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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

18 June 2006

Father’s Day Reminiscences

My DadLast Father’s Day was too soon — Dad had just died the previous month and his death was too close for me to celebrate his life and my place as his first-born. After a year and change (and encouraged by The Terrible Swede’s celebration of his dad) I decided to spend a few moments and write a few words in my father’s memory.

Dad was “old school” in a number of ways. He loved his kids but it took him a few years of practice to learn to show the affection he had. For much of his life, it seems that he was underappreciated (and probably under-compensated) as a parish pastor. Yet he went about preaching the Gospel and loving his congregations as long as the Lord allowed him to live.

My Grandpa Snyder was a cabinetmaker; from him, Dad learned a fair bit of carpentry and woodworking. He also knew plumbing, truck driving, and any number of other manual skills. We kids helped him add a bedroom, a bathroom, and a carport to the parsonage in Gallup, New Mexico. He and I bought a couple wrecked pickup trucks for $50 each — we combined them, did some cutting, drilling, welding, and scrounging of parts, and I had college transportation for under $200.

He ran cattle off and on for years, breeding his cows to help feed his kids. He put food on the table by hunting and fishing — including a spell where he shot coyotes for the bounty money. Yet as “rough and tumble” as he could appear when doing these things, he always was cleaned-up and slicked-back when preaching or visiting the sick.

He could be tender, too. He brought a goose home one fall, to fatten it up for our Christmas feast. However, my brother Paul and I developed an inordinate fondness for that hissing, biting, obnoxious creature and would have been horrified to eat it. The goose “disappeared” late that December and we ate “turkey.” When we were older, he told us the story and we could scarcely forgive him — because we were laughing so hard.

I thank him and mom for continuing to introduce new foods into our diet. Sauerkraut, chili, and curry all rotated through our menu. Whenever a local grocery store had a special on some exotic fruit, Dad brought some home. While others may have been stuck only with apples, bananas, and oranges, we discovered mangos, papayas, guava, et al.

Dad was sort of the Will Rogers of the dining table: He never met a food he didn’t like. Because we learned such catholic dining habits, even foods I didn’t experience as a child, I’ve been willing to sample as an adult. From kimchi to escargot and calamari to raw oysters — even if I didn’t like it (e.g., escargot in cream sauce), now I know, I didn’t just refuse to try.

During it all, Dad continued to learn, study, and grow intellectually and theologically. He left the parish in 1980 to complete his Masters in Sacred Theology and then earned a Doctor of Theology from Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis. He spoke fluent German, good Spanish, passable Navajo, and could muddle his way through Italian, French, Russian, and several other languages.

Was he a polymath — a Renaissance man? I’m not quite sure how deep and broad one’s accomplishments must be in order to earn the title. He was a man of God, a faithful pastor, and a mission-minded Christian who could “do evangelism” better in a supermarket checkout line than most specially trained “experts” could manage with prepared home visits.

In Michigan, he planted demonstration gardens so urban kids could see where their food came from, then welded prize-winning sculptures for the county fair. He could sew by hand or machine. His reading ranged from Cicero, Homer, and Scripture (in the original languages) to Louis L’Amour.

He modeled honesty, dedication to the task at hand, and hard work. He never figured that he deserved any of God’s blessing but he thanked the Lord for the gifts he received, then invested that treasure in his life, his family, and his church. Firmly convinced that confessional Lutheranism provided the clearest and best exposition of Scripture and the Christian Faith, Dad wrote instruction materials for adults and young people, including a Christ-teaching Navajo coloring book for which he provided both words and pictures.

I thank God for Dad. Through my earthly father, I learned of my heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ. He and Mom catechized us from infancy onward. We knew our prayers before we knew what most of the words meant and could quote Scripture and Catechism before we could read. I miss him as much this Father’s Day as I did the last, but I’m more at peace with his passing.

Perhaps his congregations and his synod sometimes underappreciated him — I know I was guilty of that, especially in my youth. He would have told you himself that he was but an unworthy servant. But he forgave me my underestimating (and under-esteeming) him and I grew to know, understand, and cherish Dad.

The next time I see my father, he won’t be suffering the effects of age and emphysema, looking like he was “rode hard and put up wet.” He’ll be completely remade in the image of the Savior he struggled to serve. Now, thanks in part to his faithful witness, I’ll a day will come when I also will be able to leave behind my flaws and failures and join him in perfection of body, mind, and spirit forevermore.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Anonymous C. Donofrio said...

It has been a couple of years since I have seen you. I always seemed to click with you and now I know why. Any man with a father like yours, I would naturally like and relate to as my father was the best man I have known.

May the Lord give you comfort and peace as you miss your father, even as I miss mine. This world is not as bright without a couple of real men like them in it.

God's Peace
Pr. Craig Donofrio

18 June, 2006 22:49  
Blogger revcwirla said...

I recall your dad fondly. He was and remains a great gift to the church. What a fitting and wonderful tribute on Father's Day.

Thanks, Walt.

19 June, 2006 10:47  
Blogger Rev. Richard S. Cody said...


I worked and spent much time with your dad in the NE corner of the state of Texas. Your dad, Michelle--my wife, and I many times ate lunch together when he would come to Texarkana for circuit conferences. I spent time in your dad's house in Honey Grove, and enjoyed spending time in the church there. He was hilarious at conferences--never knowing what would come out of his mouth--he spoke exactly what was on his mind. For that I am thankful! I miss him, too, because he was there for me when I was really under persecution in Texarkana. He encouraged me to hold fast and preach the Gospel the best I could. For that I am eternally grateful! Walt, peace to you in Christ!

Fraternally in Office, +

Pr. Rick Cody
Psalm 84:10

20 June, 2006 08:49  
Blogger Kepler said...

Your post makes me sad that I didn't know him, Pastor.

I've started an ad hoc Father's Day Carnival over at my blog.

21 June, 2006 09:06  

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