|3012 20th Avenue|
The house I grew up in.
The maple tree my father planted in our
front yard 60 years ago.
But sometimes a spoken word carves itself on the wall of our heart. And stays, framed like a picture, viewed daily, for the rest of our life. It could be a word of rejection, never to be forgotten or gotten-over. Maybe it's an announcement of a particular birth, or a death.
"President Kennedy is dead," spoken over our school's P.A. system, as I sat, stunned, in my 8th-grade geometry class.
"I hate you and wish you were dead," said by a child to their parents.
"You will never be able to do math," spoken to my wife Linda when she was in the 4th grade, from the mouth of her teacher.
"God loves you," said to me by a campus pastor named Marshall Foster, when I was at Northern Illinois University.
My father, Hugo Piippo, was a man of few words. After I grew out of toddlerhood, I don't remember him telling me, "Son, I love you." I didn't realize how much I needed to hear those words, from him. I needed my father's expressed, verbalized love and admiration. I didn't receive it.
One day, when I was 23 and a brand new Jesus-follower, God told me to tell dad that I loved him. I remember that day. He was working on a car in the garage. I walked, trembling, into his presence.
"Dad, I love you."
That was all. It went fast. It was short. I can't remember if he said anything back. I remember feeling awkward. I believe he did, too. These were not only hard words for him to say, they were hard for me to say.
As the years went by I came to know about my father's love from a distance, translated to me through my mother. "He loves you and Mike [my brother]," she said. "He talks about you both all the time to his friends. He brags about you and is proud of you."
That did make me feel better. I knew it was true. I loved hearing my mother tell me this, as often as she wanted to!
Dad died in January, 2001. A few months before his death he fell in the parking lot of their apartment complex, landing directly on his forehead. The lump on his head was the size of a tennis ball.
He was placed in a nursing home for rehab. It was there that dad spoke his final words to me.
I was in his room. It was so hard for me to see him like this. Physically, he was always strong, stronger than I ever became. In spite of his verbal deficiencies he had been a caring, loving, providing father to Mike and I. I felt a deep love for him.
That's when he looked at me and said, "John, you have done well."
A few seconds passed, and he added, "John, I love you."
That was all. It went fast. It was short. It was beautiful.
Thank you, dad, for those words. Thank you for calling me by the name you gave to me. Thank you, God, for giving my earthly father the strength to overcome our shared cultural awkwardness and bless me.
That day truckloads of low self-worth and who-knows-what-other dark stuff was evicted from my soul. A newly framed picture got nailed to the wall of my rejuvenated heart. It read: My father loves me. It's there tonight, on display, next to a larger picture of a Cross that reads:
My Father loves me.
I look at them every day of my life.