Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Father’s Day Memoriam: Monte E Wilson, Jr.

My dad was larger than life, to me. He was five foot and eleven inches, had a broad chest, jet-black hair, bushy eyebrows, was handsome, and had a presence that filled any room he walked into, without saying a word. He was two parts St Paul, one part John Wayne: he knew the Truth of God in Holy Writ and, pilgrim, you had better listen up. For a little over 35 years, he was my supporter and cheerleader, my sparring partner and coach, and my greatest hero.

I have no memories of ever needing my dad and him not being there for me. (The same goes for my mother.) I remember him calling me late one night while I was lying in my dorm room at Samford University, sick with what the doctor referred to as walking pneumonia. “Your sister just called and told me you were ill. I’ll be up there tomorrow to check on you.” The next day he and my brother Richard drove from St. Petersburg to Birmingham to hang out with me for 3 days. That was my father. Whether it was a crisis, a decision with which I was struggling, or a victory I was celebrating, he was right there with me and for me.

As a coach, dad was formidable. Arguing and intellectually sparring with him was like arguing with a man who had completely mastered Socratic thinking, memorized the Encyclopedia Britannica, and was actually alive during the times of the Old and New Testaments. You’d think I would shy away from any and all arguments with him but hope sprang eternal that I could best him. And I was young, which is to say, arrogant.

I remember one time during my 9th grade year coming home from school and proudly announcing that I had wiped the floor with a classmate with whom I had debated Evolution v Creation. Reading the notes I had used, my dad kept burrowing his bushy eyebrows until he finally threw my notes down and announced he would not only have destroyed my arguments in favor of Creation, but also, had he been the teacher, he would have failed me. Dad believed in Creation. “Your science is outdated, your logic is faulty, and you didn’t engage the best arguments from the best minds in support of evolution. I have no doubt that you out talked the guy but that doesn’t mean you won the debate. I don’t want you ever to speak of this subject again until you actually know what you are talking about.” (Cue Dad walking away peeved with me.)

As I reflect on dad’s life, there are many experiences that stand out as heroic to me, but, as I am now 60, one stands out in particular. As I grew into adulthood, many of our beliefs, well, let’s just say they diverged. Our arguments were epic. When he was in his 30s and 40s, one of dad’s greatest faults was that all his convictions were written in capital letters and, if you differed from The Truth, as he perceived it, you were excommunicated from his circle of friends.  Consequently, he was a very lonely man. By the time he was in his 50s, however, dad had made major character changes, whereby, virtue had become as important as Truth to him. Do you know how few people over 40 years old are willing to make such massive shifts in character? Very few. To this day, I pray that I would be able to follow in his footsteps remaining malleable until the day I die.

Dad died February 16th, 1988, at the age of 61. Due to failing kidneys (diabetes) and an inner-ear neuropathy, he was pretty much bed ridden for 4 years. The last years of his life were purgatorial. Given his mood swings during this time and the fact that we all knew he wasn’t long for this world, it was also purgatorial for mom and the children. Two days before he died, while sitting on his bed talking with him, he asked me what was troubling me. “You are dying dad. It’s not important.” He replied, “You are agonizing over something, son. Talk to me.” After pouring out my heart, he shared with me the wisdom of a man who had spent his adult life seeking the Holy Grail of loving God with all of his heart, soul, and strength, and loving others as he loved himself. One last time, dad was there for me, coaching me, and challenging me with his heroic faith, all while slipping into eternity.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013 

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