Monday, January 30
It is no fault of the shepherd when he ends up with a black sheep. That doesn’t make it any easier on him, though. My father was one of the greatest men who ever lived, but through no fault of his own, Phil Shannon ended up with a black sheep. Me. I spent my adult life, up until the time my father died, convinced that he was disappointed in me.
I wasn’t exactly the model preacher’s son. That was my brother, David. David was a hard act to follow. He was always the first one to learn the memory verses. He memorized the books of the Bible when he couldn’t even pronounce most the Minor Prophets. He followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather to the pulpit. His theology was impeccable. His haircut piously conservative, and his suits were appropriately dull.
I’ve stood beside him when my dad would introduce us, and even while folks were shaking my hand, they’d say things like, “We never knew you had two boys.” My father, to his credit, would always follow that with a comment about how well I did in math or about my gentle nature. He’d look me in the eyes and smile, and that would let me know he understood.
Being a pastor’s son, I learned to watch his eyes. They told the real story regardless of what his mouth was saying. Not that my father was a liar, but he was a consummate diplomat. And a doormat.
I accused him of being a doormat anyway. When he asked me why I’d quit going to church, I told him I’d seen enough. I saw the toll it took on him, on my mother, and I said I was through with it. That’s when I saw the disappointment. It didn’t matter how many times he told me he understood, not that he agreed, mind you, but he understood. It didn’t even matter how many times he told me he loved me or when he stood with me at graduation and told me he was proud of me. I saw his eyes. Even in the snapshots my mother took, I could see a hint of it.
I’m glad nobody was around to take pictures the afternoon I told him about Stacy and me. I didn’t have to tell him, and there was no way he would have ever known if I hadn’t confessed it. But I don’t think I could have slept otherwise.
He and Mom had come to visit me in Knoxville, and my dad and I took a long walk while Mom visited with my uncle Nolan. I can remember the exact rock I was looking at when I said, “Dad, Stacy and I have been together.”
He took a long slow moment while it sunk in, then he said, “Do you love her?”
“I think so, yes.”
“Do you intend to marry her?”
“If she’ll have me.”
For a long time, he didn’t say anything. Then he raised his eyes to mine and he said, “I’m glad you thought enough of me to tell me.”
I saw failure in his eyes.
“Michael, there’s very little I can tell you that you don’t already know. You’ve chosen to make things more difficult, more complicated than they needed to be. You have forced your relationship with Stacy out of the place where God can bless it and protect it.”
“I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as you make it out to be.”
He raised his eyebrows. “That’s fairly obvious.”
Those were the first words I thought of as I stood in the baby’s bedroom the day after my father’s funeral. Stacy looked at me and said, “I’m not going to Stinson with you for the memorial. I want a divorce, Michael.”
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