To Ronnie James Oldfield, with thanks for being my Dad.
St. Ignatius of Loyola reportedly said ...“Give me a child for his first seven years and I will give you the man.”
Dad was born the depression; they must have been hard times for his parents. No work and no money to feed a young family. His mother began entertaining men while his father was out trying to earn a living.
Dad has horrendous memories of that period of his life that have left their scars on the man he was to become. He remembered afternoons and mornings spent locked in a cupboard by the strangers that visited his home, often with threats of violence if he told his father what his mother had been doing.
But his father did find out. Coming home early he caught my grandmother with a ‘friend’. Dad saw his mother stab his father with a kitchen knife and then running away, leaving his father for dead and Dad and his younger sister with the body of their father.
My Grandfather did survive but I don’t think he ever really got over what happened that night. He was not able to look after his three children, so Grandfather, Dad and his two sisters Elsie and Yvonne were taken in by his grandparents. His grandmother willingly caring for the two girls but telling Dad he was there only because it was her ‘Christian duty’ to do so. Never wanted. Rejected by his mother. These early years as I have said, left lasting scars on Dad.
Grandfather was now an alcoholic; drinking his wages on a Friday night and coming home drunk to give Dad lessons in being a man. He would get Dad in a corner and demand he put up his fists and fight him. Dad never could bring himself to hit his father.
But he did learn two lessons ... never hit someone weaker than you ... and how to fight, and that is just what Dad did at school. Dad fought but he never picked on anyone smaller than himself as he saw that as cowardice, always someone bigger and never any one weaker than himself. As a result Dad seemed to have spent most of his school years standing outside the teacher’s office waiting for the cane.
He told of one year picking on a bigger new boy the first day back at school; unfortunately this time Dad really did pick the wrong student. The new boy was his new teacher’s son. The way dad told the story was with him spending the rest of his schooling getting ‘six of the best’ on each hand every hour of the school day.
Poor Dad, he really didn’t like teachers at all but ended up with two daughters, countless in-laws and now grandchildren who are teachers.
Not surprisingly Dad didn’t see he had much future as an academic and left school around this time. His employment plans involved giving someone he knew all the money he had to get him a gun. Fortunately whoever that was ‘ripped’ Dad off and took the money, but never gave Dad a gun.
Dad did have better memories of his childhood. One very profound memory was of his grandmother reading the Bible aloud. The passage was from St. John’s gospel that Sandra has just read us, which speaks of someone going to prepare a room just for him.
Dad never had a proper bedroom, instead his bed was in a hallway connecting the rest of the house with the kitchen, the backdoor, the pantry at one end, and the bathroom at the other and all his few processions kept in a box under the bed.
Although Dad did not understand what the passage was about it impressed him hearing of someone who loved him and was building a bedroom just for him, something Dad longed for.
Last Sunday I was in this church with Mum and Clive spoke about David and Bathsheba, a story of adultery and murder ... echoes of Dad’s own story. Dad was damaged by the events of his childhood. He spent most of his life believing if people knew who he really was that they would think he was unlovable. He was deeply scarred by the events of his childhood.
Dad’s life really could have ended in violence and another tragedy but fortunately he met two people who loved him unconditionally; Mum and Jesus. God sees through the walls we can all build around ourselves in an attempt to protect ourselves from being hurt. God sees our real heart and I believe saw the little boy who had a great capacity to love and was loveable, who had real compassion to care for those weaker than himself; the little boy that Dad might have been if his life had been different.
With Mum’s love and God’s healing grace Dad’s adult life became very different from his childhood. Mum and Dad built a life and home together that was loving and nurturing, a home and family which my sisters and I could not have wanted any different.
Last Sunday’s services finished with the familiar words I say every Sunday at the communion service,“We do this until he returns”.
After saying those words this week I took Mum’s hand and said to her, “Dad is in heaven now and at last enjoying perfect communion with God”.
And I saw Dad there as that little boy he might have been, taking delight in a room of his own built for him with loving hands by the master carpenter, Jesus.