A Letter to My Dad on His 70th Birthday

Dear Dad,

Happy 70th Birthday!

You’ve never been an easy one to buy gifts for—and there’s probably not anything you need that I could buy you anyway. So, I thought my gift to you on your 70th Birthday would be to give public thanks for what a gift you’ve been to me.

As I sat down to outline all that I’ve learned from you, the things appreciate about you, and the memories I most cherish, it didn’t take long to for the list to grow to be quite lengthy. I don’t have space here to mention everything, but here are ten things I’m thankful you showed me in life.

Faith

There hasn’t been a time since I was born when you didn’t emphasize the importance of our Christian faith.

Some of my earliest memories are of sitting next to you in a church pew, hoping you’d reach into your suitcoat pocket and produce some PEZ candy for me during the sermon.

I was often the only one in my Sunday School class—a fact I’ll admit I didn’t always care for. More than once you picked me up on Sunday morning from a friend’s house where I’d spent the night (something I cared for even less).

But whether helping me with catechism memorization, singing hymns robustly in church, or teaching me to pray at bedtime, you taught me that faith isn’t optional. It is essential.

Family

When I think of my family in childhood, I think of spending our summers camping. We’d play miniature golf, ride paddle boats, make campfires, go swimming, and spend time playing.

I think of family vacations—especially our trips to the Black Hills and Colorado, sitting up front with you in the van, singing along to John Denver’s Greatest Hits. (I bought that album and forced our family to listen to it when we drove to Colorado!)

I didn’t appreciate until much later in life what a blessing it was to have grandparents who lived only fifteen minutes away—not to mention a great-aunt and great-uncle who lived next door). I’m thankful that you prioritized taking us to see Grandpa and Grandma Schumacher so often.

I noticed as you care for aunts and uncles in old age and death, when you took us to see our cousin play basketball in college, when we went to family reunions. You instilled in me a value for extended family—teaching me that we have a responsibility and privilege to know, care for, and enjoy them.

Work

You’ve never been one to sit still long. I’ve always admired that you are a hard worker.

You worked full days at your office (though I never remember feeling like you worked too much or valued work over us). When you came home in the evening in the summers, you went to work tending a sizable garden and taking care of an acreage.

Whether a landscaping project, a room to paint, or garden to plant—you’ve always found something at which to work hard. Even in your recreation, you worked hard. We hunted from the opening minute to the closing minute and rarely faced a terrain we wouldn’t trudge through in search of a pheasant.

You included me in that hard work. My first “paying jobs” were in your office. At a young age, you tasked me with gathering the empty cans and returning them for a deposit at the grocery store. I’d sit in the storage room sorting files. I filled in for secretaries on vacation, using the dictaphone and processing mail. And you found me good work in the summers in bean fields and on hayracks, learning what it meant to earn a dollar.

Respect

When we hunted, you taught me the importance of asking a landowner’s permission and respecting their property, the hunting laws, and safety of those with whom we hunted.

In sports, you taught me the value of competing and doing my best, while respecting opponents and playing fair.

In business and finance, you taught me simple but important things like paying for what you take and doing your best for a customer.

You showed me that people matter more than winning a game, bagging a pheasant, or making a buck.

Community

It’s only as an adult that I’ve come to see what a blessing it was to grow up in a small town. And I admire the way you served that town.

I remember being a very young boy, riding in the back of a dump truck full of sand as you and other men drove around town filling sandboxes. I remember being with you at Men’s Club projects. I didn’t always know what the project was, but I remember being there and knowing that you were working with others to build something for our town.

A few years ago, I was with our family at the Glidden Swimming Pool. A man (whose name I’ve forgotten) approached me and asked if I was Rich Schumacher’s son. He went on to tell me how much he admired your community leadership. When he was young, getting started in his career and had moved to Glidden, you invited him to the Men’s Club. Decades later, he still expressed appreciation at being invited in, included in activities, mentored, and made a part of the community. That’s something I would have never seen as a child—but it is something at which I’m not surprised.

Whether it was organizing community activities and celebrations, coaching Saturday morning basketball and flag football, or leading Cub Scouts, you showed me that living in a community brings with the responsibility to invest in and better that community.

Humility

I’m sure you appreciate receiving honor and recognition as much as the next person. There’s nothing wrong with that. But you showed me the importance of putting others ahead of ourselves, even when it means we sacrifice our own recognition.

I remember a time when you found out that you were nominated for an award, a recognition that you deserved to receive. On short notice, you nominated another man for the award. Tou didn’t do it half-heartedly either. You went to work researching and preparing an excellent and persuasive nomination.

It worked. The other man received the award that year. To my knowledge, you never received that recognition. But what you taught me in that act is far more important than a certificate and your picture in the paper. You taught me to put others ahead of ourselves.

Generosity

You are a conservative man. I’ve never known you to be lavish in your spending or to throw away money. You’ve always encouraged us to work for what we wanted to buy; you didn’t just give us stuff. But I’ve always found you to be generous with what you have.

Sometimes it has been small gestures, like the time you bought a scale at an auction to leave in the fish-cleaning house at the cabins we stayed at in Minnesota. There was no reason to do that, other than you thought the owner would enjoy it. You do things like that all the time.

Sometimes it has been secret things—things I won’t mention because you wanted them to be secret. You didn’t want your generosity to be a public show, though I saw it and learned.

You’ve never shied away from enjoying what you have. You’re not a curmudgeon or miser in any way. You enjoy the good things of earth. But you do it in a way that serves and blesses other people, inviting them into the joy of what you have. Where you’ve been blessed, you see a responsibility to be a blessing—and you enjoy doing just that.

Perseverance

You taught me to face hard things.

I remember going to funeral visitations and services—lots of them—from a young age. When I was in kindergarten and the school superintendent died, you took me to the funeral visitation. When I was in first grade and two second-grade boys died in an accident, you brought me to the funeral visitation. I can’t begin to count the number of funerals for relatives and church members we attended.

You didn’t act like death didn’t happen. You didn’t shield me from it. Hard things are part of this world, and so we faced them.

This was never truer than when Grandpa Schumacher died. I remember visiting him at his home with you for the last time. Somehow, he and you knew he wouldn’t make it through surgery. You didn’t tell us in words, but we knew too. You made sure we got to visit and say goodbye. You took us to the hospital in Des Moines and talked about what was happening. You talked about funeral arrangements and showed us how to care for Grandma after Grandpa was gone.

That experience proved invaluable in helping my family walk through the death of Jenny’s father. I knew what to do with our kids because you’d done that with me.

Not all the hard things we persevered through were death. But these examples illustrate how you taught me to face hard things—to acknowledge they exist, to take a deep breath, and to walk into and through them. That lesson has brought me through so much in almost every area of life, especially in pastoral ministry.

Support

I’ve never once doubted that you supported me in what I chose to do—and in what I chose not to do.

You never made me feel like I had to do the things you did. You never discouraged me from trying something new.

You loved baseball. I hated it, but I loved the swim team. You never pressured me to play baseball when I quit Little League. You cheered me on in swim meets.

When I persevered as a bench-warmer through a hard and painful senior year of basketball, you attended every game and encouraged me afterward.

When I burned out on music my senior year of high school, you didn’t guilt me into doing more or shame me from dropping out of contests.

You’ve never attempted to micromanage my life. You’ve only expressed confidence and support in the decisions I make. You’ve empathized with disappointments and losses. You’ve been present and willing to talk if I need advice and conversation—but you’ve never tried to pry into my life or pressure me into a decision. You let me become an adult.

Creativity

You’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember. Singing in choirs and quartets. Acting in a musical. Painting houses and interiors. Landscaping your yard. Cultivating a garden. Collecting wildlife paintings. In retirement, you’ve quickly become a master woodcarver, making works of art that will be legendary heirlooms, I’m sure.

Whether painting a house or staining trim, planting a garden or arranging landscape, singing a solo or inscribing a birthday card—you do all things well. I’ve never known you to do something half-way. If you enjoy it, you seek to grow in it. And if you do something, it’s done with beauty and meaning. You’ve always encouraged me to do the same.

I Love You!

Time and space fail me to say everything I could about why I admire and love you. But I hope this short list gives you a peek at some of the reasons I do.

Thanks for being a great dad and a wonderful grandpa.

It’s a privilege and an honor to call you my father.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

I love you.

Your son,

Eric