If by mentioning my mother at such length in my two prior posts I have left the impression that she was the dominant parent during my childhood, such was not my intention. My father, the Methodist minister, was at least an equally powerful influence, if not the most powerful. While Mother was indeed a strong force for discipline, correct demeanor and the strict observance of social norms, my father was a beacon of moral and ethical behavior. But where Mother was forceful and didactic, Daddy---my revealing name for him even in my adulthood---led by soft-spoken example. He forever showed an almost tender tolerance; and he seemed to have an aversion to judging others, a rare trait in a preacher, though if presented with churlish or unkind behavior he had a remarkable capacity for rebuking it, not in confrontation but with gentle, sorrowing but unmistakably reproving words. I have never since met a kinder man.
I have said that Mother was the disciplinarian. That is true. But when I had committed a really serious trespass, the rules of our home dictated that the correspondingly severe punishment must be administered by Daddy. Mother would say something like, "You've done a really bad thing, Charles. And when he gets home, your Father will have to deal with you." This was a dire moment indeed, and not for me only, for Daddy made no secret of the fact that he hated to punish his children. Of course these were the days of rampant corporal punishment, but even in that harsher time it was clear that to inflict pain on another, especially his own, was deeply repugnant to him. I don't think he ever said, "This is going to hurt me more than it is you," but it was obvious that such was the case. I don't think I have ever seen so much distress on a human face as when he bent to this distasteful duty. And of course I in turn suffered immeasurable grief and guilt for having forced this ordeal on him by whatever thoughtless acts I had committed. The emotional agony I felt, my pity for him, hurt worse than any spanking.
He was a mild-mannered man. But when he rose to the pulpit to preach, he exuded an astonishing authority. Mostly his sermons were delivered in a tone of sadness, understanding and consolation, not as if, as a minister, he condemned human frailty and back-sliding but as if he knew from his own experience the everyday temptations and sorrows that afflicted mankind and, far from condemning them or reprimanding his flock for indulging them, urged instead a resort to faith, forbearance and spiritual strength. I still have some audio tapes of some of his sermons and when I hear them I am struck to my heart by the sorrow in his voice. He sounds as if the troubles of humankind were so painfully acute to him that he could barely force himself to face them.
But on other occasions he could unleash thunders from the pulpit that were, I think, born of his
gentle soul's abhorrence of deliberate evil. In this way I believe he showed how deeply the hatreds of his world---the hatreds every morning's newspaper announced, the evils that were tormenting Europe and the Pacific and the Far East---disturbed him. I think he understood those evils in a way my optimistic mother could not allow herself to do. He understood them and he was saddened almost to despair by their prevalence and force. I wonder too if he didn't struggle within himself over the question why the benevolent God he served could permit such horrors.
Nor were his passions limited to events overseas. He once served a church many of whose members were avowed members of the Ku Klux Kan. This was at the time of the Civil Rights Movement. He spoke forthrightly and passionately from the pulpit about the importance in Christian teaching of racial tolerance and redressing the grievances of black Americans, and none in the congregation dared resist his message. Somewhat later in that same period, in a different church, a black man appeared on the steps of the sanctuary and an usher raced to Daddy's study where he was preparing his sermon. "Preacher," he cried, "there's a nigger trying to come into the church." And Daddy said, "Well, show him in and give him a seat." If he could hurl thunders, he could also speak softly. And in both voices there was moral authority. There was power.
Both he and Mother have been gone now for many years. I myself am closing in on my seventy-seventh birthday. Already I have lived three years longer than my older sister and my maternal grandmother. I can sense the nearness of my own passing. More and more I find myself taking a retrospective view of my life. And as I do so I feel gratitude for my parents, for my relentlessly, sometimes tiresomely optimistic and demanding Mother and for Daddy, with his warmth, gentleness and abundant love.
TO BE CONTINUED