Today is my dad’s birthday. I enjoyed growing up in his shadow. Most people knew him in our small town. Add the fact my dad enjoys talking to people, so strangers quickly become acquaintances or friends, and I was quickly identified as the youngest of the Hacke girls.
I often tagged along behind my dad on the family farm. I’m sure he could have completed his work much more quickly without me behind him, but I don’t remember feeling as if he minded. (Perhaps I was just oblivious!) One of my favorite places to be was the small ledge behind him in the combine. I also enjoyed riding in the pickup with him to feed the cattle or to check the crops. We took a couple trips together as I got older. I rode behind him on the motorcycle when I was in junior high. We looped through Michigan and Wisconsin, exploring such places as Mackinaw Island and House on the Rock.
As great as my memories are with my dad, I have to say one of my favorites occured more recently when, a few months ago, I sat behind my dad on his four-wheeler. I was visiting my parents for the afternoon, and he offered to take me for a ride on some trails a neighbor had recently created. We rode slowly, crossing the rode and following a field road I had walked many times to visit friends in a nearby subdivision. We skirted around the building that used to be used as a small airplane hangar, owned by a commercial pilot but used by several pilots, including my dad, who shared a Cessna with a friend for several years. I remembered many weekend morning flights to pancake breakfasts in small airports.
As we worked our way onto the trails, I asked my dad a question or two every now and then. He sometimes share a quick story about a connection to someone I might know. Most of the time, we rode in silence. I watched the light filter through the trees and mottle the leafy ground. I listened to the small sticks crunch beneath our wheels. I smelled the fresh, damp air and was refreshed. But mostly, I paid attention to my dad. I noticed the back of his neck – the same sight I’d seen for hours when we’d ride the motorcycle. I saw a bit more gray and a few more wrinkles, but I also saw familiarity in the way his skin was weathered from years of farm work and his hair slightly curled on the ends. I listened to him breathe, noticing how relaxed he becomes when he’s outside among nature. My dad has never sat still well for long, and he certainly doesn’t like to be trapped inside, but put him outside, especially moving through the woods or fields, and he’s entertained for hours by the changing landscape, wildlife and details of everything around him. I watched his hands wrapped around the handles. His hands have been strong for me. The realist in me recognized my dad couldn’t do everything, but the little girl in me always believed he could. There will always be a part of that little girl in me.
We drove out of the wooded area and into the open fields, and I asked him about the “bridge” he had built across a small creek. Apparently it had been washed away earlier in the year, but he’d rebuilt it and agreed to show it to me. On the way, he described the design of it, which included an old fence with a bit of reinforcement. I laughed when I saw it. My dad has always loved to solve problems with whatever he can find around the farm. He’s a simple guy, but I think his problem-solving abilities could rival a professional team of engineers and architects. I took one look and thought there was absolutely no reason as to why it would be sensible to cross such a homemade bridge. But that thought was secondary to the trust I had in my dad. If he built it and was confident enough to cross it with me on the back of the four-wheeler, I had no doubt I’d be fine. I had no apprehension because I fully trust my dad.
We crossed that bridge not once, but twice. As we began the ride home, I thought of what a blessing that hour with my dad was. Even more so, I thought of what a blessing it’s been to be my dad’s daughter. He’s not perfect – of course, no earthly father is – but the trust I have in him and in his love for me has served as a solid foundation in my life.
From my seat behind my dad throughout my life, I saw a piece of my life through his perspective, and he believed I could do anything. He dreamed dreams for me. He shared possibilities. He watered the roots so I could grow into whatever was next in my life. The most important gift he gave me was a blank canvas. Because of his consistency, I have a strong foundation of faith. Because of his dreams, I have a trust in faith. Because of his compassion, I have a faith in serving others. Because of his fatherhood, I have faith in a heavenly Father who cares, loves, and sacrifices.
I am blessed to have followed behind my dad, and I’m treasuring every hour I’ve had and will have.
I challenge you to pay attention to whom you have sat behind and whom you’re sitting behind now. Follow quality people, because you’re going wherever they’re going.