My patriarchal grandmother was pregnant about the time of the Wall Street crash in ’29 that ushered in the Great Depression. It was not a good time to bring children into the world, which is why my dad had a nine, thirteen and sixteen-year head-start on his siblings. It was a generation cemented with family tradition and personal responsibility. And it was a time when children often worked long hours in factories or fields (when work could be found) to help feed the family. And, if the Great Depression wasn’t enough of an example to emphasize the need for hard work and commitment to provide for your family, my grandfather drilled into my dad lessons he learned the hard way. My grandfather became the sole provider for his three siblings at the age of eleven. They were in Wales during WWI, and when his father was lost in the war his mother abandoned the children. She tramped from guy-to-guy and never saw her offspring again.
Needless to say, by the time Dad married and my older brother and me made our appearance into this world, providing for your family was synonymous with manhood in the mind of my father. But life is unpredictable. And even the hardest workers get laid-off when the economy sours, too many accounts are lost, or the business goes bankrupt. And Dad found himself unemployed for the first time in his adult life. Jobs became scarce, and the longer it lasted the more it chipped away at Dad’s emotional state. In his eyes he was failing to be a man. He was failing to provide for his family. And when the cupboards were bare, and my brother and me (toddlers at the time) cried with empty stomachs, Dad decided to take matters into his own hands and get money for food by any means necessary.
I was too young at the time to have clear memories of what happened next. But it became a family story that was repeated so often no one could forget. My parents argued over the dire situation and, eventually, Dad went off by himself to brood. When he returned there was a purpose in his step. He marched straight to his room, disappeared for about a minute, and came back out carrying a rifle. He had pawned several guns already. This was his last. But my mother took one look at my dad and knew he wasn’t heading to any pawn shop.
She tried to stop him, but the effort was futile. She considered calling the police, but decided against it. Dad was a veteran of the Korean War. Mom figured that if he was confronted by armed officers it would only inflame the situation. So she called family; none of which were close enough to immediately assist, but they all agreed to pray.
Dad recalled driving, but not where he went or how long it took until he parked outside a grocery store. From the moment he left home until realizing he was in the parking lot he had vented at God. At some point during the angry tirade Dad came to the conclusion that if God felt no obligation to fulfill His promises as a heavenly father, than he no longer felt obligated to walk a godly path. He told God, “You’re strong enough to watch your son die on a cross; but I’m not you, and I cannot watch my children suffer another day with no food for their bellies.” And he reached for his rifle – only to realize he could no longer move. His limbs refused every mental command. He was paralyzed. He tried to fight it, but it was useless. Yet in the midst of the mental turmoil he remembers one clear thought, losing their father will bring more suffering than empty stomachs. And all internal fighting ceased. He surrendered. And he cried – and cried some more.
Dad let go of everything that night. For the first time in his life he admitted he could not do everything, and he gave it all to God. And immediately following his surrender to God the paralysis disappeared. He drove home, and upon his arrival he discovered strangers had delivered several bags of groceries during his absence. And two days later he was offered a job: a job that would last thirty-years.