With the approaching Fourth of July holiday in celebration of America’s Independence Day, I have recently been contemplating an American patriot who is dear to my heart.
Can you imagine being a crusty old Army veteran and your only child (and a daughter at that!) brings home a guy with longer hair than hers and she tells you he is a musician and she thinks he is THE ONE? Then can you imagine being a skinny, wimpy musician and your girlfriend takes you to her house to meet her parents and her father is a crusty old Army veteran? Such were the circumstances of me meeting my father-in-law, Ernie West. Over 35 years later, I tell my friends I’m the only man in the world whose 84 year old father-in-law could still "whup' him, as he would call it!
Ernie is one of those men who could be described as larger than life. He is a true American hero, a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, which is the highest US military decoration. Probably more importantly to him, he remains to this day the biggest hero of my wife, Amy. She tells me I am her biggest hero, but I know better and I wouldn’t have it any other way. She is a Daddy’s girl through and through.
Ernie came about his gruffness honestly. He was abandoned by his parents at age five and lived for a while under the Ironton-Russell Bridge in Kentucky, where he remembers eating raw eggs he retrieved from birds’ nests. Eventually, neighbors began to notice him and he was sent to live in the Kentucky Methodist Children’s Home at Versailles. He remained there for the duration of his childhood and received a great Bible upbringing. Ernie does not wear his religion on his sleeve and seldom attends church services, but he has been one of the godliest examples of a man I have ever known.
If I were to pick the most outstanding trait of Ernie and his late wife, Jane, it would have to be their generosity. For the first several years I knew them, I saw them give away so much that I just assumed they were rich. They insisted on helping us financially for many years while I sought my college degree. I also witnessed them aiding numerous nieces, nephews, siblings and friends, as well as various charitable organizations. One day Ernie’s pickup truck caught fire and was badly burned, inside and out. Ernie took the insurance check and instead of purchasing another vehicle or even getting his truck fixed good as new, he hired a friend to help him just get it drivable. The car they had bought for me was now much nicer than the one Ernie was driving. And that was when it suddenly dawned on me: they weren’t rich at all! Their giving was truly sacrificial, the kind we read about in the Bible (e.g., Mark 12:41-44).
Ernie was and is a doting father to Amy. I rarely see any baby pictures of Amy where he isn’t proudly holding her. He and Jane had suffered through four miscarriages and were well into their 30’s by the time Amy was born. I believe this and the fact Ernie had no parents contributed to the close relationship Amy always had with her parents, but especially her dad.
I have spent my entire married life trying to fill the shoes of the man who raised my wife. There are times when I feel inadequate and that my efforts are fruitless, but I know Amy desires and deserves for me to never stop trying to be the best husband and father I can be. Jesus came to Earth and lived a perfect, sinless life. Talk about a hard act to follow! But no matter how futile our attempts to emulate Him, He desires and deserves for us to never stop trying to be the best Christians we can be.
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).