Tribute to Dad

A I received the following note from Ms. Lynn Harden, Development Officer at The Union Institute in Cincinnati , Ohio. It so moved me that I asked her permission to share it with you.

She responded: "Dear Ken, I/we are grateful that you "received" Dad into your heart. Of course you may share his tribute with others. I believe that there are many fathers out there who need to know how deeply they imprint the lives of their children and continue to do so long after they are gone. They are so vital to our selves. Yes, this is a rather intimate story, yet it is a truth that I am so grateful to hold. If it helps any one person connect, then what an affirmation, and what an honor to my dad. He'd smile to know that he is still teaching."

It is my honor to present it to you. 

MARCH 27, 1999 - South Bend, IN

It is a great comfort to be back in this church today. This is where Dad wanted to be too. And we cannot thank you enough for all you have done to keep him connected to his community and to this church. He received every letter from you, each telephone call with genuine joy and gratitude.

Over the last few days, Gayle and I have struggled to write a tribute that could come close to sharing the incredible legacy of Clinton Harden. We know he has touched the lives of people in this church and this community in important ways--ways that might be impressive to some. Dad had so many talents that he shared freely. You can read about those things in his obituary. But our father was just Dad to us and that is who we want you to know today. 

He had a gift for being many things; a skilled molder of steel, a polished politician, a joyful singer in the church choir, an orator, a ballroom dancer, a gardener, a golfer, and a fisherman. But he was always himself, and he was always our Dad. And his magnificent gift to us was to teach Gayle and me that being our true selves is enough for anyone, anything or any place.

Dad had a way of teaching us with little fanfare. He was so smooth at making his point that we never really recognized the lessons until long after they were given. But we continue to remember them when we need them the most. 

One of our most vivid lesson and memory of him is about something that occurred when we were little girls. A tornado blew up one spring afternoon. The day suddenly turned into night. The contrast of the dark sky against the green trees and grass created an eerie atmosphere. As the wind started to howl, we became afraid. We ran about looking for a place to hide in the small, wood-frame house with no basement, which offered little protection from the storm. 

But Dad walked over to the door, opened it, and called us over saying, "Come. Look at this! This is Mother Nature. This is God at work."  

We stood there with him, hand in hand that day, calmly watching the fury rage outside as the tornado moved across the sky a mere two blocks away.  

You see, when we were very young, Dad taught us that sometimes we have to face a storm, not run from it. By doing so, we can better understand its nature and ride it out. And that sometimes, we have to humbly accept that which we cannot change, but that we can do so with dignity, not hiding in the dark.

Today, we marvel at how this man had the wisdom at such a young age to open the door to that storm. How did he feel as a parent, as a man knowing that he could not better protect his girls? In a broader sense, how did he so gracefully overcome the bigotry that denied him an adequate job, housing and opportunity? What tornadoes did he face everyday that we never saw, never held his hand through, never fully understood? Yet, he prepared us for so much with such gentle understanding, unconditional love, boundless pride in our efforts and accomplishments, lots of hugs and laughter, and often saying, " I love you no matter what 'cause you're mine, Baby." 

Dad had no fear of that tornado long ago, only total respect and awe of the All Mighty at work. And so it was last Sunday as he watched God preparing a room for him out of the storm.

He called us to his bedside and announced it was time for him "go home". He held our hands and the three of us, in the midst of his storm, laughed, prayed, sang his favorite songs, and told one another how much we loved each other.

He told his twin brother Clifton and us that "it would be awhile before he would see us again." He thanked Gayle and me for taking such good care of him, and for making him proud to be our father.

Then Dad settled back and waited with the same respect and awe he showed during that long-ago tornado. He left us early the next morning to meet his Maker, his face filled with sunlight. Again, he showed us how to ride it out and how to accept the power of Life. 

You see, Dad was the first man we ever loved. He taught us to tie our shoes, ride a bike, hook a fishing line, start a lawn mower, paint, change a tire and drive a nail. We learned to ballroom dance by standing on his feet. It was Dad who showed us how wonderful being a wife could be as we witnessed the delight on Mom's face every time he came home from work, and the laughter the two of them so often shared. We used to peek at them dancing in the living room when they thought we were asleep.

It was Dad who poured our first drink and Dad who showed us that liquor was nothing to be impressed by…but used responsibly, was a wonderful way to celebrate a special occasion.

He taught us that dreams were worth going after. And he loved us enough to let us make our own decisions-even if they were wrong ones for us. He only insisted that we learn from them.

Getting an education, however, was not an option. It was a mandate. For Dad, a college degree represented far more than a good job. It was a symbol that "his girls" would always be independent and could walk away from a husband, boyfriend, or employer who treated us with disrespect.  

He used to say, "I don't ever want you to worry about how to make it on your own." He knew that an education would increase our options for meeting life's storms. But he was wise enough to make sure that we could mow lawns, dig gardens, or fix plumbing for a living when times were lean.

Dad didn't have much patience for tears. He believed tears only got in the way of coming up with a good plan. He was a doer, yet a tender consoler after the work was done. He would say, "Cry later, you have a job to do now." …and so we will… 

…Though we come before you with heavy hearts today, our hearts are filled with joy and pride for the life of your brother, your friend? and our father, Clinton Harden. A few months ago we asked him to write his final wishes so we would know exactly what he wanted done upon his death. His first wish was to come home and to be buried next to his wife.

He also wanted you to know how grateful he was to Mom for teaching him to smell the flowers. And he wanted us to gather and make a toast to his memory with his favorite drink for special times? Jack Daniel's, and that is exactly what we will do. And we will continue to toast him every time a good storm blows up, at the sight of a new garden, or a freshly cut golf course.

We will toast him for the rest of our lives for showing us how to live with grace and how to die truly at peace. He leaves us with a fearless capacity to embrace the sun and say, "This is a good day to die." We will be forever grateful that Clinton Harden was our Dad.  

Thanks, Dad.

Your Girls.

© 2007, Kenneth F. Byers

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A permanent state of transition is man's most noble condition. - Juan Ramon Jimenez

Ken Byers holds a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in Men's Studies, one of the few ever awarded in the U.S. Ken is a full time Certified Professional Life Coach specializing in working with men in any form of transition and an instructor of design at San Francisco State University.

His books, "Man In Transition" and "Who Was That Masked man Anyway" are widely acknowledged as primers for men seeking deeper knowledge of creating awareness and understanding of the masculine way. More information on Ken, his work and/or subscription information to the weekly "Spirit Coach" newsletter which deals with elements of the human spirit in short commentary, check the box at or or or E-Mail You are welcome to share any of Ken's columns with anyone without fee from or to him but please credit to the author. Ken can be reached at: 415.239.6929.

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