GUIZERIX: Be somebody’s ‘Mr. Jake’ today

Published 4:00 am Wednesday, October 27, 2021

For the last two weeks, I’ve been dealing with my father’s untimely passing after more than two years fighting stage IV metastatic melanoma.

When thinking about my “return column,” or at least how to best approach the subject, I considered several topics. However, none seemed quite right.

That is until a church member shared her testimony of what my father meant to her family.

As a single mother of three adopted children and one biological child, her children were in need of a strong father figure — especially her oldest son, who struggled socially, academically and most of all, emotionally. He was a child who ran away from everything, who desperately needed help.

And, for some reason, my dad took up time with him. It started out years ago, as a simple conversation about Alabama football after church on Wednesday night. My dad, in a sea of people who didn’t understand or were afraid to get close to a “difficult” child, took the time to listen to this boy talk about football. Not only that; my dad talked back.

Whenever the boy had a hard time at school, he would calm down by drawing football pictures for my dad. He always accepted them like they were real works of art, and not pencil drawings on notebook paper. And, I discovered after his death, my dad kept every picture in the side pocket of his truck.

A high school classmate of my father’s described him as “kind and solid, the kind of person who made sure you knew exactly where he stood.” And that’s pretty accurate, especially in this case. My dad never seemed to mind that the time he took with this child meant he’d miss part of the church service, or only finish half his meal because they were in the middle of a deep conversation about air-raid offenses.

My dad gave this boy and his siblings their first Bibles. He was just a guy from church, but he made sure those kids knew the Lord, and knew what it meant to be a good neighbor.

After a while, a change took place. The boy started performing better in school. He made real friends. He joined extracurricular activities, like track and cross country. He had something to run towards, after years of running away. Thanks to a great mom, good teachers and role models like my dad, he is excelling by leaps and bounds.

Six days before he died, the church youth group gathered outside my parents’ house to sing a few songs for my family. We wheeled my dad outside, and this child was front and center. My dad, who hadn’t said more than three words all day, spoke to the group about their salvation, about the importance of knowing Jesus Christ as their Savior. He smiled, while the rest of us were sobbing.

At the end, the boy presented my dad with an Alabama football, signed by all the youth group members. As he approached my dad’s wheelchair, my father singled him out: “Hey buddy, I heard you set a personal record at your cross country meet! Way to go.”

Like everyone else who was lucky enough to know him, this boy has struggled with my father’s death. Struggled to understand and comprehend what words like “hospice” and “palliative care” mean. Struggled to understand that he’s gone from this earth, and we won’t see him again until we reunite in Heaven.

But there’s hope, too. On Tuesday, this boy, who had a few good role models including my dad, decided to run the district cross-country meet in memory of my father, “Mr. Jake.”

As I finished my column, I learned that he blew his previous personal record out of the water with a time of 21:36, and that he led his team to the regional meet.

So I have one question: How can you be someone’s “Mr. Jake” today?