A Father’s Day Tribute: The One Song That Always Makes Me Cry

I think for all of us there is one song that strikes so much emotion that by the end of the song, we can’t avoid the tears.  I know the song for me and it is particularly poignant on this Father’s Day: Trent Tomilson’s One Wing in the Fire.  Quite frankly I can’t make it through the first verse without breaking down most of the time.  Here is the song if you want to listen. One Wing in The Fire

When we are growing up, most of us think of our Dads as heroes and some of us (like yours truly) as God like.  They protect us, nurture us and lift us up.  As we get older, we usually evolve into a more nuanced view.  Our fathers may lose a bit of the hero or God like status.  But as we deal with our own personal struggles as Fathers we realize that with all their faults, our Fathers may not be Gods but at the very least, they are Angels, even though they may have One Wing in the Fire.

My Dad, known affectionately as Big D, was larger than life to his family and friends.  He was our Cub Master, Baseball Coach, Union Vice President, friend to our friends, and all around great Dad.  But he did like all of us have flaws.  He was like the subject of Trent’s song – An Angel with No Halo and One Wing in the Fire.  I would like to reflect on three portions of that song to explain why it is so important to me and even now 15 years since his death brings deep emotion.

The first verse has these words:

“Daddy’s been a back-row Baptist
With his share of front-row sin
His Saturday night still on his breath
Every Sunday when he’d walk in
He’s never led the Benediction
He’s never sang in the choir
But he’s an angel with no halo
And one wing in the fire”

My Dad always called himself a back-sliding Baptist, even as he supported our Mom in raising us Catholic.  He also had been known to have a few drinks on Friday and Saturday nights and raised a little heck.  But he was an Angel in the way he cared for Mom, me and my siblings both spiritually and physically.   I remember him attending each of our Sacraments and religious holidays.  He also supported our church by being the coach of its basketball team.   He may not have sang in the choir, but each St. Patrick’s Day and Easter, he sang the protestant hymn the Old Rugged Cross to be part of the Henry clan singing Irish tunes and hymns around the kitchen table.

If I can make it through the first verse,  I usually falter on the third verse.  This verse goes like this:

“Daddy’s always been there for me
From T-Ball to touchdowns
Fixed my car and fixed my heart
When they’ve been broken down
I know he calls for more forgiveness
Than most folks do require
But he’s an angel with no halo
And one wing in the fire”

Truer words have never been said than the first four lines of that verse.  My Dad coached me from T-ball through Little League.  Many in Crosswicks still remember the rivalry between Don Grier’s Chesterfield Red Sox and Bill Haluska’s Chesterfield Black Sox!     Besides being my baseball coach, he was my Cubmaster, basketball coach, and all-around Football and wrestling supporter.  The picture attached here shows Dad supporting me my Junior year in Football.

big-d

He was always the loudest in the stands (although sometimes he got a little too loud, like the time he was expelled from the Shawnee Wrestling Match).  Finally, let’s not forget about fixing cars and hearts.  My Dad could fix our family car by himself except on rare occasions.  Even though my brother and I could not help him that much since we could not tell a 3/16th wrench from plyers (think Frazier and Marty Crane from the Frazier TV show and you get the picture)!

If I am still composed by this time, I cannot make it through the last verse:

“Well, I just can’t imagine
What Heaven might be like
If me and mama make it
Without daddy by our side
Lord, could you please remember
When it’s time to call us higher
That he’s an angel with no halo
And one wing in the fire”

This last verse always brings me back to one of the most poignant days of my life – my Dad’s funeral.  Even though my Dad was a Baptist, my Mom asked me if I could get a Priest to preside.  With some trepidation, I asked the local Priest in Palestine, Texas to preside.  He was a missionary priest from India and I was concerned that his homily/eulogy would not resonate with my Dad’s side of the family.  I was also concerned as to whether he would do it since my Dad was not Catholic.

But God works in his mysterious ways.  The priest not only agreed to do the service but gave one of the most memorable homilies of my life.  The gist was this.  We all enter this world crying.  We have left the nurturing embrace of God and mother’s womb to face an uncertain world.  But when a person leaves the world, it is his family and friends who do the crying, but they should not.  It should be a time of joy and hope since the departed is returning home.  It is the duty of those on earth to wish them well and pray for a speedy return to the loving embrace of the ultimate Father.

On this Father’s Day, I ask all of us who have Dad’s who are Angels who may have one wing in the fire to pray for their speedy flight to Heaven.  Think of all they have done for you and pray God dusts off the ashes, shines up their halo, and welcome them home.

143 – A Father’s Day Message on Weight Control, Leadership, and Love

This is the second of my Father’s Day blogs and it is inspired by a movie that I just saw on one of America’s most famous Father figures – Fred Rogers.  Some may not think of Mr. Rogers as a father figure.  He was not the image of the prototypical human father.  He was not strong, dominating or particularly stern.  He did however have characteristics of our heavenly Father.  An image of compassion who suffered the little children to come to him.  He sought to protect children from the vagaries and violence of the modern-day world through the explanation of the simple truths of compassion and right living.

One of the most compelling parts of the documentary was the explanation of Mr. Rogers’ daily ritual to control his weight.  From his days in the seminary to his last days on earth, Mr. Rogers sought to maintain a weight of 143 lbs.   Why do you ask?  There were three main reasons and each of them is compelling.

  1. Weight control – Mr. Rogers was pudgy as an adolescent boy.  Although the documentary does not cover this in detail, I suspect that he was bullied over his weight (more on the impact of that later).  Because of his concern to be happy and healthy, Mr. Rogers strove to maintain his weight at 143 lbs. daily.  He had a daily ritual where he swam 1 mile in a pool and then weighed himself to make sure that he was at 143 lbs.  I am no Mr. Rogers but I have a similar construct related to weight maintenance.  Each week before my Weight Watcher’s weigh-in, I strive to weigh 185 lbs. or less.  This is within the weight allowance to maintain Lifetime status but there is a more important reason for this target (as there is for Mr. Roger’s target which I will explain later).  I was in the class of 85 for West Point and our class motto is “For Excellence We Strive, 85!”.  The reason I believe in this moto is explained in this blog Life Lessons – Strive for Excellence Always!.  The reason for Mr. Rogers weight goal is even more inspirational!

2. Leadership – It is hard to contemplate that a meek and mild man such as Mr. Rogers as the ultimate leader (especially in the current climate of shouting on both sides of the political spectrum) but he was!  In my mind, he was the penultimate leader.  He came of age when TV was reshaping the culture of America.  He was dismayed with the children TV shows of the day that were nothing more than people shoving pies in each other faces and frantic cartoons of action and violence (unfortunately it is only worse now).  He made it his mission to slow down the pace of TV and to talk to children in simple truths about love, compassion and being a good neighbor.  He did this without puppets not pageantry.

After seeing the documentary, I got additional perspective on Daniel the Tiger.  I always knew that Daniel the Tiger was an extension of Mr. Rogers but the documentary showing Mr. Rogers as a kid cemented it.  Just knowing the period and seeing Mr. Rogers as a pudgy, sensitive, rich kid indicated to me that Daniel tiger and Mr. Rogers were one in the same.  He must have withstood a lot of bullying and poured out the lessons of dealing with that pain in the words of Daniel the Tiger.  You can viscerally feel the inspiration and the heart of Mr. Rogers every time Daniel the Tiger explains his experience and fears.  The attached link on the death of Bobby Kennedy is one example Mr. Rogers on Assassination.  Fred Rogers led the fight to protect our children and his message resonates now more than ever.  As Jesus proclaims in Mathew 18:3:  “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”, Mr. Rogers sought to protect to the hearts of little children and those of adults to seek a higher calling.

3. Love – In the end, Mr. Rogers’ weight and message is one of a Father’s Love.  His reason for maintaining a weight of 143 was due to the number of letters in a three-word phrase: I (1) Love (4) You (3).  Mr. Rogers’  message to both himself and to the rest of the world is I Love You just the way you are!  It does not matter if you are a different race, creed or color.  It does not matter if you have a disability (see clip Mr. Rogers on Disability).  You are a creature of God with a purpose and passion to better the lives of you and your neighbors.  In this time of discord and constant bickering, we should strive to be good neighbors like Mr. Rogers.  To see the good and with love, overcome the differences.  And like Mr. Rogers like one another for their unique characteristics.  I will close with a song by Fred Rogers and Josie Carey on the Mr. Rogers show and this clip concerning 9/11 Mr. Rogers 9-11:

I like you as you are
Exactly and precisely
I think you turned out nicely
And I like you as you are

I like you as you are
Without a doubt or question
Or even a suggestion
Cause I like you as you are

I like your disposition
Your facial composition
And with your kind permission
I’ll shout it to a star

I like you as you are
I wouldn’t want to change you
Or even rearrange you
Not by far

I like you
I-L-I-K-E-Y-O-U
I like you, yes I do
I like you, Y-O-U
I like you, like you as you are