The Dancing Puritan

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Story in the Photograph: A Father's Day Reflection

In 1878 Thomas Spurgeon was asked to accompany his father Charles to Mentone, France (where Charles often sought rest, renewal, and recovery). Charles was suffering, as he often did, with gout. Thomas was reluctant to agree to the trip because he was facing various challenges of his own. However, Thomas did accompany his father and was very glad. He wrote:
As it happened, I had not been a week with him ere I could write, 'What a good father he is, to be sure!  I loved him much although away from him, and now my affection will increase by being with him.' So, indeed, it did. Three months at Mentone, under the varying experiences of earnest work and happy recreation, of growing health and sad relapse, of fair and stormy weather, gave an insight into his character such as I could not have gained in any other way. Many a time, since then, have the memories of that sojourn in the sunny South, with the dear man of God, been an inspiration to me.

Charles would see his strength renewed though he continued to suffer affliction throughout the rest of his life.  Thomas would never forget his extended visit with his dear father.

The photograph above is of my dad and my daughter Lydia. Since his early forties, dad suffered from heart disease. Yet he continued working and loving. He seemed to be the one person who would always bounce back from near-death-experiences. The photograph is before he (and we) discovered that it would not be heart disease that would be the affliction, used by our Lord, to end my dad's earthly life, but cancer.

The photograph is one of my favorites. It is a revealing picture of his heart and life. His eyes, his arms, his hands, and even his clothing, all give important clues to his story.

Though his body was feeling the weight of suffering, the strength in his arms and hands is evident in the photograph. How often he would shake my hand and as his hand enveloped mine, with a playful squeeze, it felt as if my hand would be crushed to powder.

Dad's strength was not gained by working out in a gym. No, his God-given strength was gained by years of hard labor. His tanned skin was not the result of sunbathing but through thousands of hours laboring outside. He worked because, well, that is what real men do. They work, they provide, they labor long and hard, because they are entrusted with the responsibility of loving a wife and caring for children and often for extended family. For my dad work was a duty and a delight. His arms, hands, clothing (work clothes) and surroundings (garden in the background) all tell a story of strength under trial, hard work, and love freely given.

There is something else about his arms and hands. He used them to show affection. Notice his substantive embrace of Lydia.  He is holding her close and tight. Notice the look in her eyes, she feels his love. She feels secure. She is in the arms of strength and she overflows with the joy of being loved.

My dad's eyes uncover his pain and his love. Dad was easily moved to emotion over both happy and sad events. He was not ashamed to shed a tear or to express his love for family and friends. I think that the photograph captures his pain and his love. From my dad I learned the importance of  unconditional love. His eyes showed it. He taught me that real love must be expressed.

The photograph tells the story.

Like Thomas Spurgeon, there were times that I was busy and it was not convenient to accompany my dad. Also like Thomas Spurgeon there are lessons that I could not have gained any other way than by spending time with him. I needed to see his eyes, feel his embrace, and shake his hand. And now I need, with my own eyes, arms, and hands to practice his example by working hard, and loving others.

What story will your photographs tell?