It was dark.
A small candle flickered in an open upstairs bedroom window this balmy fall evening.
The tall, well-built man, handsomely distinguished in his neatly trimmed beard and mustache, gently cradled the little boy in his arms.
He was only three.
The tiny lad was frail. He gasped for air. His father, with tears in his eyes, walked the hallways of the large home, carrying the boy in his arms, sometimes for an hour or more. He would gently whisper and sing to him until finally the boy fell asleep.
The doctors said it was acute asthma.
The boy was weak. He was timid. What would become of him?
Would he one day die in his loving father’s strong but helpless arms?
On some late nights, when his son couldn’t sleep for the torment of the coughing, the father would hitch up his horses to the carriage and take the boy on long rides around the city, hoping the cool air would help him breathe.
When the lad was five, his father would force him to smoke black cigars; the doctors insisted they had curative powers.
As the boy grew older, though still skinny and weak, he displayed a keen intelligence and insatiable curiosity about life around him, especially the fascinations of nature. With his watchful father’s encouragement, he began collecting and cataloguing all manner of insects, fauna, rocks, birds and fish.
By the age of twelve, the son was an accomplished taxidermist. Stuffed animals were found everywhere.
The father was a successful and very wealthy businessman. He was also generous with his money. He taught his family many noble things, chief among them that with great wealth and privilege came great moral responsibility.
He took the words of the Lord seriously: “To whom much is given, from him much will be required.”
He donated to dozens of charities. He generously supported the YMCA and was a commissioner of the State Board of Charities and a director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Museum of Natural History.
In his love and devotion to his family, in his courage and honesty, in his sterling reputation in the community, and in his generous concern for humankind, this father was an example who won the awe-filled admiration and respect of his children.
Including the weak one. The runt of the litter.
He gave them his time. He gave them his attention. He gave them his praise.
His two sons and two daughters gave him a love that would never end.
They adored him.
He was their hero.
When they were grown, they nick-named him Great Heart. He was the strong protector and compassionate spiritual guide in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.
The name fit.
So did the psalm:
“I will be careful to live a blameless life … I will lead a life of integrity in my own home”(Psalm 101:2).
The influence and example; the wisdom and encouragement; the love and support of a righteous dad is incalculable and lasts a lifetime.
The sickly child had promise. The wise father knew that. He would help him.
He built a gymnasium in an upstairs room and encouraged his son to exercise.
The boy did.
The father hired a personal trainer. The son lifted weights and learned to box. His dad told his friends and took a joyful pride in the emerging transformation.
He watched over his son. He hoped for him, exhorted him and prayed for him.
The young man didn’t die. He grew stronger – and more confident.
While the son was away at college, it was the father who became ill and passed away. He was only 46 years old. His son grieved inconsolably over the loss of the most important person in his life.
He could never be replaced. Nor would he ever be forgotten.
The young man went on to live an extraordinary life. The father who loved him, held him, nurtured him and urged him on would be forever with him, a constant reminder of what it meant to be “an ideal man.”
Years later, after his own success far eclipsed his dad’s, the son placed his father’s portrait over his desk.
If only he could see him now. He wouldn’t have been too old.
“My father was the greatest man I ever knew,” the son wrote. “He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness.”
To him he owed so much.
“My father got me breath, he got me lungs, strength, life. I could breathe, I could sleep when he had me in his arms.”
His father had also taught him action, courage and standing for what’s right. He taught him to care about the less fortunate, those left out and left behind.
He taught him both strength and compassion.
This son would never forget the lessons and example of the great and noble man whose name he proudly bore.