In my “tween” years, I lived in a family entrenched in turmoil, with a mother and father who fought nightly, ultimately culminating in a very nasty divorce.
Somehow, In the middle of this, I was whisked away to my aunt and uncle's home, a small a-frame in the remote woods of Oregon.
My uncle always offered a smile that lit up his entire face. It was a genuine smile. It was not just his smile that made him different from anyone else I knew, but his entire being. He was gentle, and cared about what I had to say. He listened attentively when I talked, and no matter how absurd my comments, he always treated me as though I was talking about the most important thing he had ever heard.
He loved my aunt and doted over his kids. Life in his house was calm and safe. There was no yelling, just a simple respect for everyone in the house, no matter their age.
There were many fun times while I was out there, riding in my uncle’s vintage cars, making hand cranked ice cream, and just hanging around the home. But my favorite memory was walking into the house with the smell of some type of scented tobacco wafting from my uncle’s pipe as he read the paper.
There was nothing terribly special about my visit to Oregon, but while I was there I felt a part of something special. Something that I did not feel again for many years.
Later in my life, as my male role models failed me, one by one, I looked back to that brief time I spent in Oregon, and grabbed a hold of the lessons that I had learned in watching my uncle’s examples of what a man, father, and husband should be.
Perhaps it seems absurd that I was able to learn so much from him in such a short time, but I believe it was the dearth of any other viable father figure in my life that caused me to cling so closely to the lessons my uncle taught through his example that summer.
Every time that I have seen my uncle since then, he has sported that same smile I loved as a child., Following along eagerly with the tale of my life, attentive to every detail. Once again, I would feel that someone loved me for who I was, and cared so thoroughly about what I was doing.
In retrospect, if there is any credit to be given to my abilities as a father to my own children, they must go to my uncle first. For without him, I would never have learned the gentle love that a father should show his child.
For the past three years my uncle has been in a battle for his life, and while his efforts have been valiant, he is now coming to the end of that fight. In this, like all things in his life, he maintains the same great repose and gentleness that have been the hallmark of his life.
To those who read this he may not seem special, but I see him as nothing less than a saint. Here is a man who married the love of his life, had children, grandchildren, and remains to this day the center of his loving family. He was a man who took me into his home, and with a gentle loving hand guided me to become the husband and father I am today.
I agonize now over the fact that it has taken me this long to say the things I have here, and even more so that it may come when this man that I have loved and admired all of my life, is nearing the end of his.
My dearest uncle, you have been my inspiration, and though our time together through this life has been so short, how much more does it speak of you that I am grounded in the role model you set for me so long ago?
Please know that to many, like me, you are cherished. It is not just any man who can boast of the many accomplishments you have in your love, your life, and your family.
As time draws to an end, I pray that God will breath in the aroma of your life, and like that scent of pipe smoke I loved so dearly as a child, He will find it more than pleasing.
You are loved.