By Shawn McMullen
Children look up to their fathers for many reasons. Some dads are admired for their business expertise and their positions in the corporate world. Others are esteemed for their leadership skills. Still others are highly regarded for their athletic prowess. A select group of dads are admired for their integrity and their love for their families.
I had many reasons to admire my father, Wilbur McMullen. As owners and operators of a local nursing home, he and my mother were highly regarded in the business community. Dad was a teacher and an elder in our church. He was an avid outdoorsman. A welder and pipe fitter in his earlier years, he could fix anything that was broken. He played the fiddle like nobody’s business.
The thing that endeared him most to me, however, was the selfless way he loved his family. Although I didn’t fully realize it at the time, I was growing up under the influence of a true man of God. He showed his love for us in some very creative ways.
When my brother Steve and I were in junior high school, we found a hognose snake in our backyard while mowing the grass. (When cornered, these fascinating creatures rear their heads and hiss wildly in defense, but ultimately roll over and “play dead” like an opossum. They make wonderful childhood pets, although I’m sure some of our readers would disagree!)
We placed the snake in an old aquarium and covered the top with a wire screen. We added grass and twigs. We set out to find bugs, worms, and anything else he might eat.
With our new pet settled into his new environment, we asked Dad if we could keep him in our bedroom. He said yes. (We lost him once in the house for a two-week period, but that’s a story for another time.)
Looking back, what amazes me most about this incident is that my dad hated snakes—and his was not the typical aversion. My dad hated snakes with a passion. And yet, for the sake of our joy and delight, he allowed our pet snake into our home. (I don’t think he came into our bedroom during that time, though.)
At age 15 I acquired my learner’s permit and began looking for excuses to drive the family car (accompanied by an adult, per state regulation). Unexpectedly, I found one almost every evening. About that same time, Dad began coming home from work with a stack of letters to take to the post office. Although the post office was closed by the time Dad got home, he asked me to drive him there to drop the mail into the box outside. I was happy to oblige.
Years later it dawned on me that Dad could have left the bills in a tray at the office and his receptionist would have mailed them. But he didn’t. He could have dropped them into one of several mailboxes on his way home from work. But he didn’t. As long as I had my learner’s permit, he brought mail home nearly every evening so I would have a reason to practice my driving skills.
I thank God for a father who loved me unconditionally—and creatively.