Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6).
I offered these words at the memorial service for my father, C. Rees Jenkins, Jr., on Tuesday, September 20, 2106.
My father had a childhood nickname, I’m told.
Folks called him “The Judge” because of his sober and pensive demeanor. He walked with heavy steps and eyes to the ground a few feet ahead, his forehead and eyebrows squeezing the juice out of some thought.
As a toddler, I looked up at my father from about his knees’ height as he lumbered through the house after work in his suit and tie after another day at the bank. I concluded that life is very serious.
Not that the man lacked all levity. My father could certainly shake the house with laughter while watching a stand-up comic on TV, and he interjected the occasional wordplay in his speech, like calling his day off for the birthday of our first president, “Birthington’s Washday.” He certainly found me funny quite often, but not always when I intended to be.
But in general, I experienced a man who worked hard and worried much.
It took growing up and getting caught up in adult work and worry myself to see that my father channeled his love for his wife and children that way.
He stuck with the same career – trust services – managing the estates of the bank’s wealthier clientele. Yet, he did not realize how much he enjoyed it until he retired and got to keep up with the financial markets full time for himself. He swears he made more after retirement than before.
But before retirement, his tired resignation made some sense to me when he told me as I took doctoral courses in psychology that he did the same for a year at Duke and hated it. He got there after enjoying biological research as an undergraduate at Davidson and asking his faculty advisor what he could do with that background to help people. The advisor helped him give it a try with psychology at Duke, but all the theoretical and philosophical ideas seemed too far from practical helping.
My father always seemed in search of that ministry.
He didn’t seem to feel that the work he did every day looked helpful enough. It did not look like the work of his parents, Presbyterian missionaries when he was born in Kobe, Japan on March 15, 1926. Yet, because he picked up Japanese pretty quickly, he just as quickly had a job to do, interpreting for his parents who found the language a bear to grapple with.
Dad grew up in a family that struggled financially as his pastor father worked all hours for little compensation. Like any practical man, he could see that relief came with financial cushions, and he showed his love by attending to the financial security of others, worrying over the details for those he loved. Yet, he also harbored a Calvinist antipathy for greed.
Worrying over details. Worrying over what might go wrong. Carefully avoiding doing anything he would regret, and he would regret nothing more than his family suffering for a misstep. Yet, he regretted most the opportunities his caution made him miss, and by my thirties and forties, those regrets weighed heavily.
But after retirement, my father slowly learned from the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. He realized that God blessed him with a wife too wonderful for him to dream up himself, and he sang her praises more and more. As he saw that he lived through those missed opportunities and his children lived through our hard lessons and turned out okay, he seemed to rest into gratitude. He never really stopped worrying, but his worries no longer hardened in grim resignation so much as they dissolved in praise.
I suppose that is why his words of hope and his joy in helping gave me so much strength when my life hit bottom, when despair shrouded my soul during my life’s dark decade. From those depths, I looked up at my father and saw no longer a stern judge, but a merciful one.
Yes, life is serious. But God is good. My father would be the first to tell you that.