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A Father’s Love

Today marks one year since my father passed away. He was only 65, and died of a stealthy cancer that had already taken up camp in his body months before it was finally recognized.

My dad was angry about this, and felt robbed of the comfortable retirement he had neatly planned out. After four decades of teaching at the university level, he was looking forward to taking the first of many ocean cruises with his wife of 28 years, Regina. Instead, he made his first of many visits to the hospital for bloodwork and PET scans and chemotherapy treatments intended to ward off his disease.

I miss my dad with a deep ache in my heart. But I am deeply blessed by the time we spent together during the last year of his life, and the knowledge that we became closer and loved one another more than we ever had before.

You see, my father was something of a stoic. He raised me as a single parent for 11 years before he remarried, and although he loved me deeply, he wasn’t one for outpourings of affection. We were more like roommates, each going about our daily routine and carrying our weight in keeping up the household. He was also a strict disciplinarian, especially when it came to academics, and as a child I regarded him with equal parts adoration and fear.

More importantly, my father was an atheist. And, despite all his best efforts to teach me to be a “free thinker”, I became a born again Christian at age 34.

We never talked about religion, except once several years prior, when I was attending Catholic church. Having never been taught about God at all, Catholicism was a comfortable stepping stone in my journey of faith. It was also anathema to my father, who was raised Jewish and — although he was a theology minor in college — later chose to abstain from any religious doctrine or belief in a higher power. The conversation was laughable, like a child at her First Communion trying to explain the precepts of faith to a Ph.D., when she had only encountered a feltboard Jesus.

We never discussed religion after I was born again, and left the Catholic church in New York for a pentecostal congregation in Dallas, Texas. We never talked about what it meant for me to accept Jesus into my heart, or how the Holy Spirit truly transformed me from the inside out, softening the hard edges and filling me with joy, faith and compassion.

But he saw it.

I flew to North Carolina to visit my father several times during the last two years of his life, knowing — if only in theory — that our time together was suddenly limited. And, although I never witnessed to him or shared the gospel in conversation, I lived it. I demonstrated Christ’s love to him in every way I knew how, which sometimes meant just being there to encourage him with my companionship. I asked him to tell me stories about his accomplishments in high school and college, and I helped him organize the myriad photos, awards and papers that would mark his legacy. I assured him that my husband and I were happy in our marriage and financially secure — two things that mattered deeply to him.

And I told him that I loved him. Whenever I came to visit, and whenever we talked on the phone, I made sure to tell him — and as time went on, I felt it deeper and deeper in my heart. Despite the battles of my youth and our divergent worldviews in my adulthood, I respected and appreciated my father more than ever. Nothing could take away the pain and bitterness of his sickness, but he knew that he was loved, and there is no greater balm.

My husband Craig put together this wonderful video tribute to my father’s life to play at his memorial. I’m adding it here to honor him.

I love you, dad.

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Dr. Jay Rosenberg
1942 – 2008

February 21, 2009   3 Comments