Monday, November 6, 2017

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Today is the 80th birthday of my dad!

I realize how blessed we are to still have him around.  But this isn't your average 80 year old.  He's a lot more than just "around."  No cane or recliner for this guy.

(Well, he does sit in a recliner twice a day.  Once in the morning for the news and once in the afternoon for Andy Griffith and a nap, if possible.)

He still cares for over ten acres of property adjacent to the home where he grew up as a boy.  He's spent years carefully cultivating the land.  Planting fruit tress, grape vines, blueberry bushes and each spring, a small vegetable garden.  He tends a dozen cows, a donkey, chickens, cats and a favorite dog.

We finally convinced him only a couple of years ago that it wasn't safe for him to climb on his roof any longer.  He still loves to hunt and fish and does both regularly.  If some household repair is needed, he's more likely to do it himself than to call for a technician.

He managed the best he could without Mom for over six years after her passing.  Then two years ago he married a fine lady who grew up in the same community he did.  We're grateful for the joy Christeen now adds to his life.

Over 50 years of pastoring and he's still at that, too.  The little congregation at Sunny Hills was so thankful when Bro. Burke came along and agreed to help keep open their doors.  He preaches every Sunday.  Leads Bible study on Wednesday and does all his own hospital visits.

He sounded out of breath when I called early last week.  It surprised me and I asked rather anxiously, "Daddy, are you okay?  What are you doing?"  

"Oh, Baby.  I'm just trying to get a roll of hay loaded so I can take it down for my ol' cows."

"Daddy, is anyone helping you?!"

"Well, let me see....."

A pause while he "looks around."

"Nope, I don't see anybody else.  So I guess it's up to me."  (His version of humor.  Which elicits a serious eye roll from me.)

As I write this post to honor my dad, I realize that particular phrase has been his lifetime theme.  "I guess it's up to me."

As a twelve year old boy, he watched his father leave their family.  His older three brothers were away in the military.  Two older sisters had also moved away.  But there were still four sisters younger than himself and a mom who needed help.

So I've heard the stories of how he quietly became "man of the house" when other boys his age were still playing games and enjoying life.  The Great Depression was a fading memory for most in our country at that point.  But not in rural north Florida.  Many of those people were still living in great poverty.

My grandmother was left with nothing but a tin roof over their heads and the land around them.  She began to lean heavily on her twelve year old son.  Helping his family was up to him.

I've heard how he adjusted the man-sized straps on the old plow harness to fit his own slender shoulders.  The plow was hitched to a mule but had to be guided and "man-handled" in order to make any progress.

Many afternoons, he would come home from school and work with the mule until dark trying to till a garden for his mom. Hunting and fishing were no longer "fun" activities for that young teen-ager; they became the means of feeding his family.

Once during his high school years, my grandma let him know they really had no more food.  Dad walked several miles into town.  He bravely approached the local grocer and asked to open an account so his mother would at least have flour and meal to feed them.

He pledged to the grocer that he would be personally responsible for the bill.

It took over a year to pay back the credit loaned them for that dire season.  But my dad still gets a look of steely-eyed pride when telling about being able to make the final payment to the grocer.  Grandma had no financial resources, it was up to him.

He moved to Pensacola after high school, looking for work.  His first visit to a nearby church was where he met the beautiful brown-eyed girl he would later marry.  (What a joy it was to celebrate Mom and Dad's fiftieth wedding anniversary the year before she died.)

My sister, brother and I grew up in Pensacola.  Our story is exactly like many of yours.  We didn't have much in the way of finances but we never really knew we were poor.  Mom and Dad always found a way to get whatever we truly needed.  Providing was up to him.

Daddy often worked two or even three jobs at a time when necessary.  He completed building projects at every church he pastored.  He willingly drove long hours to get to my sister or me when we needed his help.  His church members all have great stories of their pastor who cared well for them and their families.

These days, Daddy does stand up a little slower.  And he listens to the television pretty loudly.  (Not that he has a hearing problem or anything.)

But his face still breaks into a smile when he sees any of his children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren.  His hugs are just as tight.  And the catch in his voice when he says, "I love you too, Honey!" warms all our hearts.

My dad came from a generation of men who knew a good reputation was important and that maintaining it was strictly up to them.  Ask anyone who knows my dad and they'll give you a glowing report of how he helped them or encouraged them at some point in their journey.

He passed on an appreciation for that concept to his family.  I married a man who understands both the importance and blessing of standing as the one who takes responsibility.  (I'm glad to report my daughters have followed suite with their husbands, as well.)

Today marks eight decades of Lavon "Pete" Burke walking on this earth.  I'm proud of the man he became and the life he has lived.  I'm glad to be his daughter.

"Happy Birthday, Daddy!  I love you, too!"

How about you?  Are you blessed to still have parents living 80 years or beyond?  Do they live near you or far away?  We'd love to hear your stories in the comment section......


  1. My parents live about 115 miles from me. Prior to three + years ago though, I was about 1,100 miles from them as I was in Tampa and they live in Southwest MO. My dad is 91 and my mom 86. They have been married 68 years as of June. They've both slowed down and both like to watch TV with the volume up LOUD. My dad records Andy Griffith anytime it comes on and comments often that he likes the ones that were in black and white better because Barney was still on them. My dad sounds a lot like yours although he worked in a dairy plant and has never been handy at fixing things like yours. He does have a strong work ethic which he passed on to me. I can remember when I was in high school my mom had a box of wrapping paper, bows, etc. that she got from Montgomery Ward. At first she told me they gave it to her because she had a large order. Later she said it was because they had opened a charge account to use for Christmas present.

    1. How wonderful to have your parents closer these days. I think Andy Griffith is still a friend in many homes. Thanks, Phyllis!

  2. Sheri,

    I learned SO much about your dad in this post that I never knew. What an amazing man!

    It's no wonder you turned out the way you did. He and your sweet mom had a grand heritage to pass on to you . . . and through you.

  3. Sadly, I don't but my father was a lot like yours. Your post brought a smile to me because my own memories of my dad were triggered. Happy Birthday to your dad!


    1. So glad it brought a smile for you, Mary. Thanks for sharing!