A Thanksgiving Eulogy


My father is in heaven. He died four years ago, shortly after turning 80. For his last 20 years, he was a traveling preacher, known in the Plymouth Brethren fellowship as a “laboring brother.” Because of him, our family gathers at Thanksgiving instead of at Christmas, because Christmas trees come from pagan worship, because Jesus wasn’t born in December, and because God would never approve of such blasphemies as drunken parties to honor the birth of His only Son. And so this week I’ll travel to my eldest sister’s house to join my family and to be thankful together and to visit and to squabble and to do everything at Thanksgiving time other families do at Christmas time.

A few years ago, we were gathered in my sister’s living room in Southern Illinois, sated from a bountiful feast and engaging in another tradition. Each person read a scripture verse from a card placed before them and then said what they were thankful for. When my turn came I read, “In everything give thanks,” and then said, “I’m thankful Dad’s not here.” It got a big laugh. Not that we didn’t love our Dad. We did. But the statement was funny, not just because of the out-of-context jolt, but because it was true that Dad’s presence made us uncomfortable.

He was a stern man, lacking in the social graces you and I employ daily. I remember one Thanksgiving Dad was there. Three small candied yams remained in the serving bowl and two siblings were eyeing them hungrily. Dad addressed the heavier one, “Leave it for him. He can use it more than you.”

My mother said, “Chuck! Don’t say that!”

“Why not?”

“It hurts his feelings.”

“You want me to lie? He’s fat! I’m just being honest.”

My father was naturally short on tact. A co-worker told me a story from Shure Brothers, where my father was a quality control manager. One day she overheard an employee saying, “Chuck’s smiling. They must have rejected a batch.” My father himself recounted to me a time when he, a fervent young believer, was counseled by an older “brother”: “The Bible tells us to season our speech with salt, Chuck. I believe you’ve been using pepper.”

My father’s mission was to evangelize; in church, at work, and even in the home. My mother made the world’s tastiest spaghetti—no Italian ever did it better—and when an invitation was extended, everyone knew it meant Laverne would make spaghetti. Invited guests would have a decision to make: was her spaghetti worth the post-prandial preaching? I guess the people I got to know best must have loved spaghetti.

Nor were we spared because we were his children. Daily Bible readings were held in our home. To make it less tedious, Dad instituted a contest. It would be my turn to read until I made a mistake. My sister would pounce on my error and then she’d get to read until she flubbed a word, and so on. This Thanksgiving, if you were to come home with me and say the phrase, “brief synopsis of Revelation,” you’d hear a collective groan as we’d all remember one summer when Dad announced that’s what we were going to get. “It’ll take me a week or so to run through it,” he said, but it dragged on for one interminable year of squirming torture.

And yet at Dad’s funeral, I learned something I’d never realized before. Lots of people loved this hard, unbending man. They came from all over—six states, two countries. The preacher didn’t deliver a eulogy; he preached the gospel. And he hit it hard. Hellfire and damnation—and God’s saving grace. Out of place? Not at Brother Chuck’s funeral, it wasn’t. It was exactly what he would have wanted.

At the graveside, a crowd of people gathered. Several stood by the casket and said a few words. They told stories of my dad and shed gentle tears as they lovingly remembered him. It wasn’t like they were ignorant of his flaws. One story highlighted his bluntness, and wisps of smiles rippled through the mourning congregation.

I wanted to say something too, but I didn’t. If I thought I could have done it without breaking down, here’s what I would have said.

I know my father loved me, but he wasn’t the kind of man to just say it. He spent time with his children. He played sports with us and he read to us for hours. But it was only after I’d become a father myself and after my family had been ripped from me and after I’d suffered so severely I doubted the very existence of the God my father knew and loved, that I came to understand how much he loved me.

My father, along with my mother, drove three hours each way to visit me every month all six years I was in prison. My father cried with me and he hurt for me, he prayed with me and he prayed for me, he begged God to dispel my doubt and to deliver me from my unjust predicament. It was clear he loved me. But it was the thing he didn’t do that, to me, proved my father’s love like nothing else could.

This man of God, who’d never avoided the chance to confront a stranger about Jesus, this husband who’d made a practice of ignoring signs of boredom, anger and hostility as he’d driven home his message of salvation to unwilling victims—so much so that my mother’s relatives would come to town and call her out, but they’d never again put themselves under my father’s roof—this father who desperately wanted to assure his son of the futility of anger against God and to show him from the scriptures that God never gives us a trial so great we can’t bear it … this hard, unyielding, insensitive, yes, even selfish man never once preached to me. He wanted to, I could see it, but he must have had some sense of the additional pain he’d pile on, and he never said a word. If that isn’t love, you tell me what is.

And so when it’s my turn at the dinner table this Thanksgiving, I plan to simply say, “I’m thankful for my Dad.”

Thank you for viewing my blog. Please return often. I value your comments.


David Hendricks


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17 thoughts on “A Thanksgiving Eulogy”

  1. Well written. I have fond memories of your dad; I found him to have a unique, quick witted sense of humor. All of his children seem to have inherited it too. Of course, I didn’t have to live with him either.

  2. Tom, it’s interesting to me to see how others viewed my dad. Many loved him and most would be suprised to hear one of his children say he made them feel uncomfortable when he was around. But I think they’d all agree. Better, though, to let them speak for themselves. And as to a sense of humor, it was my mother we all thought the Hendricks humor came from, so it’s refreshing for me to hear you say you thought my father had a quick-witted sense of humor. Be that as it may, I loved and valued my father, and the point of my blog is quite real. I often saw him, torn up inside at my unbelief, desperately wanting to preach to me, but holding his tongue. I never felt free to tell him that I noticed it and how much I appreciated it. Perhaps he reads my blog and knows it now. But I suspect he has more important things to do. There’ve got to be angels that need straightening out. :D I do plan to visit Dad’s grave, as I always do when I make it to Allendale, so perhaps I’ll thanks him in person this trip.

  3. I can still smell “Mrs. Hendrick’s spaghetti” cooking in the basement of 329 Harrison St. on tea-meeting Sundays. Had to laugh at the salt and pepper comment. I think I can also learn from and totally identify myself with that one. :-) Not just the quick-witted sense of humor that he had – but the quick and genuine smile he would flash during any conversation. (Used to see the same smile in Jan during our “growing-up years”.) Our dads had a depth of character, integrity and perseverance that is quickly becoming the exception in our self-centered-self-consumed-instant-gratification society. Thank God for such great examples of these characteristics, and I desperately pray that some day, should we be left here long enough, the very thing can be said of me. Galatians 6:9. Great read followed by cherished memories!!

    1. Thanks, Jean, for the nice memories. The smell I remember most in that basement was the seven-layer casserole. MMMMmmmmm….. And, for dessert, the blueberry tort. OK, now I”m hungry! I’m ready for the drive north!

  4. Well said David
    I have good memories of your father & mother. I always enjoyed visiting with your father in recent years. Rockford fellowship Lord’s Days, your mother & spaghetti were synonymous.
    Please give your mother a hug from me.
    An excellent read on the subject of parents – “The Blessing”.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. David this may be hard for you to believe, but my friend Keren Albertson and I were always hugely hugged by your father at every conference we were together (at least 2 a year) … and he always addressed us as ‘his other daughters’ – both Keren and I are fatherless, and I know Keren deemed him as her father … even to saying Chuck would be a contender to walk her down the aisle IF or when she would be married … it hasn’t happened yet but THAT is how much he meant to her. A ‘spiritual father’ fills a large void. He definitely was one of many of my chosen father’s … see when you don’t have your own on earth you get to ‘choose’ as many as you desire until they too go to heaven! You also never knew that during those 6 unanswerable years you were in prison, your dad and I were on the tennis court every July or August, praying for you … ESPECIALLY the night you ‘might get a new trial’ – we prayed for you on center court … he had to get back to the dorm and phone your mom by 10 pm that night to find out! He was soooo happy – grinning from ear to ear, the next day at our picnic, cause the answer had been YYYEESSS!!!
    I luv’d your father … a father to the fatherless, a man of faith, he was to me and even more so to Keren. I was one of the ones who came from ‘another country’ to his funeral (and finally met you :) the one he had talked to me so much about. When Marion Steika heard my family was going, she brought hers as well. She had been saved in Toronto, Canada as a teenager, now in New York, but she wanted to be there too. She told her children, ‘when I got saved, Chuck was the one who ‘told it like it was’, didn’t mince words, and I liked that in my early Christian years’ … {something like that, see, some of us love a man just like Chuck cause you were never at a loss as to where you stood with him} … and I think I might be the only one who ever ‘preached’ TO him!! on the tennis court, admonishing him, that he shouldn’t be so competitive! :) and just enjoy the game!
    Yes, Keren and I were his ‘other daughters’ sooo, then that sort of makes us, by his own proclamation, your ‘sisters’!!! ahhhh! but I’ll be in New Jersey and Keren in California this Thanksgiving, so you’re safe with our little secret!
    to a brother well beloved, and missed … thank you for turning our hearts back to fond memories of our dear ‘Chuck’!

  6. Thanks for the memories, Shannon, and for adding new information. It was so gratifying at his funeral to see all the love for my dad. Thanks for your thoughts. Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. You’re making me really, really sad we don’t get to join you all again this year! Enjoyed this very much!

  8. Uncle Dave,

    Lisa shared your blog post (from her facebook page), and I lit into it like a Thanksgiving feast! I wanted to “hear” what you would say about your dad, my Grandpa – my namesake. I loved the straightforward transparency, even brutal honesty, yet heartwarming sincerity with which you presented your father. Grandpa “Chuck” was a good grandpa to me . . . time spent playing 16″ softball, soccer, and football when he would visit. I was never a tennis player, so those shared experiences were limited. I partook in a number of his “reading sessions,” and consequently still taylor my family readings to the shorter attention spans, though I wish I had some of Grandpa’s understanding in order to explain things more adequately. One memory that is etched in my brain is when Grandpa would need to adjust his boxers (and shirt) and would simply drop his drawers and readjust right where he was regardless of how public it might be. Makes me smile even now.

    Thinking of tomorrow and all the festivities that will take place at my folks place, it makes me yearn for another opportunity to be a part of it . . . if only the distance didn’t separate quite so significantly.

    I would love to be there to hear those words, “I am thankful for my dad!”

    I love you Uncle Dave!

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Lisa and Steve, for your kind comments. Steve, I picked your comment up on my phone while driving here yesterday, and since I was driving and it was too long to safely read while doing so, I handed it to Jim and he read it out loud. When he got to the part about Dad adjusting his boxer shorts we both broke out laughing. That was just like him! Thanks, Steve. We’ll miss you at your folks’ house this year.

  9. This very sweet and very real, Uncle Dave! Enjoyed it! We’ll miss being there tomorrow very much! Blessings to you all!

  10. I have fond memories of your dad and can relate to much of what you have written as we experienced some of those same things in our childhood years at home. For many of my younger years I thought Uncle Chuck and Aunt Laverne were my “blood relatives.” Whenever I play the song “Shine forth O Lord, Thou bright and morning Star”, on the piano I am reminded of him saying it was his favorite, or one of his favorite hymns. He introduced the song “Jesus my Lord..” Into our family.
    I remember how competitive he was with sports.
    I wish you and your family a great Thanksgiving. Give your mother a hug from me.

  11. Dave, We knew him well. And loved him. He is one of the only fathers I’ve witnessed playing ball with his kids. Even though I usually opted to watch from the sidelines and keep myself out of trouble, I’ve never forgotten that practical example of engaging with your children.

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