Father Teacher

There is so much I want to say at the death of my father – an amazing, kind, gentle and loving man.  I could point you to the several hundred word articles written about his life after he died that were published in local papers and social media.  I could point you to a beautifully done TV news story about his time with FDR at Warm Springs, GA, when he was a 7 year old boy, that aired on the day after he died.Happy Father's Day II

When my dad was diagnosed with some significant heart problems in the last few days of his life I really thought I would have some weeks left to be in his presence. I had already decided that for Father’s Day I would publish a poem that I wrote for him 15 years ago on my blog.  It seemed to be even more true after the ensuing decade and a half since its creation.  Instead, the Father’s Day recognition was offered as a brief Eulogy for him at his funeral on Wednesday, June 8, 2016.

While I hope the images of a “parent/child” relationship are universal enough for anyone to appreciate, there is one stanza that was written out of an experience that only a handful of people witnessed, and so I will share that experience with you here so you may listen to the poem with greater clarity.

The summer after my freshman year in college, when my dad was serving in the Tennessee State Legislature, he and his colleague and good friend, Rep. Jack Burnett, took their families to Nassau, Bahamas, for a week at Paradise Island Resort.  In addition to me, my high school aged sister and my junior high aged younger brother were present.  The Burnett family included two daughters that were about my brother’s age.

Upon checking in at the hotel my dad asked the clerk if he could recommend a good “family oriented” show that we might experience.  “Of course!  The ‘Bahamian Review’ is in our own hotel and it includes dinner and a great floor show!” the clerk replied.  “And it is ‘family’ oriented?” my dad confirmed.  A couple nights later the two families, dressed in our fine dinner wear, were seated at a long table that accommodated the dozen of us.  The table butted right up against the stage, so one could not ask for a better seat in the house.

After a wonderful meal the house lights went down, the show orchestra began the overture.  Spotlights swirled around the large room full of dinner theater attendees and as they swept across the stage I sensed something was moving from the ceiling above.  My brother was sitting with his right shoulder against the stage, and I was directly across the table from him.  As the stage lights began to come up, I looked above to see two giant bird-cage-like contraptions on each end of the stage and in addition to the feathers and glittered costumes there were two beautiful women wearing nothing from the waist up!

As this situation became apparent to the rest of the table I could see my mother “look” at my father with a: “this is a FAMILY show?” look in her eyes.  The only way my brother and I could avoid the tension between my mother and father (and the embarrassment of having all the young females in our group see our blushing faces) was just to keep staring at those cages and those naked women inside them.  As I shared with the family and friends gathered for my father’s funeral, when I told this story there, if looks really could kill, then we would have all been gathered in the summer of 1974 for my father’s funeral, and we would have been begging his friends with political connections to get permission for his widow and (our mother) to be released from jail (where she was being held for justifiable homicide) long enough to attend the funeral.

My life is full of fun stories because of my dad.  My life is full of good memories and deep wisdom because of my dad.  I am grateful and glad.  But today my heart hurts in realizing this is the first Father’s Day in 60 years that I will do it without my Dad.

I love you Daddy!

Father Teacher

I’ve spent a fair fortune in recent years,

          to hang a paper in a frame,

to add some letters behind my name,

that would tell the world

I have learned.

But now I know to the “nth” degree,

the greatest lessons were given me

by a loving



my Daddy.

You taught me how to shake a hand

   and look somebody in the eye.

You taught me how to open my mouth

   and speak distinctly.

   Did I?

You taught me how to avoid a fight;

 it served me well,

 not a single black eye.

You took me to exotic places

and showed me

   dancing naked ladies.

(That your life was spared

for another day on the beach

 was perhaps

  the greater miracle!)

You’ve lived your life in such a way

  that to mirror yours would be OK.

And now the turn is mine alone

to pass these lessons to my own.

My greatest hope when I do,

is that I pass them the largest part

of what I learned from you.

Matt Steinhauer – Father’s Day, 2001

Growing Roses

I’ve never tried to grow a rose,
but from those who do
I hear
a challenge awaits. 

The soil must be right,
the shears sharp
the sun bright
the trellis straight.
All these pieces put into place
in right order
and right space,
might yield
a bursting fragrant bloom,
petals soft to touch,
color to catch your eye
quick before it’s gone.

I’ve never tried to mother a child
but from women who do
I see
a challenge awaits.

The love must be right
the discipline sharp
the smile bright
the truth straight.
All these pieces put into place
in right order
and right space
might yield
a healthy happy life,
returned hugs to hold onto,
words to wash the worries away,
quick before they’re grown.

Growing roses
is like growing children.
You get back
what you give them.
Matt Steinhauer

What he didn’t say…..

What he didn’t say….

Twenty two years ago today I stood in the hallway at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, in great sorrow.  Earlier in the afternoon Leann and I were informed at a three-times-weekly ultrasound that our daughter, Gretchen, had died before she was born.  Her twin sister, Lindsay, would be delivered by C-Section and had a tentative start at life, but celebrated her 22nd birthday today as a recent college graduate – healthy, beautiful, ready to make her own mark in the world.

My friend, Joe Walker, showed up after he heard the news.  I remember we stood there in silence.  I remember thinking how I could not imagine being him right now…what could I possibly say to somebody in this dark and sorrowful reality?  He said nothing.  He did just what he was supposed to do.  He was there – present with me at a time when that is really what I needed more than anything.  Just somebody to be present.  So I post this poem I wrote about ten years later remembering that very hard day.

The premise set forth in the title comes from the notion of the famous person that is proclaimed to have done something important some place(IE: “Washington slept here.”)

God Wept Here

If God wept everywhere they say he did,
he would be a God of a river of tears.

I stood in silence
waiting on my bride
but not with a crowd,
not to walk down the aisle,
not to stand beside her
making promises
that would carry us through the years.

A light blue hospital hall,
a wall painted with hope
where sometimes there is none,
and a man,
my friend,
just an ordinary Joe
with his head bowed
and no words to say,
a good thing because
God cannot speak
at a time like this;
God can only weep.

The nurse calls me in,
my double pregnant wife
flat backed down,
the bridal gown traded
for a blue paper tent
draped from her chin
and poled pup-tent like
before her knees,
as if we need to
what is going on behind that wall
to be frightened
by this scene from our wonderful life.

The nurse seats me
by the sad bed
head bowed, elbows on knees,
leaning my face almost
to a mother’s shoulder
where our babies should be.
The mother reaches her ringless hand
for my inadequate help,
for wordless silent prayer
bathed in tears.

A human font of baptismal water
and wine-colored blood will flow
from the ballooned stomach
when they cut the bulging chrysalis
and open the grave
where our baby girls now lay.

One will be exhumed
for me to hold and sing
a final lullaby,
the other to open her wings,
receive the breath of life
from the weeping God,
salted soft wind breath
breathed into virgin lungs
that provide virgin birth
all over again.

And Joe still stands outside
or has Jesus taken his place
with a face like my friend?

“God wept here,”

the mental memorial reads
that I hung in the blue hall
with walls I still lean against
when I see my friend,
when I see God.

Matt Steinhauer – April 25, 2001