My dad had a ton of friends that were very, very good to him. I also know that one of the reasons is that he was a great friend to them. One of the things I learned from my father is that friendship is a responsibility and carries obligations. Perhaps the most dominant obligation I saw in him concerning his friends was his unwavering loyalty to them.
The dictionary defines loyalty as “to be faithful to a person or to an obligation”. This attitude of being responsible to your friends (and even to your parents’ friends is a Bible principle).
“Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not…” (Proverbs 27:10) I saw this over and over and over again in Dad’s life. He was dead serious about helping his friends when they had needs. Both before and after his death I would meet people that knew Dad and would tell me a story of how he had bailed them out of a difficult situation or gone the second mile to help them.
Sometimes tears would spill down their face as they shared with me these personal reports. Even today I was in a restaurant and a man stopped by my table for a minute and said, “Your father was my friend; there was nobody like him”.
I knew even when I was a teenager that my father was a very special person because of how people valued him and expressed their love and respect of him. I will never forget when my family received friends at the funeral home and the line wrapped around the building and people waited for hours to pay their respects. It was not only the sheer amount of people that came to offer their kind condolences, but many walked by and wept and couldn’t talk to us because of the sense of loss they felt.
Who was this man they had come to say good-bye to? A political figure, a famous athlete, a shaker and mover in the financial world? It was a very simple man, a bus driver, but so much more than that; he was a loyal friend, and many of them had been the beneficiaries of his commitment his friendship to them.
If Dad was your friend, he was always your friend. One of the reasons that I believe that my sister, brother and I are faithful to our churches is because of this fact. We never heard him say anything about our pastors – ever! Over our dining room table at Sunday lunch he never criticized people in the church – or people in general.
There was no sarcasm, no non-verbal language (raising of an eyebrow or rolling of the eyes) that made us question a decision one of our spiritual authorities had made. He was true-blue loyal and it had a great impact on his children. Though he didn’t always agree with everything people did, he was loyal to them, even to the point of defending them in their absence.
One of Dad’s close friends worked for one of the local television stations and anytime he was on a broadcast, almost invariably Dad said the same thing, “He’s a good man”. He said it to no one in particular, but was a thought he expressed from his heart. In fact, that was one of his most common expressions about his friends, “He’s a good man”. I have heard him say it so frequently, and so has my family.
A close friend that worked with Dad for almost thirty years lived alone. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas Dad would instruct Melanie, my sister, after we had eaten to go and make this man a heaping plate of food and he would take it over to him.
Sometimes I rode along with my father on these trips to deliver the food. I just always thought that this was a result of my father’s friendship and helping his coworker and friend. I learned that this was much more than Dad being kind, it was an expression of loyalty to his friend.
One day I was on an errand with my father and we drove by our old house where I was brought home after I was born. As we drove by the house Dad told me something I never knew, but it explained the loyalty he had to his coworker.
He said, “Rick, when you were very small we were having a difficult time financially, I was behind on the bills and the utility company came to the house to cut off the power. No one was at home at the time and we couldn’t do anything about it. My friend at work was driving by and noticed the utility truck in front of the house. He turned around and pulled into the driveway and when he found out what was wrong, he took the money out of his pocket and paid the man on the spot for our utility bill”. (This was in the early 1960’s when this kind of thing could happen).
Dad continued, “That is why I have tried to take care of him through the years. He helped me at a time when I was at my lowest and I will never forget it”.
My father didn’t just repay his debt to him with cash, but with a lifetime appreciation of loyalty. I want to be like that to my friends – loyal and committed. Thanks, Dad, for modeling that. You impacted my life in a powerful way.
Cotton was one of the best men I ever knew. I owe him a lot, and I sure miss him.