Things I Learned from My Dad – Simplicity

People are attracted to simplicity and people are repulsed from complexity.    For example, when our television has problems, it is typically not simple to correct.   I have to call my son, Jake, to help me get it right.    I like simple.   Give me the DVD player that is easy to set up and a cell phone that doesn’t have multiple steps to unravel before you can use it.

The same is true of people.   When you discover a person that is simple there is an attraction to them.   My father was a simple person and this qualify influenced my life in a great way.

In most of our pictures of Dad he is holding his children or grandchildren. Here he is caring for Jeremiah and Ashley.

First, let me define simplicity.   It is “to be free from complexity, absent of luxury or pretentiousness, to be plain, to be sincere, free from guile and deceit”.    That describes my Dad, Cotton Johnson.

I think as we grow more like Christ we become more simple in our approach to life.   By this, I mean there is a sincerity and a lack of guile in our walk…what you see is what you get…life isn’t about us.   Dad modeled this for me.   He didn’t live trying to impress people.   He was real and genuine – and it was so evident.

Let me give a few examples.    Dad was simple in his dress.   He wore the same ties for thirty years.    Oh, we would buy him ties and shirts for formal occasions, but he wasn’t concerned in the least with someone looking at him and being impressed with his sense of fashion.

I don’t think he ever owned a nice writing pen.   He wrote with cheap ink pens.   Usually he had a couple of those inexpensive pens in his shirt pocket along with reading glasses.  (Note the pictures).  Mom used to fuss at him because she wanted him to look more professional.   She always ironed his clothes and he looked neat, but she couldn’t control the pens and glasses in his pocket!

Hoss and I were talking about this quality in Dad’s life and we recalled that we never saw him wear blue jeans or tennis shoes.   He always wore navy blue pants and either a white shirt or a powder blue shirt.   And he always wore the same shoes, either black zip up boots or black wing tips.    He wasn’t sloppy, he was just simple – for all of his life.

With his bus business it was necessary for him to maintain a calendar for his appointments, but it was humorous the way he took notes when he received calls at home for bus trips.   Frequently he would take a paper plate from the kitchen and write the details for the trip on it and later transfer it to his calendar.

Dad loved to eat bologna on crackers with mustard.   It wasn’t uncommon to stop by his bus lot and walk in his office and there would be six or seven people in a circle slicing bologna, slathering mustard on a cracker and washing it down with a Pepsi.   It’s a sight I’ll always carry with me.   Coaches of all sports, both high school and college, especially loved to drop by and talk.   They loved Dad’s lack of pretentiousness.

His snacks weren’t complicated.   He loved Vienna sausages.     His restaurant tastes weren’t complicated.   His favorite restaurant was Big Spring Cafe #2.   (If you have never been there the very name of the restaurant accurately conjures up the right image in your mind!)  Big Spring restaurant only has one little table in the corner that will seat five people and the rest of the seating is about 16 bar stools at a small counter.

His office was plain as could be.   A desk with papers cluttered on top, a single filing cabinet, and a couch and a chair.   None of the furniture was new and it barely matched.    Pictures of his family, football schedules, athletic posters, and signed pictures of coaches adorned the walls in no particular order.   You could tell a man had put everything together.   Everything was functional for him, there was no aesthetic value to the room.

When I was growing up our house was very simple.   It was small and we didn’t have a TV until about 1968 and it was a tiny black and white model.   Our cars were simple.   The truth is, we didn’t have a lot of money and so our options were limited.

Hoss and I shared the same room and slept in the same bed until I graduated from high school.   The bed was a twin bed.    Both of us are pretty big guys, but we learned to sleep in that small bed and never even thought about asking for a bigger bed.  We just supposed it was the norm.

Dad wasn’t competing with others in an attempt to keep up with their possessions.    He just kept it simple and had a lot of joy.

Dad playing with Jonathan at Christmastime, 1986.

Let me mention one story about how he communicated this to me.   I started playing football when I was about seven years old and did until I graduated from high school.   In the late 1960’s Joe Namath was the quarterback for the New York Jets and was one of the most famous athletes in the world.

One of the things Namath was known for is that he wore white cleats.   At that time no one wore white cleats.   (They did become popular in the mid 70’s and we wore them when I was in high school).    One day as I was getting ready for practice I had a great idea, I was going to make my cleats white like Joe Namath.    I found some white masking tape and wrapped them around my cleats.   It had nothing to do with increasing my ability to play better, but everything to do with being noticed.

I lumbered out to the car with all my pads on and my “new” white cleats and jumped in the front seat with Dad to drive me to practice.    I put my feet up under the seat as best as I could because I didn’t want Dad to see what I had done.    It was too late!   When I was walking to the car those white shoes stood out.

“Son”, he said as I settled into the front seat beside him, “what have you done to your cleats?”    Well, I didn’t want to tell him it was because of Joe Namath, but he already knew why I had done it.    (Dad wasn’t a big Namath fan because he was a selfish, hot dog player, and not a team player).

“Well, Dad, I think this tape might make me run faster”, I stammered out a lie to try and cover my insecurity and attempt to be noticed by others.   “Rick, you go back in the house and get some scissors and cut all that tape off”.    There was no argument at all from me on the issue.   I ran in the house and came back out with my normal black cleats.

On the short drive to practice my father talked to me about being real and not having to follow other people, that the most important thing was to be yourself.   It was a memorable chat and I am ever grateful for his willingness to help me when I was succumbing to peer pressure and insecurity.

Perhaps you may think he was too strict with me on the issue, but it didn’t bother me then a bit and now I am even more grateful for his intervention.   I would have been the only player on the practice field with “white cleats” and they really looked bad the way I had wrapped them with tape!   I’m sure the coaches would have gotten a kick out of it and some of my teammates would probably have made fun of me.

I learned simplicity from my father and I hope it has made me a better husband, father, son, brother and friend.    Thanks, Dad, for being real and genuine.    My life is better for your having been that way.

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About familyencouragement

Pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Married for 39 years with seven children and eight grandchildren.
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