(Today, I take a brief detour from scale modeling to remember my dad.)
It was near the end of 1st grade, in the late spring of 1974. The occasion for celebration has long slipped my mind, but it had something to do with a good grade, or a good report from school. It was good enough that it warranted mom giving my dad a call at his office, and after a brief explanation, she handed me the phone and let me share my good news with him.
I don’t recall his exact words, but his last statement before ending the call was “Well, maybe when I get home, I’ll have a surprise for you.”
Of course, to a 7 year old, nothing is worse than waiting. I did the only thing I knew to do – I got on my bike and rode it back and forth, up and down, wearing down the road in front of our house. Mom had said something about my dad being home in half an hour, which I was quite sure represented the total elapsed time from creation to that point.
Finally I looked up the street, and saw the front end of his battleship-like Lincoln coming down the hill. I quickly rode up the street, looped around behind the burgundy monster, and pulling up along beside him, began racing along. Dad smiled over at me, hunkering down behind the wheel as if he were racing me. I pedaled away, racing ahead into our driveway. I literally jumped off the bike, letting it careen across the yard. I stood next to the driveway, jumping up and down.
There was a surprise waiting for me!
He pulled the car in the driveway, and made a bit of a show about organizing papers in his seat, moving things around. At the time, I thought I would literally die if he did not open the door. Finally, the door did open. He got out, and I could see he was holding something behind his back.
“What’s my surprise?” I shouted, jumping up and down. Dad gave me a puzzled look. “Surprise? What surprise? I don’t seem to recall a surprise.” I was astounded my dad had already apparently forgotten. “You said you had a surprise for me when you got home!” Obviously he needed a reminder.
His face broke into a smile, and then he produced it, from behind his back. A box. A box with an airplane on it. A model kit.
My very own model kit.
Grabbing it from my dad, I looked at it, and immediately recognized it, without the need to even apply my newly learned reading skills. “A P-47 Thunderbolt! Thanks dad!” As we headed in the house, I told my dad all about the P-47, and how wonderful this model would turn out.
As I sit here writing this, I can look over on my bookshelf, and see a box just like the one my dad gave me those many years ago. It’s not the same one of course, the original is long gone. Still, to hold it in my hands draws me back to that time.
From my dad I learned a love of airplanes. He owned (with a friend) a Piper TriPacer, and later a Piper Comanche. Anytime an airplane flew over, he’d look up, and could identify it immediately. He got me started building models, a process he encouraged me in, always interested in seeing my work. As an adult, I built a model of his M-48 Patton from his days in the Georgia National Guard, and he proudly displayed that in his office.
Dad taught me how to show love to a wife, by demonstrating unconditional love to my mama for the nearly 53 years of their marriage. Through every situation, he loved her supremely. When she passed away before he did, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone so brokenhearted.
From him I learned integrity. He demonstrated it in every aspect of his life. He told folks the truth, even when they didn’t want to hear it. I saw him stand up and lead people in an amazing way, and I saw him stand before people and humble himself too. Though he was not a perfect man – and never would he claim to be – people knew that when Wayne Bius said something, you could count on it.
Most of all, he showed me what it meant to live his faith. He loved the Lord, and loved studying the Bible. Through it all, he had an unwavering love for God above all other things. I think my most enduring memory of my dad will be getting up on Sunday mornings, and seeing him at the kitchen table, his Bible open, a page of notes before him, as he prepared to teach a Sunday School lesson for that day.
When dad passed away, I was not expecting it. We’d spoken on a Friday afternoon, in early December 2014, as I drove home from work, as we always did. I don’t recall too many of the specifics, though he did say he thought he was getting the flu. I urged him to get that taken care of. He assured me he would.
At the end of the call, I said “I love you dad.”
He said, as he always did, “I love you my son, and I am so proud of you.” And then he closed his call in a way everyone who knew him would be familiar with.
“Happy day to you.”
A few days later, the call came. “Get down here.” I drove the eight hours to Valdosta, Ga, praying the entire way. When I got there, dad was hooked up to all sorts of machines. It turns out what he thought was the flu was actually the beginning stages of a heart attack.
A short while after I arrived, my brother and I stood in that room, talking with a family friend. The doctors told us the inevitable was coming soon. Looking at my daddy, memories rushed in.
All too soon, the heart monitor showed zero.
To say I miss my dad is a vast, ridiculous understatement. I don’t think I’ve really even been able to fully appreciate his influence on me until after his passing. So much of who I am – my mannerisms, my speech, the corny jokes I tell, and the ability to speak frankly and directly – is from him.
I do take great joy knowing I will see him again. If I learned nothing else from him, I learned to place my faith in the Lord.
But today, as we celebrate Father’s Day, I can say that right now, in this life. I miss him dearly.
I love you dad. I am so proud of you.
Happy day to you.