On September 7, 1968, just five days after my tenth birthday, I was lying in a hospital bed with an IV in my arm. At the time, I had no idea how serious my condition was. No one wanted to tell me.
It was late on a Saturday afternoon. I had been developing symptoms over the summer. I became very ill when I ate my birthday cake a few days before, but did not know what was going on. As I was lying there in that hospital bed, my parents were not sure if I was going to survive. I did not know they felt that way until several years later.
I could hardly move. I was severely dehydrated, so my father could only give me ice chips to suck on. While he stood beside my bed giving me the ice, he told me that I needed to build my vocabulary. “What does ‘vocabulary’ mean?” I asked him. I did not even know what that word meant. Looking back, it seemed kind of strange that he would talk about that. I suppose he was simply trying to take my mind off the gravity of the situation, and the pain of having a needle stuck into my nearly-collapsed veins.
The diagnosis came back childhood diabetes, now known as Type 1 diabetes. Needless to say, my vocabulary increased dramatically during those two weeks in the hospital. I had to learn lots of medical terminology and learn a great deal about human anatomy. At age ten, I had to become and adult and learn to treat my own condition. I could not be discharged from the hospital until they watched me prepare and give myself an insulin injection.
So began my quest for knowledge. My father brought me books of crossword puzzles while I was still in the hospital. He said that they would help improve my vocabulary. One thing I learned is that it takes vocabulary to do crossword puzzles. I never mastered them, but I do like the game of Boggle and the Jumble Puzzle in the newspaper. I have become quite adept at plays on words in speech.
About three years later, my father also gave me some more advice. While I was preparing my four year plan for high school, he told me that I needed to study a foreign language so I could go to college. With the options of Latin, French, or Spanish, I chose Spanish as the most practical. At first I struggled with it because I could not find a way for it to stick in my mind; but once I found the system, I began to augment my vocabulary in two languages.
When I was sixteen, my father took me on my first mission trip to the Mexican border. I was hooked. I discovered quickly how little Spanish I actually knew after only about two and a half years of study. I came back determined to learn the language well. I drove Mrs. Gibson crazy in high school. I asked lots of questions that she would not answer in class. She told me in private that I was asking questions that were too advanced for the level of class I was in. She gave me lots of resources so I could learn on my own. All the way through high school and college, I never made less than an A in Spanish. When she retired, she gave me the actual teacher’s copies of the books she had used to teach me in class.
My life would never be the same. I had changed forever. From travels to Mexico I began going to Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Belarus, Ukraine, and Thailand. Most of this was to do mission work, while some of it was for simple traveling vacations. These experience have made me the man that I am today, and I can trace it all the way back to that conversation I had with my dad as my life hung in the balance.
Your dad may not be perfect, but he has left an impact on your life. He may have done some wrong things, even some bad things; but nevertheless, he loved you. This Father’s Day, if your father is still alive, think of all the positive things that your father did for you. It is often too easy to focus only on the negative. If your father is no longer alive, remember the good and forgive the bad.
If you are a father with children still living at home, think about the legacy you are leaving your children. How do you want them to remember you? What will you want them to be able to say at your funeral? Then begin living like that today. Leave a positive legacy for your children.