My dad, who died a few years back, was a United Methodist pastor. That makes me a “PK,” as we’re known in the business – a pastor’s kid.
Growing up in a trim white parsonage at the edge of fields and forest, in a family of 7, in the 1970s, was rather Cleaveresque. By which I mean that while there was a good deal of discipline – reach across the table for the shaker rather than primly asking, “James, would you pass me the salt, please?” and my father would skewer the back of your hand with his fork – there was also a great deal of good-natured ribbing, completely unsupervised summer days of doing pretty much whatever we wanted (mostly building forts in the woods, stealing vegetables from the public gardens, setting small fires in inappropriate places), and a general “Free to Be You and Me” sort of personal liberty.
Today I received in the mail the outline of a sermon that my father gave back in 2005, when he was guest preacher at his former church in Cape Porpoise, Maine, a vibrant little white clapboard place of the type that simply screams “New England.”
The sermon is entitled “Lessons My Kids Have Taught Me,” and while what I have is little more than a few notes, I can envision my father’s delivery, the way he’d make his voice rise and fall, the little pauses for emphasis. My dad was a fantastic preacher. He understood timing. He understood understatement and the value of self-deprecatory humor. “A lion of a man,” his successor in the pulpit once said, and that pretty much sums it up.
Anyway, here are the notes from that sermon, fleshed out a bit and with explanatory notes where needed.
The Treadwell Ark: “Lord, what a menagerie.”
– Five kids, 4 male, 1 female
– Dogs, gerbils, iguanas, birds, mice, turtles and snakes, including a 7-foot boa constrictor.
Our First Born, Stephen
– Easter bonnets in the toilet [I don’t know this story, but it sounds characteristically destructive.]
– Lestoil on African violets [He managed to kill the whole collection. Maybe he thought it was fertilizer, or something.]
– Absorbine Jr. in the sister [He almost managed to kill her with this topical pain reliever.]
– Aeronautical engineer – paper planes in worship [A church service, for kids, is intensely boring. We’d liven it up as best we could, and I don’t know many service programs that didn’t end up as paper airplanes.]
– Adult conversation repeated. I shared with Nancy [my mother] over dinner one night that I had been to visit one of our church women that day. She was having a great deal of trouble with blots clots in her legs. It was painful and frightening.
The next day, at the Women’s Society Luncheon, Swanee, as the woman was called, limped in a bit late. As she sat down at the far end of the table, our cute little boy shouted out, “Hey, Swannee, how’s your bloody leg?”
Getting ready for college.
“I’m not going to college”
POW! We weren’t ready for that.
“Why not?” we asked.
“I’m not ready.”
We backed off, and three years later he called us one day. “I wanted you to be the first to know. I’ve just enrolled at the University of Vermont. I’m ready to do it now, and I want to thank you for being so understanding and patient with me when I know how disappointed you were.”
– IF YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR YOUR WORDS REPEATED IN A PUBLIC SETTING, DON’T SAY THEM ALOUD WHEN THE KIDS ARE AROUND.
– RESPECT YOUR CHILDREN’S ADULTHOOD, LISTEN TO THEM THOUGHTFULLY, AND PRACTICE PATIENCE.
Our Second Born, Judy
– Only girl, four brothers.
– They adored their bright and gifted sister who helped them with their homework, went to bat for them when they were in trouble with their parents.
– They sympathized with her when, as a new teenager, she had to wear eyeglasses, a mouthful of orthodontic hardware, and a massive metal brace that extended from her hips to her neck in order to correct her scoliosis. They lovingly referred to her as their Bionic Sister.
Challenging her teacher in high school.
Teacher: “Who was Martin Luther?” A roomful of silence. “Surely our resident theologian [as, of course, a pk] can answer that one for us. Judy…?”
Judy: “Of course I know who he was, but I’m not going to answer the question. You have no right to expect me to answer all of the questions related to religion. It’s simply not fair.”
Teacher: “I’m sorry, you’re absolutely right, Judy.”
– WOMEN ARE NOT THE WEAKER SEX.
– IF YOU TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO BE INDEPENDENT, DON’T BE SURPRISED WHEN THEY AIM IT IN YOUR DIRECTION.
Our Third Born, Tim
– The family jock – basketball, soccer, hunting, fishing
– Least academically-oriented, Mr. Personality, loved a good party
– We hoped he might get an associate’s degree in something
– He surprised us, insisting that he was going to get a bachelor’s degree from Johnson and Wales University. Four years later we proudly attended his graduation and watched him land a job as food and beverage director of a 4-star hotel. He’s now an executive vice-president of a major hotel chain, overseeing 654 properties in North America.
– DON’T SELL YOUR KIDS SHORT.
– ENCOURAGE THEM TO SET GOALS AND WORK TO ACHIEVE THEM.
James, Our Third Son and Family Artist
-Toward the close of his junior year in high school, I sat down with him one night to discuss his course selections for his senior year. He showed me his program for: Biology, advanced Algebra, English, and German. It struck me that he was taking a pretty demanding schedule. I suggested that for his fifth subject he choose something that would be less taxing, while at the same time fun to do. He surprised me when he went down the list and stopped at ceramics, something he said that he had always wanted to try.
A month into his senior year Nancy and I attended parents’ night, at which his art teacher enthusiastically described the way in which the energy seemed to flow out of the tips of our son’s fingers as the clay was formed into a perfectly-formed vessel. He was gifted, and she was mesmerized. We soon came to appreciate the message on his clay-spattered t-shirt: “Clay without Art is Mud.”
– LISTEN WITH SPECIAL CARE TO THE QUIET ONE.
– DON’T GET HUNG UP ON THE EARRING.
Our Fifth Born, Matthew
Entered the world on September 17, 1970, the same date as his grandfather Edward Macauley and great grandfather Ephraim Macauley.
We’re playing catch in the back yard, I look up to watch a red-winged blackbird fly by. Matt throws the ball, ball smashes into my cheek. Take James to school, and sneeze. The cracked cheek bone blasts open and my head blows up like a basketball. For several months thereafter I’m known affectionately as “Old Airhead.”
Years later, Bishop Bevel Jones is visiting from Kenya. Matt comes down the stairs with a 7-foot boa constrictor draped over his shoulders. Mrs. The Bishop nearly expires in a fit of apoplectic terror.
Matt falls in love in San Francisco. Teaches in Korea, Japan, Mexico, England, Hungary.
– KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL AND NOT THE BIRD OVERHEAD
– BEWARE OF BISHOPS WITH SKITTISH SPOUSES
I confess without shame that I’ve been weeping softly throughout the writing of this post. He may have learned a thing or two from us, but the number of lessons he conferred upon us is incalculable. Lord I miss that man.