What We Do Matters More Than What We Say
My dad didn’t give lectures or sit me down for “man to man” talks. Instead, he quietly modeled righteous living. This is my remembrance of him.
My dad died yesterday.
So this won’t be my usual newsletter about taking on the high cost of health care. Instead, it’s an honor for me to remember him with you through this tribute.
Darrell Wayne Allen was a man of few words, but his life showed that what we do is much more important than what we say. It’s easy as a parent to talk a good game with our kids. But talk is cheap, and too often it’s not backed up by our actions. We end up having to tell our kids, “Do as I say, and not as I do.” That wasn’t the case with my dad.
Dad didn’t have “man to man” talks with me. He didn’t do lectures and almost never raised his voice. But he didn’t need to. My dad blessed our family by the way he lived, which communicates more clearly than words could ever do. He modeled Godly living in such a way that he showed me and my brothers how we should live.
First and foremost, Dad was a faithful, born-again Christian, a sinner saved by God’s grace. (If you don’t know what that means, ask me and I’ll tell you.) Dad loved God and applied biblical principles to all aspects of his life, and by extension to our family. All the things he taught me that I’m mentioning here must be taken in that context.
Now let’s get into some of these lessons I learned from dad.
Dad never talked to me about being a faithful husband. He demonstrated it. I never heard him argue with my mom or put her down. I never saw him put himself first. Rather, I watched him serve her. Mom’s been afflicted by a lot of health issues: migraines, multiple operations and two bouts with breast cancer. Through it all, Dad cared for her selflessly.
Dad did not tell me how to be a good father. But when I was a kid he was home from work every day by 5. He attended every sporting event. And it was always clear that his family came before his career. Dad was a master investor and managed the Denver Public Schools pension fund. He could have ascended to higher profile and more lucrative finance jobs. But he turned down opportunities that would require him to travel more or work long hours. He wanted to be there for our family.
My Mom was more vocal about teaching me live a Christian life. But I saw Dad live it out. When I was a teenager, getting up early for my paper route, I saw Dad in his chair, reading his Bible and praying. He and Mom prioritized our involvement in the local church. Sundays were for church, not youth sports. My parents prohibited any activity that would interrupt our weekly attendance.
My parents lived generously. One time I caught a look of one of the checks they wrote to the church, and it astonished me. They taught us that 100% of Dad’s income was provided by God, and it was God’s money to be used for God’s purposes. Money wasn’t for indulging ourselves. They denied us material things we wanted because our family’s money had a higher purpose.
My dad let me live with the consequences of my bad decisions. I was academically immature and goofed around in high school. My grades were unimpressive. He didn’t berate me. One time he looked at my report card and said, “You know, a day may come when you wish you would have done better in high school.” He was right. I regretted it later. But I appreciate him letting me learn that for myself.
My dad did teach me – verbally even – how to balance a checkbook and be wise with money. But more important than that – he showed me. We loved to tease him about his saying about cars: “A car is to get you from point A to point B.” It’s not a status symbol. This helps explain why I still proudly drive a 2002 Honda Odyssey that has 257,000 miles on the odometer. It’s got some rust, the automatic doors don’t work and every now and then the interior lights flicker for no reason. But to me it’s like a faithful friend.
Dad and Mom didn’t go on lavish vacations or out to fancy dinners. But they helped me graduate from college with very little debt by steering me to a commuter school for my first two years and state school for my last two. Being debt free gave me the financial freedom to work in full time ministry for five years and in journalism for 20 more.
I never heard my dad complain. Not once!
Let’s talk about booze. My dad didn’t ever tell me not to drink alcohol – though my mom did. But he modeled it. I never saw my dad touch a beer or any alcoholic drink. The Bible says Christians should not get drunk, but it doesn’t say it’s wrong to ever have a beer or a glass of wine. So one time I asked my Mom why they never took a drink. “Alcohol destroys people’s lives,” she said, “and we want to take a stand against it.”
My dad was “old school” all the way. He grew up in a farming family and was the first in his family to get a college degree. He wasn’t affectionate or expressive with his love, but we never doubted his love or loyalty to us. This column could never sum up all the great things about him. He was a generous mentor and colleague at work. He gave expert investment advice generously to nonprofit organizations and family and friends. He was amazing with kids – getting down on the floor at their level and engaging them.
The gracious blessing of my dad’s influence and integrity is not lost on me. I didn’t do anything to deserve dad, and I know many people have not been as fortunate with their fathers. If that’s the case for you, I hope my dad’s life can be an inspiration for you, too.
Dad’s death, at the age of 81, did not come as a surprise. He suffered from dementia for about eight years, and the decline was heartbreaking. A death from dementia is a relief, a release from suffering. I grieved and mourned my dad’s death during his decline. Now I celebrate his death because he’s been delivered from the frailty of his human body and mind. Now he’s enjoying a new body and mind in heaven.
I know this sounds dark, but I have a sober appreciation for death. It is the one thing in this world that can make us snap to attention and reflect on the way we are living our lives. Death will bring us all to our knees and test what we believe. One of my favorite Bible verses, Ecclesiastes 7:2, says it’s better to go to a “house of mourning” than it is to celebrate at a “house of feasting. For death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.”
That’s why I’m writing this column. I’m “taking to heart” my dad’s death, and I hope you will, too. Perhaps that means living so our actions live up to our ideals. Perhaps it means loving our parents or our kids or our siblings and friends and colleagues in a way that’s selfless and authentic and unconditional. Perhaps our work needs to be about more than making money. Maybe some of us need to get right with God.
Remembering Dad isn’t just about being grateful for how he lived and took care of me and my family. It should also spur me on to love and good deeds. I hope it can do the same for you.
Death is my destiny and it’s also yours. Let’s take that to heart and let it change how we live.