Greg was at the podium finishing his “My Hero is___________” speech. And that was a good thing. His sophomore year classmates didn’t give a hoot about his sorry speech about why Douglas MacArthur was his hero, which he really wasn’t.
“And that is why General Douglas MacArthur is my hero,” Greg said as he grabbed his notes and made his way to his seat amid sparse applause, the kind that only bored teenagers can muster.
Greg was only too happy to sit down with his buddies and yuck it up over the next presenter. Rudy Matthews was next and a darn good target. “My hero is my dad who died when I was two.” Rudy said, “He left me this.”
A chill went through Greg. His heart started to race. Rudy held up a well-worn piece of paper. Greg couldn’t take his eyes off it.
“This is the letter my dad wrote to me before he died,” Rudy said. Rudy read different parts of the letter, which conveyed feelings like how sorry his dad was that he couldn’t be there to take Rudy to the park or teach him to play baseball or tell him he loved him every day. Rudy’s dad told him how to be a man, how to make an honest dollar, what to look for in a wife, how to look out for his mom and sister. His dad was talking to Rudy. Better yet, his dad was teaching Rudy. The letter was his dad.
Greg looked longingly at the letter that was visible over the top of the podium. A letter all about his dad’s love, Greg thought as tears rolled down his cheeks.
He had no way to know it, but everything in his life had just changed.
Greg’s dad died when Greg was two years old. For his entire life, it stayed with him like a low-grade fever. In everything he did and saw, he found himself looking for a touch from his father.
His older brother was always said to look just like his dad. When Greg saw that his mom stored the old cast of his brother’s hand, little Greg would put his hand in the cast every day to see if somehow he could feel his dad.
All the men of the neighborhood would gather around the TV to watch a game. “Oh, your daddy loved football!” they told him. When he found out that kids could play football too, he begged his mom to let him join. Perhaps he might feel his dad, he thought.
But after practice, the boy’s dads would come to pick them up and walk off together, usually with their arms around their boy’s shoulders. Football just made Greg feel emptier.
When he would play war with his friends, he wanted to tell his dad all about it. He would lay in bed at night and just think about all the things his dad might say. Way to go, Greg. That’s a good soldier. How brave you are. I’d want a man like you in my foxhole.
At 16, Greg bought a VW bug. When it broke down, Greg felt the loss of his dad in a profound way. He was looking under the hood in bewilderment when his across-the-street neighbor arrived home. Greg immediately shut the hood to hide that he didn’t have a clue about how to fix it and no dad to show him how.
He ventured to the VW parts store to find a book. He found one and, with shame, laid it upside down on the counter like a girlie magazine. The clerk picked it up and said for all to hear, “How to Fix a VW. The Complete Guide for Idiots.” Greg never felt so embarrassed. When he arrived at his car, he was shaking from shame. “Dad,” he cried out, “why did you leave me?”
That’s why, eight days later, when Rudy stood at the podium with his dad’s letter, it left Greg with the feeling of being cosmically gypped.
In the years to come, Rudy’s letter rarely left Greg’s mind. It had become his compass. He based all decisions against what he remembered it saying, with the deep sound of a masculine voice echoing around his imagination. The letter had become the most important thing in his life.
When Greg got married, and things got tough, he felt the deficit of having no guidance on how to be a husband. In time, his wife got cancer and passed away. Greg continued to do what the letter said, taking his daughter and son to the park every day, teaching them how to play baseball, and telling them he loved them.
Greg dealt with the pain by chasing women. One morning after another one-night stand, he arrived home to be greeted by his kids wearing pajamas and a where-have-you-been-again look on their faces. He tried to convince them that he had gone out early for a walk. They didn’t buy it.
Greg had hit bottom. He lost his dad, his wife, and now the respect of his kids. He thought about Rudy’s letter wondering if it could tell him what to do when you’ve reached your lowest point.
Then Greg met a woman who interested him—only she was different—all she wanted to talk about was Jesus. He decided to check out Rock Church to see if he could learn enough to impress her. As he walked through the lobby, he noticed the Men’s Ministry in the middle of a meeting; a couple hundred guys standing, singing, and raising their hands. It was the most amazing thing he’d ever seen; the energy of the men as they worshipped—with the unusual sound of deep voices singing out. Greg was in stunned silence. He closed his eyes and felt the masculinity for which he had always longed.
He began to sing the songs and became deeply moved. With his eyes closed, he drifted away, carried by a chorus of male voices all singing the name of Jesus. He felt his hands rise, then the muscles in his left hand begin to tighten. He looked up at his hand, and it appeared to be holding on to something. He knew what it was. He was holding a hand. Just then, a voice said to his spirit, “Greg, I’m your Father, and I’ve always been with you.”
At that moment, Greg was two years old again holding the hand of his dad. He fell to the ground and wept. As his soul reached out again for His touch, it was there. A strange peace came over him, and Greg knew that he had finally come home.
In the months to come, his relationship with his Father began to grow. With his Bible in his hands, he read voraciously about a love that he had never known before. It spoke to him at his core. It was full of wisdom and promises. The Bible told him how to be a man.
And that’s when he realized it. Greg not only had a Father, but he also, finally, had his letter.