REMEMBERING MY FATHER

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Herbert Clyde Welch 1928-2013

A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. ~Proverbs 17:27

My family is gratified to see all of you here as we say farewell, for now, to my father. This is just the sort of gathering he would have liked—one of his great pleasures in life was visiting with people. He really was a family man, which is a good thing when you think about just how big this family is.

It’s a bit difficult to know what to say about my father. Each of us has our own memories of him. Nothing I can say about him can do him justice, and I am grateful that you all knew him so you are not counting on me to give a full picture of who he was. What I share today will probably not be news to anyone who knew him—they are simply some of the myriad thoughts I have when I think about my dad.

My father grew up in humble circumstances, and I think he was particularly determined that his children would not feel poor, as he had. I didn’t realize until recently, when he reminisced with me, how difficult some aspects of his childhood were. He liked his job at the roller rink because in between helping people put on their skates, he could skate himself—he said he particularly liked skating backwards, which I would really like to have seen. But because they were poor and he was youngest, he sometimes had to stay behind while all the other kids went to the swimming hole, or rode their horses, and as he talked about it, he said, “I think I kind of missed out.” That was my dad—he accepted things with good grace, but they made a lasting impression and he didn’t want us to miss out. If something was important to us, we had the idea that it would matter to him, too. Kids being what they are, suddenly everything gained in importance, but there was something very nice about knowing that our dad cared about our feelings.

My father had a bit of a chance to see the world when he was in the Navy—he loved the ocean, and the stars—but he always wanted to return to his beloved Montana. This was also true when he became a federal investigator. He was excellent at his job, and dedicated to it, but when he first started, his boss told him—while he was having dinner at our house, no less—that my dad probably didn’t have what it took to be an investigator and he didn't see much of a future for him. But as people learned, it was hard not to talk to my dad, and a decade later he was named “Investigator of the Year” by the federal government. Even though it's no secret that I think the federal government is about as incompetent as they can possibly be, they got that one right. I don’t think people underestimated my dad often, but that boss certainly didn’t understand the man before his eyes.

My father had the most remarkable self-discipline—something I admired even as I haven’t ever quite managed to emulate it. He flew out to see me one year when I lived in Washington, DC—Thanksgiving Day, just him and a planeful of Japanese tourists—and we decided to drive to Newport, Rhode Island to see where he'd gone to Officer Candidate School. I tend to be an early riser, especially when I’m traveling, and I also tend to get nervous about the time. My dad agreed that we should get an early start. So I was up, packed, and ready to go by 6 a.m. My dad was also up early—he showered, shaved, did his back exercises, went to breakfast, and we got out of our hotel by the crack of nine.

I think of my father as a vigorous man. He’d been a football player, and later a coach, and he excelled at both, but he had a particular love of baseball and especially enjoyed the World Series. He really hung in there for his Boston Red Sox. Dave and Ken were right alongside him in their love of sports, but his daughter, perhaps to his chagrin, cared nothing for sports and wasn’t even aware of what season it was. One evening I called and chatted on about this and that, and got almost no response from him. I was sure it must be his hearing, so I spoke louder. Nothing. I spoke even louder. Still nothing. Finally, I said, “Daddy? Are you there?” and he said, “The World Series is on.” And that is how I learned not to call in the evening in October.

I am grateful that my father was a man of his time—it meant that we had a wonderful father, not someone trying to be a best friend. He was thoroughly honorable, decent, trustworthy, and kind. We knew what he expected of us, and even though he was pretty soft-hearted when it came to discipline—which was maddening to my mother when she was left holding the bag—there were some lines you just didn’t cross with him. He didn’t want to hear sass, and he wouldn’t tolerate a lie. He was the kind of person you wanted to please, and grow to be like. I know I’ve fallen short, but I also know that he was proud of each of us, including me despite my various stumbles. And to his grandchildren, I know how much you loved him, and there has never been a prouder grandparent—he could not possibly have loved you more. I hope you will commit to doing your Christian duty without fail, as your grandfather did.In that way, you will carry his legacy.

I would be remiss if I did not discuss my mother, because she was a wonderful wife to my dad for more than 50 years. She made the moves across the country, she endured the time apart, she raised us while he wasn’t home and made sure that he could enjoy the time with us when he was. She was a loving, dedicated wife. My father was a quiet man not given to effusive expression, but more than once he quietly said what a remarkable woman she is. I am grateful for the example of abiding love and commitment they set for us.

Once people mattered to my father, they mattered to him for good. He would talk fondly about people he hadn’t seen in years, and was never happier than when he got to sit and visit. He deeply loved his nieces and nephews, and thoroughly enjoyed listening as they talked, even when he got to the point where he couldn’t hear everything. The point to him was the relationship. At the end of his life, my father—the family man—lived some of the time in another world where the people he had known and loved years before were alive and well. He would ask about his dad, talk to his mother and his brothers, and it seems strangely lovely and appropriate that he died 52 years to the day after his beloved mother died.

Our lives are a result of the choices we make. My father chose to be a good son, a good father, a good friend, and a good man. I have noticed the common thread in what people have said, in what we are all experiencing, is we each want one more: One more chance to see him, to talk with him, to be in his presence. To have loved such a man and had him as long as we did is a tremendous blessing. The loss is great because the love was great.

I will close with a verse attributed to Henry Van Dyke:

I am standing upon that foreshore.

A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white clouds just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says, “There! She's gone!”

“Gone where?”

Gone from my sight, that's all. She is just as large in mast and spar and hull as ever she was when she left my side; just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of her destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at that moment when someone at my side says, “There! She's gone!” there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout,“Here she comes!” And that is dying.


Enjoy the glad shouts, Daddy.

Shyla Lefever

21 December 2013