Short Story: The Father

strawberries-816698_960_720The church lawn was covered in picnic tables all bunched together in an effort to be under the shade of the large maple trees that graced one corner. People milled about exclaiming to each other about the heat and helping themselves to more of the ice cream and lemonade provided by the ladies of the church. It was Fathers’ Day, and everyone had gathered to celebrate it in style.

Zadok Richland pulled his horses to a stop and jumped from the wagon seat to tie the reins to a hitching post. Helping his mother and younger siblings out of the wagon, he soon found himself carrying a potato salad and being led by his youngest brother to the “ice cream table”.

The table was filled with many other things beside ice cream, but six-year-old “Buddy” had eyes for it only. “Chocolate, please,” he said quickly as soon as his oldest brother had safely placed the potato salad.

They drifted along eating small spoonfuls of their ice cream and saying not a word to each other until they reached the field where the men and boys were assembling for a game of tug-of-war.

Buddy’s ice cream was quickly forgotten, and he begged his older brother to come with him. Zadok smiled and willingly let himself be dragged toward the assembly of fathers and sons.

“This will be interesting,” a man standing near Zadok said crossing his arms and smiling at the long line. “Is this your little boy?”

“My youngest brother, Buddy,” Zadok explained realizing for the first time that they were the only fatherless ones there.

The men and boys pulled with all their might, but those on the other side pulled harder and finally pulled them over. Many a handsome set of church clothes had the revolutionary color green added to it, but all rose with a happy shout and prepared to start over with new energy. All except Buddy. He sat on the ground holding his scraped up knee and forcing back the tears that are so shameful to even the smallest of boys.

“Excuse me,” Zadok said and pushed forward to help his little brother up. “It’s not so bad, old boy, we’ll soon get it fixed up.”

Buddy gritted his teeth and managed to smile bravely at his little friends who watched with concern as he was led away. Zadok helped him along until they reached the house.

“Excuse me, miss, I was wondering if you had any bandages or something I could use. My brother hurt himself in the tug-of-war,” he explained to a young lady who had happened to come out of the house just then.

“Buddy, what happened?” She spoke to the little boy with tender concern.

“I fell down,” Buddy said almost proudly staring at the little trickle of blood his knee boasted.

“He’s going to be all right, Mr. Richland,” the young lady said with a smile as she led them into the house. “I’m sure we can fix that in a minute, and he’ll be as good as new.”

Zadok had a vague feeling as she talked that he was supposed to know who she was. She seemed to know all about him, and Buddy was quite at ease with her.

Water followed by tea tree oil and a bandage was applied to the brave boy’s knee, and the young lady soon let him return to the field to proudly join the others and show off his “wound”.

“I declare, he’s almost proud he was hurt,” the young lady said with a smile in her eyes.

“He’s like that, always has been. Thank you for helping him, Miss…”

“Bethany. Bethany White,” she said offering her hand when she realized that he was asking her name.

“Thank you, Miss White. You are Pastor Clearwater’s niece, yes?”

“Yes. I’m staying here for the summer to help them out,” Bethany said. “You are his intern, Mr. Richland?”

Zadok had begun to watch the little boys play again and to wonder about the subject of predestination at the same time when she repeated her question.

“I’m sorry, I forgot you were even here,” he said apologetically.

“It’s all right. Now I know you are Mr. Richland; my uncle has told me about how hard you think and about your attitude towards your younger siblings,” Bethany replied.

Zadok shook his head a little as if to dismiss her encouraging words.

“You are like a father to them, you know,” she offered quietly.

“I’ve had to be. My father died when I was just out of high school. I’m probably the only one celebrating here Father’s Day alone,” Zadok smiled wistfully at the thought.

“You are not alone,” she said quietly. “And by God’s grace your younger brothers do have a father. You are being a father to them before they get to know their heavenly one.”

Those shameful tears began to come to his eyes at her sincere reminder. “Thank you, Miss White,” he said huskily. “I needed that.”

“Hey, Richland! Are you coming? It’s time for the father and son race,” a man yelled to him from where they were lining up.

“I’ll see you later, Miss White. Excuse me,” Zadok said quickly and ran to join his brothers.

As they all found their places, re-tied shoe laces, and removed Sunday ties; he breathed a silent prayer of thanksgiving to his heavenly Father. “Thank you, Lord, thank you for being a father to the fatherless. Today, when I saw other men and their fathers playing a game together, I missed my own father very much. Thank You for filling that gap while giving me the chance to minister to my own brothers and run this race with them.”

Watching from the sidelines, Miss Bethany White smiled as she saw Zadok and his brothers running along together. “Thank you, Lord, for the opportunity to encourage someone. You know I have been asking You for that.”
“A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation.” (Psalm 68:5, NKJV)

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18, NKJV)

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