I am the second oldest child in my family. You can see me on the right in my dad’s arm. My older sister, Sherry, was in his other arm. We were 11 months apart. Dad was pretty pleased to have us two girls. Little did he know that 14 years after this picture was taken, he would have 6 daughters and 7 sons each about 11 months apart. What a family! What a challenge! What kind of legacy did he leave his 13 children?
A good father has a personal relationship with his Heavenly Father.
Dad went to church every Sunday growing up. When he graduated from High School, he went into the Navy. Dad said he became an alcoholic on his first drink in the Navy, which turned into his first drunk. Sailors were given free beer and cigarettes. That fueled his love for alcohol. Then the God of his youth had to take a backseat to the bottle.
After the war, Dad married our mother and loved her deeply, but he loved to drink more. He didn’t understand why his wife was always “nagging” him about his drinking. He had no idea that all of his problems were surfacing because he was drinking too much. By this time, he had nine children. He still went to church with Mom but wondered why God was not answering any of his prayers.
His brother-in-law had joined AA and convinced Dad to come to a meeting with him. Dad quit drinking but didn’t really think he had a problem with alcohol. He told himself that one drink wouldn’t hurt him, but when he took that one drink, six months later, he was worse off than before he quit.
Then on the night of his birthday, he celebrated alone at a bar and ended up in jail for hitting a parked car. He broke his ribs and his pride. He knelt on the jail floor and cried out to God. “Please God, forgive me of my sins and help me to be the kind of husband and father you want me to be. Save me, God,” he prayed. And God saved him. He never took another drop of alcohol for the rest of his life.
We children knew our Dad loved God. We knew he was changed by what had happened to him. Life was still hard for him, but he was trusting in God to stay sober and to turn his life around. His faith became one part of our legacy. One by one, each of us has given his or her life to Jesus.
The best thing a Dad can do for his children is to love their Mother.
Dad was attracted to our mother’s beauty and charm. He heard her sing to a crowd and was impressed by her talent. He asked her to dance with him and was stricken by her ability to follow his lead so easily. She was attracted to him too and three months after their first date, they were married.
Then came the babies and the problems, but our parents stayed married. Dad and Mom went to AA and Al-Anon meetings together and this strengthened their marriage. They started the first AA and Al-Anon group in their home town and began helping other alcoholics and their families. More babies came and Dad kept us children from disrespecting our mother. He was a disciplinarian and we knew we should not talk back to our mom.
Dad got home at 5 o’clock each evening and dinner was usually ready. When he came into the house, Dad would grab Mom and dance her around the room. His love for her was always visible. We knew our dad loved our mom. They kept their marriage vows and we children never wondered if they would end up in divorce. The genuine love of our father for our mother is part of our legacy.
A good father will teach by example; forgiving because he has been forgiven, accepting others because he has been accepted, and loving because he has been loved. He wanted a better life for us.
Our dad expected us to work hard because he had to work hard. He wanted us to behave and to be kind to others. We were never allowed to pull pranks on our siblings. We were not allowed to use bad language, even though Dad often slipped up and used his navy language, because he wanted better for us. He didn’t want us to fall into the same mistakes he made.
If we messed up at home or at school, we were punished. We knew that Dad did not hold our failings against us because he had failed so many times himself. “There but for the grace of God go I, ” he would say. He would also remind us that “this too shall pass,” if we were struggling with something, because he had struggled so much to overcome his own problems. Dad had learned in AA to make amends to those he had hurt. He expected us to make amends too. Dad worked hard every day and he expected us to work hard. Dad helped all kinds of people in AA. He did not care what economic level or race you were, if you had the disease of Alcoholism, you were his brother and he would help you. He did not want us to judge a person by anything but his heart. Him living out the Golden Rule is part of his legacy to us.
Dad and Mom left no inheritance of money to us children, but what they left is a legacy of faith and love toward God, love towards each other, and love towards each of us children. I feel very blessed to have grown up in a big family whose members still love each other even though we are now adults with families of our own. Thank you, God, for loving our Dad so that he could love us.
The biography of Don and Theresa Wenning, Sober by the Grace of God, written by their daughter, Mary T. Wilkinson, may be purchased on Amazon at this link: https://www.amazon.com/Mary-T-Wilkinson/e/B0103LFUHS?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_4&qid=1592015909&sr=1-4