Friday, October 29, 2010

A Father's Legacy

Tomorrow would have been my dad's 98th birthday.  I've been thinking of him quite a bit this week, and I've been anticipating a post in his honor.  It's odd how we so often want to honor our loved ones AFTER they've passed away, and it makes me wish I'd spent more time honoring him while he was with me. 
Ralph R. DeCamp was born on October 30th, 1912 in rural Ohio near the city of Lima.  He was in the middle of a family of ten children.  His father disappeared from the family when he was about ten years old, and subsequently, he and his brothers assumed a great deal of the responsibility of supporting their mother and the other kids.

In the 1930's, during the Great Depression and while in his twenties, he and his closest brother, Earl traveled out west working on farms and ranches, doing odd jobs, and panning for gold.  He made at least two trips; one by car, and the other by train.  No, he didn't buy a ticket and ride coach.  He hopped on rail cars and rode for free!  What an adventure!  I could never imagine doing that!

In the 1940's, during WWII, he joined the Army Air Corps and became a crewman one of the big bomber gunships.  I learned after he died that he flew over 70 missions with his crew and with other crews, filling in for the crewmen on other planes when they were sick or found reasons not to fly.  He wasn't a pilot; rather he was a crewman and manned the guns...dodging flak and praying to survive.  He entered as a simple private and was discharged honorably with six bronze stars along with other medals.  If you want to get an idea of what it was like to fly on one of those planes, watch the episode of Band of Brothers where they are dropping the 101st Airbourne over Normandy.  Wow!  And, he did that kind of thing over 70 times and lived to tell about it...or rather, like so many of his generation, NOT talk about it.  As I said, I learned all this after his death.

Ralph DeCamp is the first guy on the left

After the war, it seems that his adventures came to an end.  He settled in Muncie, Indiana, and got a job at the local Chevrolet plant.  He kept that job until he retired in the mid-1970s.  After coming to Muncie, he met a woman with three small children, and he soon gave his heart to them and married my mother.  I came along a number of years later.  He never traveled out west again, but I suspect he longed to because he often spoke about places like Salmon, Idaho, and I sometimes found real estate books for Colorado sitting on coffee tables in our living room.

But, you know, the the thing that my dad did for me that means the most is that he instilled in me a basic faith in God.  He wasn't a "Bible Thumper."  He didn't even go to church.  In fact, he had an experience as a young person that completely soured him on organized churches.  Even after I grew up and began to focus my own life on spiritual things, he would never visit church with me.  (Perhaps, I'll share the root of that sourness in a future post.)  However, he did believe in God; he loved God.  I often saw him reading his Bible.  He never had an issue with God.  It was people that messed things up for him.

Anyway, back to the story of how he instilled that faith in me.  I was probably only about three years old, and he had me lying on his chest in bed one night.  I can still vividly remember it to this day.  While we were laying there, he said something to me that has ended up being the primary driving influence in my life.

He said:  "Mike, the most important thing that you can ever do in your life is to love God."

That was it.  A simple sentence.  He didn't embed biblical doctrine into my mind.  He didn't make me memorize huge passages of scripture.  All he did was give me a core principal; the most important core principal.  Jesus said that the most important commandment in scripture was to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your mind, all of your soul, and all of your strength.  That was all my dad told me to do, and that has been the thing that has guided my course all these years.  It has kept me on track.  It has pulled me back on track when I've wandered off course.

I have done my best to instill that same core principal in the hearts of my own children.

If you glean anything from this post, let it be this....if you can get your kids to love God, everything else will flow so much easier.  It will guide their decisions.  It will give them a direction.  It will be a beacon calling them home. 

It will change your family.

I don't know for sure what my dad's ultimate destination is any more than any man can truly know another man's fate.  He wasn't an overtly righteous man as folks might define it.  As I said, he didn't go to church.  He smoked.  He cussed.  He had his human weaknesses.  But, what I do know gives me hope.  He loved God, and he cared about his fellow man.  Two things I know about God is that He works for the good of those that love Him, and His first motivation is to save.  He devises ways to bring the estranged back to Him.  I know that my dad loved Him.  I know that my dad shared that love with me.

I wrote the following to be shared at his funeral in February of 2000:

My Dad

How do you describe someone who has molded so much of your life?
Words cannot convey what the heart holds.

How do you honor someone whom you hold in such high esteem?
Live a life that someone else may honor one day.

How do you show respect for someone who does so deeply deserve it?
Imitate him in those aspects that command it.

How do you love someone who displayed his love in so many diverse ways?
Display and magnify this love in your love for others.

How do you replace someone who has meant so much to those whom he has touched?
You cannot.

Goodbye, dear father, my dad.
Your direction, example, and love will live on in those whose lives you have touched.

Written by: Mike DeCamp, February 9, 2000

In honor of: Ralph DeCamp, born 10/30/1912, died 2/6/2000

1 comment:

  1. Mike, this is a beautiful piece of prose describing an even more beautiful relationship between your Father and you. Thank you for this.