In honor of Memorial Day, my parents and I traveled to Grant, Idaho, to place decorations on the graves of my paternal grandfather and various other relatives from that limb of my family tree. I never knew my father’s parents, as both passed away prior to my birth. Because of this lack of knowing, I have always been very curious about them. My father has shared a few loving stories about my grandmother and we usually celebrate her birthday in some way each year. Additionally, my dad has honored her name by dedicating a room at Idaho State University — where she worked for nearly 30 years — to her legacy of kindness and care. When it comes to my grandfather, though, my dad is quite silent. The little bits and pieces I have put together over the last 25 years indicate that he was an alcoholic, disinterested in being a father, violent enough to hit his own wife and generally an unkind person. My father rarely speaks of him of his own accord, but instead usually has to be prompted by a question or an old photograph. My father’s simultaneous disdain toward and hurt from his father is noticeably evident.
We arrived at the small but beautiful cemetery in the mid-afternoon and began distributing flowers and colorful pinwheels on each family grave. We talked quietly and studied a few nearby headstones. Eventually, my mother and I got back in the car as the Idaho breeze was crisp. As we sat in comfortable silence, I casually looked out the window to see my dad, standing directly in front of his father’s grave, bowing his head in solemn deference. Immediately my mind recalled a verse of scripture, which reads, “Wherefore, ye shall remember your children, how that ye have grieved their hearts because of the example that ye have set before them” (Jacob 3:5).
Fathers are vital in this world. The calling of father is holy, sacred. Fatherhood and the ability to create and raise life is truly godly. In fact, the title of father is shared with God himself. Now, whether any man deserves such a divine title is debatable, but every man who produces a child receives it nonetheless. Fathers always leave a mark on their children, whether good or bad. My grandfather was frankly not the ideal example for my father. My father spent too many nights defending his mother against his drunken attacks. He spent too many life milestones with a father coming in late or failing to show up at all. And he spent far too many years fearing he would be a bad father simply because he felt he did not know how to be a good one. My father’s heart has indeed been grieved because of the example set before him.
But my father did not follow the example set before him. He is not an alcoholic. He is a very active and loving father. He has never even thought of raising his hand to my mother, and he is a kind, generous man. He protected his children and we slept soundly under his care. He appeared at every life milestone early, usually saving seats for the rest of us, and attended the less important events with just as much consistency. And he, alongside my mother, taught and built his children up so we have no fear of the future, just faith. With what I know of my father as a backdrop, it was truly chilling to see this good man pay respect to such a flawed man, and yet it was painfully obvious that of course a good man would be a good son regardless of a bad father. I believe my grandfather does indeed remember his son, especially each year when he stands in that cemetery, flowers in hand.
My father has taught me so many things in this life, from softball to service and from paying taxes to saying prayers. But on this particular day my father taught me a lesson about humility, meekness and grace that I will never forget. Even with the example set before him and the bitterness of days gone by, I watched this strong, unyielding man submit before his father’s grave. That day he taught me a father is irreplaceable. It is a title that demands our respect simply because of the one true Father who bears it. That day I learned that the weight of fatherhood is staggeringly heavy and that, too often, a child has to carry it because the man who made them can’t.
Jessica Sargent was born and raised in Pocatello. She is a former collegiate track athlete (2012-2016), a two time ISU graduate (BA, MA), and is currently an Athletic Academic Advisor working primarily with the ISU football and softball teams.