This post is the ninth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.
I grew up on a suburban street in Montgomery, AL that had approximately ten boys on the same block with all us in the same grade except two of us who were one year younger. We played football, basketball, and baseball together from the first grade through the ninth grade together in organized team sports. That would be hard to duplicate almost anywhere today.
Not only did we play organized school sports together, we also played “pick up” or impromptu games in the neighborhood many days when it wasn’t raining. My front yard was shaped best for most of our baseball games. But we had to stop when we got too big to hit home runs that would go through plate glass window of the Long’s home.
Craig Kenmore lived across the street to the left and he had the best basketball court with a spotlight on it so that we could play after dark. Billy Eley had a great yard for football, as well as his next door neighbor, the Cone’s.
Inevitably, we would be playing one of our games on a Sunday afternoon and my father (sometimes my mother) would open the front door and call out my name, “Malcolm, Malcolm, its time to come in!” My heart would sink. It was a weekly grief experience.
You see, my father was a pastor of a Baptist Church and we went to church every Sunday morning for 2-3 hours, every Sunday night for 2-3 hours, and Wednesday nights for a couple of hours all of my life. Even as a kid, I knew this was excessive to say the least. None of the other boys on my block went to church at all, or maybe a couple of them went on Sunday mornings.
It was a grave injustice for a little boy that couldn’t get enough sports outside.
When I eventually came inside, I would “pitch a fit” as we say in the South. I would scream, cry, slam doors, and do almost anything I could do to protest the fact that everyone else was still playing, and I was the only one who had to come inside to get ready for church. My tears were ineffective.
My father would say, “I’m sorry you had to come inside, but you know that it’s time to get ready for church.” Ugh, it was enough to make a little boy sick. I knew our home was different, not better or worse, just different and I couldn’t fully appreciate my life lessons.
Recently, I found a letter I wrote to my father on December 23, 1992 when I was 35 years old. I was a minister in Glastonbury, CT at the time. I wrote,
I am thankful for the faith you have taught me. I know, I used to complain and pitch a fit when you or Mama would call me from the front yard from playing football on a Sunday afternoon. But you were right. There are some things even more important.
I have listened to (or sat through) over a 1,000 sermons you have preached when I was growing up. I can still tell some of the illustrations you used. But, your life and faith in God is what taught me the most about faith. You have lived and do live your faith. I know, I know, sometimes you think you don’t do it as well as you ought.
But I remember talking to you in your office as a 7 or 8 year old boy when I was asking what it meant to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I remember Mama laying the foundation in several talks before that. And I remember the day I walked down that aisle at Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Montgomery and took your hand and said I was ready to accept Jesus as my Savior. I remember my baptism on a Sunday evening in the same sanctuary.
What I am trying to say is that you have taught and given me faith, hope, and love in my life. And the greatest one of all is love. Thank you for loving me unconditionally, especially when I did not deserve it. What greater gift could a father give his son? What greater gift could a son want from his father? I know you love me. And that’s what is most important.
And I love you.
Malcolm Lewis Marler
I guess there were things even more important than sports that my father taught me. And I am thankful.
My father taught me so.
P.S. But it is no coincidence that once I went to college, six of the seven churches I have worked in or have been members of, did not have Sunday night services. Thanks be to God.
And what about you, my readers? What did your parents or others teach you that you didn’t appreciate at the time, but you do now? Will you share with me in the Comments section below?
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