Everyone needs a friend named David. I’m convinced of it. I currently have two of those. I really like them because they are thoughtful, lovable guys who ask great questions and see things that I don’t. They pay attention to nudges.
I think I was in about the fourth grade when my family moved to the Atlanta area as Dad continued to follow a career with the company he’d worked for since college. We lived in a neighborhood in the shadow of a cool high school, and we kids could walk to our elementary school.
Across the street and one house down was David’s house. This is a different David; not one of those I mentioned above.
David and I became best friends from just hanging out together. He expanded my vision of things. Oh, we did all the usual stuff fourth-grade boys do. We played football, pretending we were the most popular players for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. They were sort of a local college football team, and it’s where my dad had gotten his engineering degree.
We also rode skateboards. All over that crazy, hilly neighborhood. Back then fourth graders could do that. One time I was riding my Spyder, a board about two feet long, down the really long hill just below our house. No other houses were down there, so the road was a pretty safe ride. That hill, though, was just steep enough that the speed could scare you, and this one day it got the better of me and I started this really crazy swerving thing. And I went down.
A few minutes later I was walking back up that hill having left a significant amount of my hide on the asphalt down there and was bleeding from my elbows and from hip to ankle. I don’t think I knew any bad words that day (fourth graders didn’t back then) but if I had I’d have been screaming them at my Spyder. David was with me that day and he’s the only reason I wasn’t squawling. I went in the house and David went home. My mom helped me with my wounds (a story in itself, for another time), and by the time Dad got home from work it had all become a good story.
I’m going to tell you about something else David and I did in a minute. But first, I want to tell you how David expanded my horizons one day. You see, I went over to his house a few days after Christmas one year to discover that he’d gotten a beautiful, red…electric guitar! With an amplifier! And, this is what blew my mind (it was a small explosion): he could play songs on that guitar! It had never occurred to me that kids our age could be musicians. It had never crossed my mind. And I was a guy who listened to the Top 40 on my transistor radio under the covers every night and knew every song. So, I thank David for opening my eyes to a certain level of art and creativity.
But here’s one of the best things David and I ever did. The lot next door to my house was vacant, as were the next several down that end of the street, on both sides of the street. Woods, in other words. Woods! Boys like us loved to be out in the woods climbing trees and trying to shoot rabbits with slingshots and stuff like that.
One day, we decided to build a treehouse. My dad had a bunch of tools like saws and hammers and hatchets. And, Dad knew how to do stuff, so we asked him to help us. He told us we could go around to some of the construction sites during the day and ask if they had any scrap lumber we could use to build our treehouse. He told us how many boards we’d need if we wanted the treehouse to look like a drawing he made for us, and with that we went on our scavenger hunt. All the construction guys were happy to find us something we could use, and in a day we had all the supplies we needed. Dad helped us figure out how to hold the boards up and nail them to the trees. Within a few days we had the floor in and some rails for the sides, and we rigged a canvass tarp for a removable roof.
When Friday night rolled around we had secured permission from David’s parents and from mine to sleep out in the treehouse overnight. This was Summer, so it was daylight late enough for us to get our sleeping bags and pillows out there, along with our PB&J sandwiches for supper. We had chips, of course, and my mother had provided some cookies in a little bag.
The thing is, back then we didn’t have a weather app on our phones because we didn’t even have phones. When it came to weather, you just took what you got. That night, somewhere in the very wee hours, we got rain. Not just a sprinkle, but what Dad used to call a “frog-strangler.” That canvass tarp didn’t help much, and before long we were soaked. We decided the only thing to do, though we hated it, was to climb down the ladder with all our soaked stuff and trudge the 40 yards through the woods in the pouring rain to the back door of my house.
How he knew we were coming hadn’t really been something I thought about until years later, but Dad was standing at the door waiting for us when we got there. He actually directed us to the basement door where all our wet junk could be hauled straight into the laundry room, and we could get into some dry clothes. My bedroom was down there and there were twin beds, so we eventually settled down and went to sleep in warm beds. With a story to tell.
Dad used to laugh when he told this story because, in his telling of it, we came through those woods dragging sleeping bags. Riding on the top of one of those, he would say, was that soaking wet bag of cookies my mother had made. Dad thought that was the funniest thing. I reckon it is kind of funny.
How long did Dad wait at the back door for us that night? David and I must have spent an hour or so out there trying to shore up that tarp to keep the rain from getting us too wet. And I know we sat there and laughed hilariously when all our efforts failed and we finally gave up and just got drenched. So, Dad had probably been standing there from the first raindrop he heard hit his window. Probably didn’t sleep much beforehand, just waiting for the rain he probably knew would come. (There was an eleven o’clock news report that usually led with a brief weather segment if there was anything noteworthy. That was right after a thing—I’m not kidding—that said, “It’s eleven o’clock. Do you know where your children are?”)
Remember: Everything I Know, I Learned From Somebody Else, and a good bit of it I learned from Dad. He said some cool things to me in the 65 years I knew him. He was 92 when we lost him in October ’21 and I’m still amazed at his wisdom and wit even during the last days of his life. But I’m pretty sure most things I’ve learned from Dad have been the non-verbal lessons. We did yard work together, and I held many a flashlight lying up under a car while he tinkered or changed the oil. He threw the football or baseball with me and helped me practice basketball in the driveway. He taught me to ride a bicycle, and how to patch a bicycle tire and how to put the chain back on my bike when it came off. We split firewood together and he taught me how to make a good fire. He taught me to fish, and to clean a fish. How to paddle a boat and a canoe, and even how to water ski. We swam together in lakes and in the ocean and I learned to body surf with him. We built sandcastles.
We went to church. Usually on Sunday morning and Sunday evening, and most Wednesday evenings. Dad sat down at the kitchen table most Sunday mornings and wrote out his check for the tithe.
He was the one who taught me to drive, though I did take Driver’s Ed in tenth grade.
You get the idea. All the while we were doing these things dad subtly bathed me in good values. He demonstrated a healthy family perspective. He was just with me, and that’s much of how it is that I have grown up. All of it didn’t sink in until many years later, Dad’s value stuff. Slowly, over time, I’ve noticed him in me. In the “dad” category, I could’ve done worse; couldn’t have done much better, I reckon.
There was a father whose son asked for and got an advance against his inheritance and took off from home to travel to “a far country.” This son blew his wad on bad decisions, finally ending up on skid row eating, basically, out of dumpsters and drinking from old beer cans and from Styrofoam cups he found in ditches. Then one day, I think, The Spirit nudged him to go back home and see if he could get a job on his father’s ranch. As that boy trudged down the road toward home, his father saw him from the front porch while he, the boy, was still some distance away. There’s no telling how long this dad stood on the porch looking down the road. He ran to his son, as the Scripture says, “falling on his neck.” The boy tried to begin the speech he’d rehearsed all the way home, but the father would hear none of it. He got his son some warm clothes, put a ring on his finger, and celebrated with the boy’s friends having barbequed one of the calves they’d been fattening for the family. I wonder if that boy later found an old bag of cookies his mother had packed for him before he left home…
“’For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:24)