My dad was born into poverty at the foot of Raven Knob Mountain in Mount Airy, North Carolina. "Mayberry" in the Andy Griffith Show is based off this mountain town.
His mother was a devoted Christian…his father, a cowboy drifter.
For their survival, at 7 years old, dad began working alongside grown men in the tobacco fields. Cloth sacks were his pay. His mom used the makeshift material to sew clothes for him and his two younger siblings.
By the age 9, their dad had disappeared. This selfish act left a kid, the man of the house. But instead of living in the past, my dad spent a lifetime working to become a chain breaker.
Education was one way off the tobacco farm. So, at 18, with only a few dollars in his pocket, he hitchhiked to college. Dad earned a bachelor’s degree at Cumberland College and his master’s degree at Northern Arizona University.
In 1965, he married my mom, Claudie Cruce.
In ‘66, their first son was born. This was start of dad’s conquest to become the best father that ever lived. Roughly four years later, my brother, Jay was born.
During that time, dad rose rapidly through the ranks of school administration. At 28 year’s old he was one of America’s Top 10 Outstanding Young Men and the recipient of a Harvard scholarship. Both honors he only spoke about once. He also was a gifted writer and published poet.
By the time I came along in May ’77, dad was still a driven man. In order, his priorities were God, Family, and Others. Having been impacted to the core watching his dad walk out, he was determined to be led by God and raise three God-fearing sons.
Dad had one standard. If we didn’t meet the standard, we learned to rise-up. His word was his bond. Integrity was his personal brand. He didn’t talk it – he lived it.
Dad stood for Christ. Period. He was guided by the Bible. Period.
John was his favorite book. Psalm 121, his favorite passage. Romans 5:8, his favorite scripture.
Every night dad gathered our family in the den and read scripture to us. We would each take a turn praying aloud. At the time, I didn’t understand “why.” And quite frankly, I didn’t always want to pray, much less pray aloud.
But today, as I lead my own family, I am very grateful for his example and determination to lead us according to his faith in Christ.
He was honest to a fault. If mom asked “does this dress make me look big?” Dad couldn’t help himself – he had to tell the truth. Granted he wasn’t perfect. But as kids, we sure thought so. He never tasted alcohol, never spoke a mean word about anyone, treated everyone fair, never cursed, or even used a word remotely close.
But if you asked him, he was the most broken of all people. No one needed God’s saving grace as much as him. No one needed to rely on the Lord more than him. No one was further from God than him.
Perhaps my brothers, nor I, will never know the actual price he paid, sacrifices he made, or risks he took to ensure that our future would be brighter than the Mayberry sky.
My dad was a chain breaker.