24 May 2001
I hope you are enjoying a happy celebration of your 60th birthday. Also, happy birthday to Mom, which I think must be today, that is, the day this being read. My family and I really wish we could be there to enjoy the party, but we look forward to seeing you in just a few weeks, when we will have to celebrate your and mom's birthdays, and all the other anniversaries and events that happen each year around this time. Grilled pork chops will be in order.
It's hard for me to imagine that you're turning sixty soon; nearly as hard as it is to accept that I will be 37 not long after! In these years you have seen and done many fascinating things, and taught me much as well. I'm amazed that you went to India with a family nearly as young as mine when you were a lot younger than I am today, and when the world was a much different place. Even when you took us to Saudi Arabia at the age I am now, the differences in travel and communication, not to mention global stability, made it a very different prospect than what we now face. Thanks for being bold enough to go to those places and expose us to so much of the world God has made, and the peoples with which he has populated it. Thanks for supporting us so completely in our current endeavor, and for your many encouragements and prayers.
Thanks also for the many things you have taught me in these years:
Thanks for trying to teach me to drive in a 1941 (I think) Chevy that Grandma Harmon had. (Assembled audience please note: This was in 1975 and it was an OLD car, and I was only 11 at the time). That column shifter must have been the problem, because I remember doing much better in our 1964 Land Rover a year later on sabkha flats in Saudi Arabia. Maybe it helped to see over the dashboard, too.
Thanks for buying me that first motorcycle (or maybe it was more a matter of "picking it up"), then working with me to fix the clutch, then teaching me to ride it, then being sympathetic but not angry (as I remember it) when I crashed and broke my arm.
Thanks for throwing bottles and cans in the air over and over on a gravel road north of Crookston in the fall of 1980 while I tried to learn how to shoot Grandpa Harmon's Remington, which I'm sure was too long for me and probably for you too. I doubt if I ever hit anything with that gun, although you certainly did. After we got the matching Mossbergs in Huron, I learned to hit things once in a while, even pheasants, but maybe even then only at random.
Thanks for being such a good example of a patient father. I need to remember this example with my own children each day, and try ever harder to be kind, happy, and loving. I seem to have inherited some traits which I understand existed in the previous generation of Harmon fathers, but which I believe were not present, or at least were latent, in you. I remember very little anger or tension in our home when I grew up, and that fact amazes me, knowing what I'm now learning about marriage, parenting, and children.
Similarly, you were, at least to me, a great example of a patient manager during the years you were at the camp. I have never been priveledged to observe you much in the classroom where I'm sure you do a great job, but I think back often to your example of dealing with people at Camp Byron, especially in these days when I have to deal with a staff who are often at least as unpredictable as certain camp staffers of yore, and sometimes seemingly more childish than Grace and Sammy in their worst moments! Be glad that you didn't have to deal much with different cultures, except for the occasional Southerner. Thank you for taking the bold step of leaving a comfortable university position to enter full-time ministry for 10 years. In addition to the spiritual fruit we see and that which we will never see, that career move provided me with a good managerial example, and also resulted in the valued blessing of a home with some roots in this world that's not our home.
Looking back, there are two particular incidents which stand out to me, and which you may recall.
The first one is the time we were working on the 66 Toronado in the garage in Crookston. We had been trying to diagnose for weeks, or perhaps months, why the apparently healthy engine refused to start. While we had lit quite a few gasoline fires before, they were always extinguished relatively quickly with rags and blankets. Because of eight exposed spark plugs and quite a lot of gasoline standing around on top of the engine, this fire was not surrendering to the usual technique. It was good thinking for you to tell me to go in the house for the fire extinguisher, and also good that you were able to push that heavy car outside by yourself by the time I found the extinguisher and got back. Although I now always have a fire extinguisher in the garage, this event didn't teach me that much new about fires. The important life-lesson I learned is that a cracked distributor cap can have really strange effects. Also, accurate analytical diagnosis can occur when you least expect it.
The second incident I keep thinking of and which I'm sure you recall is a time I was running the loader tractor at the camp. You will remember that this was an Allis WC or WD - again, OLD. We were trying to get the camp's very heavy safe into the loader bucket, and you were between the safe and the outside wall of the old office when the tractor suddenly lurched forward. You moved remarkably quickly as the safe crashed into the wall of the building. I'm not clear on all the subsequent details, but the engine must have died. I do know that we both assumed I had allowed my foot to slip off the clutch, and although I don't really remember being yelled at, it might have happened. I do remember feeling really bad as we just walked away from the tractor, safe, and mangled wall. It was later that you came to me holding the top half of the clutch pedal, which had broken clean off under my foot. What timing! The clutch pedal had probably been on there for 45 years, and God chose that moment, with you and the safe between the wall and the tractor, to break the pedal. This, by the way, reveals my theology. That day, I learned something about metallurgy and crystalization in cast iron, but I learned much more about communication and forgiveness. Only as I type this am I making the connection with God's amazing timing and authority, and His teaching in our lives. The sovereignty of God strikes again!
I will stop typing now, email this, and get to bed. I'm sure if I were there today I would have said much less than I have now said through whomever is reading this. I hope I haven't been too windy. Jeni and I are praying that the wedding will have been joyous, and that the marriage will be a great success, even as we go off tomorrow to celebrate our own 10th anniversary with an overnight trip to the exotic desert destination of Jabal Ali. (Reader, note: this is pronounced like Ollie, not alley. Don't read this clarification to the group.) Don't worry; responsible daughers of close friends will stay with our kids, and we predict they'll survive the ordeal. Which reminds me of a story about Elliot and Grandma Harmon and car doors, but I won't go into that.
Happy birthday, Dad, and felicitations (as they say here) upon reaching 60. I look forward to water skiing with you in a few weeks. Thanks for being a good father, grandfather, teacher, and example.