The below are my notes from a talk I gave on Father’s Day 2012 (June 17). I was asked to speak and decided to honor both my father (Vernon D. Dennis, Sr.) and my dad (Jerry D. Fenimore).
Memories of Father
I have a unique situation in that I have a father and a dad. One of these men helped bring me into the world and the other nurtured and taught me how to become a man.
My father, Vernon Dennis, Sr., was killed when I was five years old. I do not know much about him but wanted to give him honor and thanks for giving me life. My dad, Jerry Fenimore, came into my life and lovingly embraced me as a son of his own when I was six.
The memories I have of both of these men are many. Here are a few of my favorite.
One of my earliest memories is of my father taking me to the altar, at the little church in Arbyrd, MO, for prayer for healing. Another memory I have is the way he cooked beef stew. It seemed like it was filled full with black pepper. At the time, I don’t remember liking it but you can ask my wife; I love my food spiced very well. I have other memories but they are mainly of the funeral so we will skip those.
My dad brings many more memories. And, if you’ve ever met him, I am sure you’ll probably create a memory soon rather than later. My dad has helped me expand my knowledge. He has always been into politics. It doesn’t matter if the politics are national with the next presidential election or local with the 7th grade class elections. I remember during those elections that my dad helped me with my speech. He helped me add some fancy words. I lost the election but will never forget the campaign.
My dad taught me to have an appreciation for the little things in life; like ink pens. I remember when I came to St. Louis for college that my parents came to visit a few churches with me. We decided on visiting New Life since it was closer to UMSL. While sitting in the morning service we received a visitor’s card. My mom asked to borrow my dad’s pen to complete the card. You have to realize that my dad loves his ink pens and never lets anyone borrow it without a watchful eye. Well, he mentioned to my mom that he didn’t want to letter her use it because she would forget and give it to the usher. She promised she wouldn’t, and as you may have guessed, gave it to the usher with the visitor card. Well, we were sitting there and when offering time came my dad asked my mom where his pen was. She didn’t know and said she must have given it to the usher and that we could get it after church. Needless to say, I have a hard to visiting that church these 10+ years later.
My dad taught me how to laugh in life and not take myself too serious. One time he stood up in church to give a testimony during testimony service when his new loose fitting false teeth popped out of his mouth mid-testimony. He caught the teeth, put them in his shirt pocket, and finished his testimony. It was hard for the pastor to regain control of the laughter there for a few moments.
My dad taught me that sometimes you have to listen to your body and realize you’re not as young as your mind tells you that you are. He was working on my grandparent’s roof and was telling me about how when he was a kid they used to jump off their roof. He proceeded to demonstrate this activity. Little did he know the difference 30 years makes. I think he was sore for a solid week.
My dad taught me to give in times of need. The giving was never showy or extravagant but always done at the right moment of time.
My dad taught me how to love my kids by loving me. He stepped into an instant family with four children when he married my mother. Country music artist Brad Paisley recorded a song in the 90s that spoke of a little boy’s experience of when his mom met and married someone. It spoke of how this was different because he was able to tag along on their dates and later in the song the little boy is grown up and having his first child. While standing in the hospital he looks over to his stepfather and says, “I hope I am at least half the dad he didn’t have to be.” One desire I have is that I can show love to my girls and that they feel the love I felt. I’m thankful for my dad, and to borrow Paisley’s words, says, “I hope I am at least half the dad he didn’t have to be.”
Memories of Becoming a Father
Wow! I will never forget the experiences of the birth of each of my daughters.
When Abigail was born I learned an amazing lesson. I had always wondered how love worked. Yes, I loved my family and they loved me, but we were family. You’re supposed to do that. I loved my wife and she loved me. But, that is a unique relationship when two people choose to give and receive love. But, immediately when Abigail came into this world a tsunami of love and understanding overwhelmed me. At that moment my daughter, created and made in my image, that did nothing to deserve my love, received my unmerited and complete love. Not only did I understand love as a father but I learned about God’s love for me. I, as his creation, continually receive his love no matter whether I deserve it or not. Talk about a life lesson.
There are other moments as a father that make you want to stand up straight and proclaim your fatherhood as proud as you can and those that make you want to melt due to the overwhelming love you feel.
There are moments like when Abigail says, “Guess what daddy?” And to my response she humbly says, “I love you Daddy”
There are moments when you create little traditions with your children and you see the smiles on their faces and know you just made them the happiest they’ve been.
One of my worst feelings as a father was one morning while getting ready for work, Abigail woke up. When I reached the latest time to leave without being late for work, I began walking to the door and Abigail lost it. She thought I was leaving her forever.
In contrast, one of my favorite feelings is when I get home from work. My kids are so excited to see me. They come running, jumping, and celebrating my return. They wrap their arms around me and show me love like they hadn’t seen me in years.
God’s Influence on being a Father
God and the church are a major influence on my being a father.
I have learned a lot from teaching and preaching, fellowship, and prayer on how to be a father. I have learned the importance of teaching my children about God.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7 NKJV)
“Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 NKJV)
“Don’t fail to correct your children. You won’t kill them by being firm,” (PROVERBS 23:13 CEV)
“Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children to anger, but rear them [tenderly] in the training and discipline and the counsel and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4 AMP)
I hope I can have that same longing like my children awaiting God’s return. And, when he comes get his children, I hope I have that same excitement my children exhibit and I can leap and rejoice at his return.
Lastly, I hope I can be half the dad that God didn’t have to be. He died for me with a love he had prior to ever meeting me. He gave when he didn’t have to give.
I read recently where being a father involves at the root two things: love and leadership. I pray I can learn that and give that.