Lessons from my father

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Rev. Walter E. Bock in 1941

Rev. Walter E. Bock

That handsome young man in the picture is my father. The picture was taken in 1941. That was the year he graduated from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and he and my mother were married. They went together to their first parish in Germantown, New York. There are some things you can’t see in the picture.

The jacket my father is wearing is the only one he owned at the time. It matched his two pairs of black trousers. He owned a sweater too, until my mother gave it away to a hobo who was cold. They would tell that story for the four decades of their whole life together, each with their own spin and eye-twinkling jabs at the other.

My father was born in Stuttgart, Germany on May 12, 1915 in the city residence of my great great grandfather. The building still stands, hard by the Dinkelacker brewery. That was the start.

By the time the picture was taken, my father had suffered malnutrition, had all his teeth pulled at a single sitting, returned with his mother to Germany to search for his father and then watched her die of stomach cancer when he was fifteen. He also became an Eagle Scout with all the palms, winning just about every merit badge available.

He made his way to Wagner College, which would be part of his life for the rest of his life. He cobbled together jobs, including being the secretary for the poet Edwin Markham, went to seminary, met my mother and wound up in Germantown, New York.

There was a lot in the future. There were two honorary doctorates and honors from the Church and the German government. There were ideas that didn’t work for him but were claimed and developed by others. There were so many ways that he touched so many lives and left them better. You can read about details in the page that points you to more posts about him. Here are the most important things I learned from the amazing man who was my father.

Solicit criticism and take it as a gift

My father was an amazing preacher. But every Sunday we held a major critique session at the dinner table, picking his latest sermon apart. He took notes. He got better and he received criticism as a gift.

Go to the gemba

My father would never have used that language, but he understood the principle. He told his interns and students: “If you visit your parishioners during the week, you’ll never have to worry what to preach about on Sunday.”

Life is better when you trail smiles in your wake

When I spoke at my father’s Memorial Service in San Francisco, I asked how many people there had ever heard my father laugh. Hands went up all over the room. Then I asked “How many of you heard him laugh more than once?” More hands, waving hands, whistles and laughter as people remembered a man always trailed smiles in his wake.

Age isn’t just a number, but it’s not an excuse either

My father retired early so he and my mother, who had cancer, could travel together. They took the Trans-Canadian Railway and connecting lines across the continent to their new home in San Francisco. We met them at the train station. On the car ride to their new home, my father excitedly shared the list of projects he wanted to do in his “retirement.” He once told me that “where there’s a project, there’s life.” It’s true. Aging is natural. Decay isn’t.

One of my father’s last sermons was about this very thing. The title was “No Stopping Allowed.”

Live life with passion

Dad did everything with a lusty joy and passion that affected everything around him. He didn’t just embrace life. He picked life up off its feet and swung it around in a dance of joy.

I remember many things he told me. Here is one of the most important and one of his most characteristic.

“What God wants is everything you’ve got with everything you were given. God is not pleased with half-measures.”

My father was a powerful influence on the man I became. Here are pointers to some more posts about him.

Saying Good-Bye To My Dying Father

My Father is Gone

Things My Father Taught Me

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