Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What Dad Taught Me: Walt Cassady, 1933-2008

Believe it or not, one of my earliest memories of Dad was him coming into my room in the morning when I still young enough to sleep in the crib; he teased me because I’d ended up at the opposite end from where I started. That seemed funny to both of us. That day, I learned what it was like to share laughter with my father.

When I was five, Dad drove our family to California for vacation. We ran out of fuel somewhere along a barren highway because Dad was not about to pay $0.32 a gallon for gasoline. That day, I learned that sometimes it’s prudent to pay top dollar because your family will never let you live it down if frugality sends you walking back up the road with a gas can.

In 1969 Dad gathered his children around the television to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Even though I was very young, he told me to watch carefully and to remember what I was seeing, because history was being made. That day, I learned that if I approached the world with open eyes, I might witness great events and make them part of my own personal history.

Dad instilled in me a love of travel. He took our family on long road trips each summer, usually in conjunction with his National Guard two-week drills. But one of the biggest road trips I ever made was the first time he sent me off on an errand by myself behind the wheel of a Ford Gran Torino with six inches of snow on the ground. I was petrified because I was sixteen and had never driven on such roads, but he had every confidence in me. That day, I learned that I could do most anything if someone I admired believed in me.

Years later, when I was married and having my third child, Dad and Starr came to visit when the baby was due. I soon went into labor, and just before my husband took me to the hospital, Dad put both hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eyes. In pain, already breathing through contractions, I expected words of wisdom from my father. Instead, he gazed at me with great sympathy, and simply said, “Honey, I’m so sorry.” That day I learned that sometimes laughter and compassion go hand-in-hand.

In early September 2005, Dad phoned to tell me he and Starr were loading up the motor home and heading down to Slidell, LA to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. They ended up staying for several weeks and spear-heading plans to help rebuild a local church building, and by all accounts, even when he wasn’t in charge, he made sure everyone knew the right way to take care of the cleanup efforts. But that day in September, I learned that there’s a big difference between feeling sorry for people in need, and actually being like Christ by altering your life and plans and finances to help them.

I’ve always been proud to be Walt Cassady’s daughter. He was far from perfect, but he lived a life of passion, service, and adventure. And on July 5th, I learned what a privilege it is to stand beside someone you love and admire deeply as they’re birthed into True Life.

I’m thankful to Dad for teaching me so much. For talking my mother into having one more baby. For corny jokes that my children have deemed “Cassady’s,” for sending my children and me on missions trips because he wanted us to have those kinds of hearts, and for a lifetime of love.

Dad’s legacy will not be forgotten.