The Most Successful Man I Ever Knew

On this Father’s Day 2020, I thought I might share a reflection about my Dad.

A couple of weeks before my Dad passed away in August of 2005, I had the opportunity to sit with him in his hospital room and talk, one-on-one.  We talked about his health, about family, and about faith.   He first asked me what the doctors were saying, and I told him the painful truth.  He was well aware that his time was growing short.  He then wanted to know what each of his grandkids was doing.  I have never seen a grandfather who delighted so much in his grandchildren.  A visit was never complete without a rundown of their latest activities. 

And we discussed faith – I told him I planned to go to heaven when I died, and I expected him to be there.  He smiled.  He and I were both aware that he, like all of us, had his share of sins, but he said with firm assurance that he would be there…waiting on me……but he didn’t plan on seeing me anytime soon.   Still smiling, he added, “Don’t worry about me, just take care of your mama.”  Then with a sly grin, he added, “don’t let her spend all my money on shopping.”  I guess I have always admired Dad’s sense of humor, especially in the face of all the physical ailments he endured the last 15 years of his life.

Reflecting on my father, this Father’s Day has yielded a crop of fond memories.  Few blessings compare to that of our parents and spouses.  All in all, I must admit, if given a choice, I wouldn’t trade my Dad for any other.    Over the years, I had learned much from him.  Reflecting on those memories makes me cherish them and him all the more.

  • He was born on November 9th, 1923, the 4th of the six children of Anita Sims and Stewart McElhannon. 
  • He grew up in rural Georgia during the Depression, while I grew up in suburban Atlanta during the 50s and 60s.   
  • When I was 20, I was enjoying college life at Georgia Tech; when he was 20, he was on a minesweeper in the English Channel, clearing mines off a beach called Normandy.    
  • My nickname is “Buddy,” his was “June.”
  • He grew up in the segregated South, but spent the last part of his life living in an integrated neighborhood with one of his close friends being a black neighbor. 
  • The last fifteen years of his life saw him enduring the aftermath of several strokes; though clear of mind, his speech and mobility were limited.
  • Most people only saw an elderly man living with his wife in a modest three-bedroom ranch home.

I saw much more.   

  • I saw a man who had a marriage of over 57 years, and a father of three college-educated sons.   
  • I recall a man who always had a smile on his face, his arms always wide open ready to give a hug. 
  • I watched a man who struggled to speak years after a stroke but never gave in to despair. 
  • I gratefully listened to co-workers express admiration for him as they shared their favorite memories of “Stu” at his funeral, recalling how he never fired anyone without finding them another job. Or how, after visiting a client and observing how destitute they were, left only to return with sacks of groceries.
  • I saw a doting grandfather who always kept rolls of quarters in his desk so that his grandkids never left their granddaddy without a substantial jingle in their pockets.
  • I chuckled to hear mom share how Dad saved a marriage.  A young insurance adjuster in his office, married with two small children, started flirting with the office secretary.  The wife called Dad in tears, fearing an affair had started or was about to begin.  Mom explained that “your Dad took that young man for a ride.  They parked somewhere near Stone Mountain Park, and your daddy chewed him out, told him to quit the shenanigans, go home to his wife and children, or he would beat the $%#@& out of him.”  The young man took Dad at his word and straightened up.  His wife credited Dad with saving their marriage.

His grandchildren loved him beyond description, and his friends knew him to be a true friend who was always there when needed.  Those who knew him had nothing but love and respect for him.

As a teenager in trouble, I reluctantly confessed to needing his help, his response was an arm over my shoulder and a gentle word, “Don’t worry, we will handle this together.”

Yet Dad’s greatest gift to me was one he never realized he was giving.  For in being a loving, kind, generous, and forgiving father, he made it easy for me as a teenager to accept a heavenly Father who was loving, kind, generous, and forgiving. 

His friends called him “Mac” or “Stu,” his nieces and nephews called him “Uncle June,” but I call my Dad, the most successful man I know.      

I thank God He allowed me to be his son.  I am a better man for it.

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