Today is Father’s Day and I’m thinking of Mother. And this chain of thought began with a pair of binoculars.
My father was taken by an accident when I was only 21 months old, so I grew up with a single mother. There were definitely times as I boy when I wished I could have a dad as my friends did. All I know of him suggests that my father would have been a great dad. But I learned—and I see this even more clearly now—that a loving Heavenly Father made up the lack for me. He strengthened my mother so she could do what two parents might normally do. He gave me two wise, loving grandfathers who were great examples of what it meant to be an honorable man. He gave me some fine uncles and others who did things for me that my father might have done if he had been there. My grandparents lived until I was in my thirties and forties, and I was privileged to learn, learn, learn from all of them. I still live by their lessons.
My mother made her way in a man’s world, doing it nobly and well. There were things she could not teach me about fathering and manhood that I have had to learn from experience. (And it was learned in part at my children’s expense. To the five of you: I’m sorry.) But from Mom I learned about moral, productive adulthood. What more could I have asked her to teach?
So what does a pair of binoculars have to do with this?
When I was 10, one of Mom’s friends let me borrow his binoculars for a short time. I quickly decided that I wanted a pair of my own. There is something about looking at the world up close that has always fascinated me. So that year I just had to have a pair of binoculars for Christmas, and I was not disappointed. On Christmas morning, there they were—a nice, new pair of 7×35 binoculars in their own leather case! I enjoyed using them wherever we traveled, or just out in the backyard studying the mountains east of town.
Later I found out from Mom that they had cost her $50. I had no way at the time to appreciate what that meant. But for perspective, she had left a well-paying job a couple of years earlier to go back to college and get a degree in something she could enjoy doing for the rest of her life. That Christmas in the mid-1950s, we were living in my grandparents’ basement apartment, paying them $20 a month rent and getting by on a little income from a small store my mother owned with her parents. The cost of those binoculars was a significant sacrifice for her.
My father was a wonderful man, by all accounts, and I hope to have the privilege of knowing him in some far-away future beyond this life. But in this life, my mother was forced to be the provider and guide and support—everything a parent needed to be. And often I asked way to much of her. She gave—without my really realizing all the sacrifices she made.
I still have that pair of binoculars, scarred by long use. They’re tucked away in a closet, inside what remains of their leather case. Today I have two or three newer pairs, for bird watching, travel, scenery. This morning I looked at the small pair I keep on the kitchen table for watching the cardinals, orioles, jays, and woodpeckers out back, and I thought of Mom. When I think of that older pair of binoculars, it is not without some guilt. I remember how much she gave and how much I asked when I was growing up. Now I wish I had been less greedy and less needy. But can we ever really know the sacrifices of parents until we are in that role ourselves?
Mom is with Dad now. She lived as a widow for 64 years. I hope they are enjoying the opportunity finally to work as a team. And I hope that some years hence I may meet them together and thank each of them for all they provided me.
But for now—thanks, Mom, for being Dad when you had to be.