“Could you buy a pair of jeans?” he asks hopefully with a hint of embarrassment. “Of course!” I reply. (“I’ll buy two pair,” I think to myself.) When I arrive in Sweden and deliver the requested Wrangler jeans, my dad responds with a grateful smile and an emphatic “Tack Tabita!” (Thanks Tabita!).
This was my dad.
Ever so humble. Ever so frugal. Ever so grateful.
I always wondered why my dad wore the same slacks he wore in the 70s. Well, they still fit, didn’t have any holes, and he had five kids requiring new clothes on an ongoing basis.
When you’re one of many siblings, spending alone time with a parent is precious and rare. I remember when we were camping in Southern California the summer of 1979 and the “little kids” were asleep in the camper. My dad and I went outside and he taught me how play Frisbee. He applauded my feeble attempts and made me feel like a Frisbee champion!
Another time, when I was eight, he took me Christmas shopping. I had 60 Swedish “kronor” (about $10) that I had saved up for the occasion. I managed to buy a present for every member of the family. Except my dad. He paid for his own.
He even tried to take me running from time to time. I needed it, but it was too much effort. Later in life when I started running on my own accord, I would call him and tell him my finishing times in races. I wasn’t fast, but he was proud.
He came all the way from Sweden to attend my college graduation in Waco, TX. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he said.
My dad quit school and started working at a bakery at age 12. He worked dozens of odd jobs (including helping in the galley of a ship en route to Africa), but eventually earned his college degree when he was in his early 30s. During his college years he learned to live on next to nothing and count on the generosity of friends and strangers to provide the necessities. He didn’t like asking for anything, but he received what he needed.
He had a deep, deep faith in God, my pappa. For much of my life, he served as the pastor at various churches, which made me a PK (pastor’s kid). I liked it. But I swore I would never marry a minister, because you’re never “off.” (Then I did. Except now he’s a professor.)
My dad baptized me on my 9th birthday. He also married my husband and I. (And he made the wedding cake.) When we decided to baptize our daughter as an infant, he didn’t fret. At least not out loud.
My parents were part of the Jesus movement in the late 60s and early 70s. They were Christian hippies. They spent some time living with recovering drug addicts in an intentional community and evangelized to everybody from prison inmates to the neighborhood kids.
Even during those last days in the hospital bed, his body fully invaded by cancer, my dad evangelized to the nurses by saying grace as loudly as possible and firmly believed he would recover.
When I learned that pappa had “days to weeks” to live, I jumped on the first flight to Stockholm. As I came to say goodbye to him before leaving to go back to the US, I couldn’t bear to challenge his faith by bidding him a final farewell. So after he bestowed a blessing upon me, I said “see you in a month!” and kissed him on the forehead. “Tack Tabita!” he said one last time. I held back my tears until I left the room and walked to the elevator sobbing, embraced by my brother and sister.
On June 9, less than a week later, my mother called to let me know that my dad had “moved home” while he was sleeping. He left this world with a satisfied smile on his face. The nurses dressed him in his jeans and the shirt he wore when he arrived at the hospital.
I’m glad he asked me to buy those jeans.
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