My father is a frugal man. He grew up on a farm, you see. A farm not far North from the town I grew up in. Jump on the highway North, for about an hour, and you’ll come across it before long.
But I suppose you could say, he’s the kind of man that can fix anything. Even if it really isn’t broken. Every corner of the family home has a little piece of wire wrapped around it, holding it together.
We have a classic set of plastic barbecue chairs in the backyard, held together by perfectly engineered little metal brackets. It might look a bit silly. It definitely looks a little bit silly. But it works.
So it will come as no surprise when I tell you that the dining table in my family home has been there since before I was born. It doesn’t have the original paint. It doesn’t even have the original legs. My father has saved it from the scrap-heap time and time again.
I did the math, I must have sat at that table somewhere close to 10,000 times. 10,000 times. And tonight would be the last time.
“Mum and Dad, I love you. There are certain things that I’ve done. That my wife and I have done. But none of that really matters right now. Regardless of any of that, I have to tell you, I don’t want to be a Jehovah’s Witness anymore.”
They’d known something was up. I’d told them I needed to talk. But they are not prepared for this.
“We knew something was up”, said frugal father Kernich, “when you said you needed to talk. But we were not prepared for this.”
It’s like I said.
They’re quick to accept it at first. “This will change things”, is my mother’s first response. And she isn’t wrong. We are all painfully aware of what this means. To leave the faith is to face a quick path of exile. That doctrine is clear. For my parents, there would be only one path forward. I was to be shunned. Totally, completely, and immediately. A choice, they imagined, that I was making for myself.
“This will change things”. My mother says again. I think it’s her way of processing the moment. My father is mostly rocking ever-so-slightly in his chair. The way a person rocks when they’re preparing to say something. Like standing on the edge of a jetty staring nervously at the water.
“I don’t understand”, my mother finally musters, “why are you doing this?”
“I don’t believe it, Mum. I’m not sure I ever have.”
“Then why did you do it? Why did you get baptized? I wish you’d done this back then. Don’t you see how things would have been much better?”
It’s a complicated paradox. Baptism. We don’t baptize infants in this church, you see. You wait until you’ve “come to accurate knowledge” and have “made the truth your own”. A process I’d evidently fumbled my way through. I did for a girl, in truth.
But had I never got so sanctimoniously dunked, my parents’ options would be ever so slightly more flexible at this point. An unbaptized child leaving the faith is a minor heathen compared to the raging apostate I would soon be labeled.
And so here we are, my mother, wanting to revisit the dream of an unbaptized child. Funny how, at this moment, that seemed like such a lovely option. Minutes ago, she probably couldn’t imagine anything worse. But I have some proper worse shit for her. Sorry, mum.
“How are you going to live your life?” My Dad is getting in on the questions now. “Where will you get your ethics from?”
“I don’t know Dad.”
I really don’t.
“Maybe if you tried studying the Bible a little more.” My Mum started pleading. “Just a little while, Josh. Just give it one more chance.”
“No, mum. I’ve studied enough.”
“Just one more chance, Josh.”
My Dad is distracted with his own line of questioning. He isn’t satisfied with my answers. Or perhaps the gravity of this moment is really hitting him. This may, in fact, be the last chance he gets to speak to his son.
“Be a good man, Josh. Just be a good man.”
It’s one of those moments where your dear friend, who’s worn glasses their whole life, takes them off in front of you. And you see this other person you don’t even recognize. That was my Dad. Because this thing he’s saying to me. It is kinda the first thing he’s ever said to me. The first real thing. The first thing not shrouded in doctrine and the weight of someone elses ideas about how to live his life. The first words I’ve heard come straight from his heart.
“Be a good man.”
And I cried.
Things move quickly. There isn’t so much more to be said. Or maybe there’s too much. Either way, I’m being herded out the door.
“You didn’t have to come to see us, Josh.” My mum is saying. “You could have called us up or sent a message.”
“Yes he did,” my Dad injects, “He’s a man.”
There he is again. My Dad being a proper Dad. He sure chose his moment. Because I’ll remember him forever by this moment. A Father facing down the worst reality he might have imagined from his son and facing it with grace and pride.
Be a good man. I think he was showing me how. In his own way.