Of Fathers & Sons

With Father’s Day fast approaching, my thoughts are frequently on my dad. It has been more than two decades since I last spoke to him, and while his death doesn’t sting any longer, I still miss him. His cancer was diagnosed when I was just six years old and it was our dark companion until it took his life in my early twenties. In most of my memories, my dad was sick and, for good and ill, his weakness shaped our relationship. So much was denied us, but his impending death made his time with me intentional. He wouldn’t squander the time he had. Because of this, I got the best of him, and his best was exceptional.

I have too many grand memories to choose a favorite, but this one is today’s choice. When I was nine or ten, the family was vacationing in Sabie, a picturesque region in South Africa’s northeast. Dad decided that he and I were overdue for a manly quest, so early one morning the two of us ventured out with some thick steaks and a spirit of adventure. After a long drive into the mountains and a day together we found a picnic site and set about the work of preparing a man’s meal.

Almost immediately, we discovered our dilemma. There was no grill grate. We had nothing to cook on. I immediately succumbed to despair, only to see the sparkle of glee in dad’s eyes. Scouring the undergrowth, he found a rock that was relatively thin and flat. After scrubbing it down with Coke he propped it on top of a fire pit and assured me that this was nature’s finest cooking surface. I was dubious—I was also grieving the amount of Coke he had squandered. It took an exceedingly long time for the rock to get hot enough to cook on, but it ultimately did. To this day, I cannot remember a finer meal.

It was an adventure, a memory, and a lesson all rolled into one. Dad showed me that God has designed men to conquer, and we need adventure to feel alive. And I learned that problems that need solutions are not an end to play, but a game in themselves. He taught me all this by marinating a rock with soda and turning it into a hotplate. Vic Brandt was a wonderful man, and the world’s best dad!

Some time ago I was tucking my son in bed, when he asked me, “What are dad’s for?” He knows I love him and that we’re tight, but he wanted to know “What are you to me?” My answer was immediate, “Dad’s teach their boys how to become men.” The answer satisfied him and surprised me. I didn’t think about it before speaking. The answer came unbidden from somewhere deep—from where my father had put it years before.

10 thoughts on “Of Fathers & Sons

  1. What a wonderful story! As a mother of a man-in-the-making, I have to remind myself often that God made my little boy for adventure and conquest. He made him to be strong, brave and courageous. It’s often hard to afford a little man such freedom. Thanks for sharing and reminding us that God made you guys for an awesome purpose!

  2. AS I am reading your stories I find myself trying to speak in your language/dialect. It is funny and confusing when I catch myself trying to do it!

  3. Father’s day from the perspective of an adopted son as I think about it, isn’t any different but as I think about the book I was read as a young boy titled “the chosen baby” it made me realize how much my father wanted me to understand that his love was extra special because I was chosen. I am blessed to still have him in my life and I too have fond memories but the lessons that ring true time after time were the lessons of sacrifice and humility and the benefits to be slow to anger. Now he fishes and restores antique cars and I treasure his fatherhood!

  4. What a loving tribute to your father! And, Ryan is fortunate to have the Brandt legacy, because I, too, believe boys become men in the company of men. As a wife and mother, I am also grateful for a church and its leaders who build up and invest in our men from youth on into all the phases of manhood. Thanks for “manning up!”

  5. I was with my dad the night he died in the hospital of congestive heart failure. He died about a week sooner than the doctor expected. I learned a valuable lesson that night. An hour before he died, he said, “Ralph I’m dying.” When he said it, I thought he meant it figuratively to say he was in extreme discomfort. I talked him through an imaginary round of golf to take his mind off of his discomfort. We made it through 9 holes and he quit breathing. As I drove back to my parent’s house that night, It hit me like a ton of bricks. When he said he was dying, he meant it literally. I should have prayed with him right then and there. I’ll always regret that.

  6. Ralph, everything happens for a reason. Perhaps your misinterpreting the comment and talking about golf brought a sense of familiarity and calmness to your father and made things a little less traumatic for him. The main thing he needed was for someone who loved him to be there with him. You have nothing to regret.

  7. Some men are just wired to be so diligent in their parenting. My grandfather was a man like that. He put so much into making me the man I am today and made it look effortless. He always seemed to have the answer to the questions I was really asking even when my mouth was trying to hide my true questions. As a man that is a parent now I can truly say praise God for the men who truly help raise men to be men because they help not only the next generation to become men but build a lasting legacy as those of us guided by them try to pass on what we’ve learned.

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