- Andy Soper
Until last January, the most accurate fact I had about my biological father, Jim, was that he did an incredible Grover impression. He would throw his head back, shake his arms, and call to my sister and I as he ran down his apartment hallway toward our chairs in the kitchen. All the other information I had about him was from my mom, Jenny, and his parents, who became distant after his death when I was three.
I do not know how others responded to losing a parent as a child, but I worked hard to make my Dad very simple – easily remembered, easily understood.
My father was simply a collection of stories – some true, some elaborations or vague recollections. Told more from the perspective of my grandfather Dewey’s reactions to his slacker personality, the stories of my dad painted him as a lush, a loser – some ‘G-damn addict Jenny’s got following her around.’ Dewey did not initially find my Dad worth his time. That is, he wasn’t worth his time until my dad made him laugh. He could do that. Making my Korean War-veteran/father-of-county-jail-inmates grandfather laugh was not an easy task.
My Dad was simply the reason that Dewey laughed.
As I grew, there were days I was ‘just like’ my father, according to my mom who would normally make those comments after I’d done something to make her laugh or, as was also the case, to make her cry. Selfish and moody, I would often put myself before anyone in the family, inflicting pain and confusion as I went.
‘When you treat me like this,’ Jenny would say through her tears, ‘you remind me of how he could be.’
My father was simply the man who made my mother cry.
Shortly before my father’s death, he and my Mom separated. He’d begun to work long hours and forget about the family he had at home. Work, after years of neglecting the concept, had finally become important to him. He took undo pride in the compliments and bonuses.
My father was simply a man who worked – too hard.
Just one week before his 30th birthday, my Mom took him to the hospital. He had the flu and, having lost his spleen after a skiing accident, he had little ability to combat the infection. He kept working. He ignored the doctor’s directions. When the hospital made a mistake and gave him a medication to which he was allergic, his body could not handle the strain. He died.
My father was simply taken from us.
He was gone, but I continued to be told ‘you’re just like him.’ It was comforting of others to say it and I suppose they thought I would be proud to be like my father.
The way I loved people.
The way I abused people.
‘Just like Jim, isn’t he?’
When he went away, life became cluttered – un-simplified – and so did I. I was anything but simple. Since he left, I had been hurt and hurt others. I had gone to 12 different schools and lived in 16 homes. I had learned with the help of my family to grow, heal, and limp along with others.
I clearly could not be him.
Then, came a letter. Old friends of my father’s said they had some of his things in their attic and thought I should have them. Six months before my 30th birthday, they left these packages on my front porch. Pictures, tools, shoes, old keepsakes, his Bible – his life with them in three simple boxes.
My wife, Marcy, and I picked through the boxes. I set pictures and calendars aside for my sister. I read letters from old associates. I tried on his shoes, then removed and kept the laces. I looked through his tools and laughed about how he seemed just as clueless as me when it comes to car repair.
But these were just old tools. They told me little more about him than I already new.
I could not find my father in his things.
Scanning through his Bible, I found his handwriting. He’d scrawled notes here and there, but then seemed to have fallen in love and settled down. The book of Ruth was littered with thoughts. He’d drawn hearts near passages about Ruth and Boaz. He’d found Ruth, a story of chaos, love, and redemption, as particularly worth his affections and time.
My father was simply in love with chaos and redemption.
He was drawn to stories where people were hurt and found love together. He was drawn to the idea that redemption creeps in where we find no cracks for it to creep. He loved a broken person who embraced those broken places as fine gold.
He loved stories that unfolded like mine had after he was gone.
My father was simply in love with me.
Andy Soper is the Project Coordinator of the Manasseh Project. After earning a Master’s Degree in Popular Culture from Bowling Green State University, he taught at BGSU and Cornerstone University before beginning work with abused and neglected children in both Residential and Community Programs at Wedgwood Christian Services. He currently develops programming to address the commercial sexual exploitation of minors.