On Father’s Day, I reflect upon Dad’s influence on my life. As a father of seven children, who’s been doing the dad thing for almost thirty years, it’s about time I gave credit to the first male role model in my life—Joe Holt.
My dad was born in 1932, in a tiny, one horse town of Whitsett, North Carolina. He was the only child of Lucille and Arnold Lea Holt. When he was seven years old, Lucille divorced her alcoholic husband and Dad was raised for a time by a single mother. Dad graduated from Duke University, attended seminary in Philadelphia and pastored ELCA Lutheran churches for forty years. He was a prolific church planter and redeveloper, as he established five churches in his career.
This means I grew up as a “PK” (pastors kid). Although, I was never made fun of for being a PK, there was usually silence when I explained what my dad did for a living. It was never as cool as my one friend whose dad was an FBI agent, or so he said; I was never quite sure if he was telling the truth. But then, again, Dad’s job didn’t matter to me. It was what he modeled at home that impacted my life.
Dad is now well into his eighties. Just moving some antiques from his home in Georgia, it got me thinking. I really like being a husband and father and I think that came from my dad. So, what was it? What is it about Joe Holt that I admire the most? Let me take a stab at what I have observed about my father and highlight the things that have impacted my life the most.
Passion #1: Dad Loved Mom. Growing up, I observed parents that worked together, prayed together, served together and parented together. They were a unified force in my life, based in love. Even today, with Mom struggling with Alzheimer’s for the past eight years, my father loves and serves my mom. She just might be the happiest Alzheimer’s patient I know! That’s because of Dad.
Passion #2: Dad Gave Me Grace. Though my father loved Jesus and the Church, he never crammed his beliefs down my spiritual throat. We prayed together and talked about faith often. My dad took me through my Confirmation Classes. But, I never felt legalistic pressure to believe. He left that up to me and gave me grace in my journey to faith.
Passion #3: Dad Taught Me to Work Hard. From mowing lawns at 11 years old, to constant batting practice in baseball, my father taught me that good things come to those who work hard. Watching my dad do pushups and sit-ups in the morning didn’t hurt, either.
Passion #4: Dad Gave Me a Love for the Outdoors. Whether it was teaching me to hunt quail, train a bird dog, camping or hiking the Appalachian Trail; all of these experiences provided venues for what has become one of the greatest passions of my life: being in God’s awesome creation.
Passion #5: Dad Modeled Compassion for the Poor. Often, I remember the countless visits to poor African American families in the rural South to bring a cake, pie or meal. My mother chose to be the first Caucasian person to teach in an all African American high school. Vividly, I recall Dad taking me “across the road” to the shanty home of an older African American man, where he instructed me to show respect and honor to Mr. Smith.
Passion #6: Dad Modeled Righteous Leadership. Living in the South, Dad stood alone as a Caucasian pastor against the prejudices and inequality directed at African Americans. Dad took several strong stands that made him unpopular, but made me proud to be his son. From threatening phone calls, to kids saying things on the playground, l learned quickly that leading in righteousness is not always popular.
Passion #7: Dad Was Always Home for Dinner. Lastly, even in his most successful and busy churches, Dad always came home for dinner. We ate together virtually every night. From the opening prayer, to the clean-up (my brother and I always had to help Mom), we were a united family that saw each other’s faces and heard each other’s voices every day.
Dad modeled all of the above. In his passions and convictions, Dad never lectured, he lived. He lived what he believed; he modeled a life of integrity and consistency that I can only pray I might emulate in my life.
On the Road Less Traveled,
Steve Holt D.D. MA