And for me Most meaningfully, My Dad was my Dad…
-My Dad loved his family, and grew to love them more with each passing Day, even, and perhaps especially to the end.
Next to God, my Dad prioritized his family. He loved my Mom and their marriage of 59 years has borne much fruit! Their love has stood the test of time, enduring through trials, even to his final breath. Dad’s last meaningful act the night before he died was to kiss my Mom. When I asked my mom to pray for me as I was preparing to compose Dad’s Eulogy, she joked and said to make sure I say Dad was The Best Kisser, I said, “don’t worry I will!” Mom and Dad’s story was their own, and they pioneered a life and a marriage adventure that few can really relate to. Through it all, they leaned on each other - and in the end, Mom sat by Dad’s side countless hours, speaking goodness and love over him.
Their marriage was prolific! My mom recounts that Dad rejoiced over each of the 7 times she shared the good news of a coming baby. When so many today would have come up with very responsible reasons that the coming of a new baby was not so great, Dad rejoiced! Even as they received and welcomed a special needs son, Simon-Peter, for years to come Dad celebrated the gift of Simon. Dad would relive this genuine rejoicing 27 more times for each of his beloved grandchildren.
I really believe each of us kids could stand here and tell stories for hours of Dad’s encouragement and love for us. I will share a couple that stand out in my memory, and have even shaped me as a person. I remember the time my brother John Paul and I almost burned down all of Big Woods, while trying to clear out the inside of a giant oak tree. John Paul would be quick to clarify that it was my idea (an idea I gleaned from a fictional book, My Side of the Mountain). Quickly the “genius idea” of my 14 year old brain was revealed for what it really was - SO DUMB!..... The “controlled” burn soon became a raging furnace in the middle of a Louisiana drought. To make matters worse, in the rush to get water to the site of the fire to prevent its spread, I backed the suburban into a telephone pole, leaving a massive dent in the bumper. Ultimately the fire department had to be called (on two occasions in fact) to put the fire out. My Dad rushed home from work in Abbeville, and as he approached me and the burning tree, (after having also noticed the mega dent in the Suburban I should add), I braced myself for his well-earned wrath. Instead, standing before the blazing tree on the side of the Seventh Ward Fire Department truck, Dad proceeded to tell me about a time in his youth when he and his brother Pres shoved fireworks into every hole of a rotten tree and unintentionally set it ablaze. There were plenty of times I got fussed at and yelled at as a kid to be sure, but in each of the times that mattered most (including the other time I totaled the family car), Dad’s gut reaction was mercy and kindness for me, when it was anything but deserved.
It is impossible to put into words how privileged I have been to grow up with Frank Summers as my Dad, to know him as I have known him, and to be loved by him as I have been. I know each of my siblings could say the same thing. It has been equally a joy to see my kids and all of their cousins, enjoy the most wonderful, quintessential Papa in the world, a role he relished. We cherish the memories of Dad reading stories to the kids, taking them to the pond, buying them a coke, or leading them in prayer - and it is hard to think that this season must now live only in our hearts and memories.
As I have watched my Dad age, and his health, and later mental acuity decline, I have witnessed this mighty man of God soften into a tireless encourager. I feel that Dad’s love for others, and his ability to rejoice in the good of those around him, especially us kids, only grew in these final years. Each thing we did was “the BEST talk he’d EVER heard” or “the most wonderful salad he’d EVER eaten” and “the most impressive soccer goal he’d ever seen” and on and on.
In his last years, and even his final weeks, Dad has continued to teach me. At a family prayer time my sister Mary organized as we began to see that Dad’s days on earth were coming to an end, Dad shared with us “I am so grateful for my family, and I only wish I had always felt as grateful for my family as I have come to feel these last months.” Dad died with gratitude in his heart. He left this life surrounded by his wife and children loving him, praying with him, singing and praising God with him… He joked and made silly faces with his grandkids until he couldn’t anymore. He suffered for weeks on end without complaining.
Just a couple weeks before he died, some of the missionaries in training here at FMC were visiting my Dad and asked, “what is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a missionary” to which my Dad responded “Trust in God with all your heart” then added “Jesus is real, He is your friend.” A lesson and an invitation which he would wholeheartedly repeat for all of us if he were standing here now, especially those of us who may feel furthest from the loving embrace of Jesus today.
Those of us who knew Dad best …knew that he had a really ugly dead toenail on his left Big toe. It was not something he flaunted, but just the kind of thing that grabbed your attention as a kid. Dad wasn’t perfect. He had his flaws and his failures and his ugly toenails. The great sermon of my Dad’s life was NOT that he was perfect, but that He was FAITHFUL and OBEDIENT. He allowed God to take him, imperfect as he was and do something SO beautiful that it would change the world. He didn’t allow his imperfections to become an excuse not to say yes to Jesus, but found that He could call on the LORD, and Jesus, His Real Friend, would show up!
Susanna shared with some of us a few days ago that each of the daily Mass readings around this time of Dad’s death had so much to say and speak about Dad’s life. As I reflected on her comment, I could see how it was true, NOT by chance, but because Dad had spent his whole converted life taking God at his Word and trying to conform himself to it; in the end the LORD allowed Dad to be totally molded by the Words that carried him through his life of service to Jesus.
We asked Dad, “What are you looking forward to the most about heaven?” …”Seeing the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit” - I can only imagine his joy and delight in meeting the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit Face to face. We love you and miss you Dad, pray for us!