hug my father goodbye and tell him that I loved him. I had been given a second chance to show my dad how much I truly loved him, and i was not going to take it for granted.
I did, eventually, start preaching and pastoring churches, and until just a few years ago none of them were near where my dad lived. But, when we would come back to Dad’s for a visit, before we left to go back to our home, I would hug Dad and say, “I love you.”
Dad died on October 13, 2008. I had talked to him at 6:25 a.m. as I did every morning. Other than his saying that he didn’t feel well, things seemed normal. Less than three hours later I received the phone call that no one wants to get. It was my brother tell me that Dad was gone. The last thing I said to my father was, “I’ll talk to you later.” (I had told him “I love you” when we had talked the night before.)
I was given a second chance to publicly demonstrate my love for my father. It is neither childish nor unmanly to do so. We do not know how long we will have our parents with us. (My mother died in 1995.) I am thankful that I told my dad (and my mom) how much I loved him while he was living and could hear it. It makes being without him a little easier to bear.
If you are young, or if you are older, and you still have your parents (or a parent) living, take time today to say, “I love you, Mom, Dad.” As one who is now a parent of two almost grown children, I can tell you, it will mean more to them than any gift you could give them.