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.