Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of five columns written by Ron Byler, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. executive director, to mark 100 […]
Bethany Simpson lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband, John, and their two boys, Ian and Shane. She enjoys a lot of what Colorado has to offer, including the mountains, the perfect weather and the Denver Broncos. She is an active member of Glennon Heights Mennonite Church. Bethany loves reading, hot coffee and relaxing at home.
Eleven weeks before our first son was born, my dad died suddenly. Two days before he died, my birthday, he was at my house, laughing at the fact that my pregnant belly was the one that created distance between our hugs. Then he was gone and everything was different. The end of my pregnancy and the first few weeks after Ian’s birth were a mixture of my greatest joy and my deepest grief. My dad was going to stay with us for a week after my husband had to go back to work, and I haven’t felt such a profound absence before or since.
My dad was the person who was always available to me. I would call with a simple question for him to answer, or just to have someone to talk to. Growing up he packed my lunch everyday and made me coffee in high school. We had inside jokes and hundreds of shared memories because our connection was important.
I want to be the parent he was. When I look back on what was most important to me as his child, it was his presence and attention. It wasn’t necessarily what he said, but that he was there. He read me bedtime stories, sang me lullabies, played games with me. He saw me, he got me and he knew me.
He taught me a lot of things, but the most important thing is to pay attention. He always saw hawks flying beside the road. The first time I saw a Bald Eagle was because he spotted it while we were driving. He also loved to walk through the recently plowed fields in Ohio hunting for arrowheads. He paid attention to the weather, to gardening, and to God’s calling in his life, among other things. After he moved to Colorado, he recognized the important role that water rights play for farmers here, and he started to learn all he could about that.
He taught me the importance of paying attention to each other: Remembering people’s names, a joke they thought was funny, or something important to them. When Ian was younger, we would spend time at dinner talking about our favorite part of the day, then with intention we would listen with our ears and eyes while the other person was sharing. It became something Ian would ask randomly, “Mommy, what’s your part today?” When we asked him, he usually said, “Um, probably eating dinner to you.”
Now at the dinner table we ask each other what we’re thankful for. Sometimes it is hard to get anything serious or deep out of a 7 and 4 year old, but we feel that making it a point to do these things now will show their importance in the future.
One of the saddest things about losing my dad is that he isn’t here to be a grandpa to my kids; that they don’t get that attention directly from him the way I did. My hope is that Ian and Shane will feel my dad’s love and presence through my actions as a parent. I struggle daily to live up to that, but my dad also taught me a lot about grace, and for that I am grateful.
Every other Wednesday, we’ll be publishing posts about parenting, faith formation, family and Anabaptist identity. You can also read past parenting posts.
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