I wish I could call my dad on the phone today and sing him “Happy Birthday!” the way he and my mom always did for me once I’d left home. No matter my age, my parents were sure to call to sing–my dad with his lovely voice and my mom with her tone-deaf one. It was silly, expected, and yet delightful. I would listen, feeling somewhat awkward, but my heart welled with pleasure every year. I wish I could return the favor.
If he were alive, my dad would be celebrating 83 years on this planet. The last time we celebrated, however, he turned 76. And the next day was the beginning of his end. He fell and broke his hip. His health had been declining–a dubious diagnosis of malabsorption disease, in which his intestines refused to absorb nutrients from the food my dad ate. He had wasted away, suffered from edema in his legs and arms, and slowly became a shadow of the man he had been. The broken hip was merely the last straw. The hospital, the rehab centers, the few weeks of supposed normalcy, followed by Hospice at home passed far too quickly, and John Edward Souders went to be with Jesus on Dec. 6, 2005.
My mother had been reading their daily devotion, which happened to be I Corinthians 13, aloud to my dad; when she finished, she told him how much she loved him, gave him permission to go, and he breathed his last. It was a beautiful ending to a beautiful life.
I still miss my dad.
He was the silly one of the family, telling corny jokes and singing songs. We didn’t listen to the radio; we sang en route to where we were going. I grew up singing “Down By the Old Mill Stream” and “Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy,” joying in the fact that I understood the nonsensical words. I always giggled when we sang “She’s Got Freckles on Her But(t) She is Nice” and remained fascinated by Dad’s “A B, C D goldfish? L M N O goldfish. O S A are!”
We also sang some serious worship songs. My parents were Christians who actually trusted God to provide. I remember driving to church–a distance away–on a nearly empty tank, singing praises to Jesus the whole way there and back. My parents were convinced we needed to go worship despite the lack of fuel; we never got stranded. My own faith blossomed–my love for singing was established. At one point in a drive when something had gone wrong, my dad went on the offensive, making up a song rebuking Satan. It was simple, but it became a part of our repertoire:
“I rebuke you, Satan.
I rebuke you, Satan,
By the blood of the Lamb.
I rebuke you, Satan.
I rebuke you, Satan,
By the blood, by the blood, of the lamb.”
Our singing did more than fuel our car and fight off the enemy; it filled my heart with love for God and love for my dad. I always hear my dad’s voice when I sing “There’s Just Something about that Name”; in fact, when I was called on to sing it as a solo, I was so overcome by emotion I couldn’t finish.
If my dad had been here then, he would have cried too. Because as silly as he was, he was a sentimental sweetheart. Often, I’d sit in church, touched by a song or a sermon, with the tears flowing. I’d reach out to my dad–who passed along his handkerchief, just after he’d wiped his own eyes. The things that touched my heart touched his as well.
Singing was his gift to me. When I hear that heaven might include singing and praises to our heavenly Father, my heart cheers! When I get the opportunity to sing with a group of people, my heart is happy. Singing isn’t just my dad’s gift; it’s part of his legacy. It’s a tool God can use to soften my hard heart, to get my attention, to draw me close to Him. It’s also a gift I can share.
My youngest son, Adam John, is named after my dad; my dad called him his namesake and took particular interest in him. When my dad was sick, it was Adam who accompanied me on the frequent journeys to my childhood home so we could cheer him and help my mom. He was with me and my siblings as we joined together around my father’s bedside and sang songs at his request. (And stopped at his request.) He didn’t shrink back even during the final hours of my father’s life, and when my father passed, my youngest said to me that he wanted to be called Adam John (rather than Adam) in honor of my father.
I can only imagine the joy my dad would have, seeing his namesake now, singing in the school choir and taking a significant role in the school’s musical, “Fiddler on the Roof.” The gift goes on.
And while I wish that my dad were here to sing “Happy Birthday!” to today, I am more than thankful that I have a dad I do miss, a dad who shared with me his gift of song–and his love for a Savior.
Thanks, Dad. And thank you, God.