This week we’ll observe Remembrance Day, and honour those who have given their lives. I have a deep respect for Remembrance Day. But this is not that kind of remembrance. For the last 20 years, Remembrance Day also reminds me of time when my family gathered, shaken by a death of another kind. Twenty years ago on November 9th, we lost my Dad in a farming accident. Today, I remember my Dad, Frederick Marius Kabbes (1933-1994).
Dad could be described simply, almost completely as a humble farmer with a loving wife and 5 kids. He and my Mom were totally devoted to each other; their affection at times caused me to blush. Dad farmed to make a living while listening avidly to the CBC. In different circumstances, he might have studied more, but the immigration experience of this teenager halted the completion of high school. As a family, we worked hard on the farm, particularly in summer, developing our character and our brawn.
Dad was a social activist at heart, always concerned about the disadvantaged. I am certain he was shaped by the WWII experience of harbouring a Jewish family in their home, a story he didn’t want to talk about. My grandfather received the Award of the Righteous Gentile; Dad’s pre-teen perspective of the war would leave feelings of fear and anger.
Dad loved to argue the bigger issues. Many a family event involved discussions where Dad would become too passionate. His opinions about multi-national corporations, conservative government policies and faith without works were well known.
Although he served the church in many ways, it was not without some personal wrestling. He had little use for Bible studies that never got beyond the Bible. He couldn’t abide Sunday Christians who didn’t live out their faith through the week. He believed we were called to care for the ‘least of these’; he spent his life devoted to one cause or another. He was a member of the NDP party and served on the board of the National Farmers Union. He worked to found the New Life Counselling Centre, served a Drug and Alcohol Abuse Awareness team, and wrote letters for Amnesty International. He cared for the underdog.
The past 20 years have found us chuckling about his humour and his idiosyncrasies. We’ve spent time looking at pictures, reading letters and notes in his Bible. Pictures reveal a softer side – a man who loved his kids and grandkids, and baby chicks and rabbits. Letters reveal the romance that began our story. His Bible contained only a few notes reflecting his desire to live a missional life, embracing the teachings of Jesus. Stories of the Good Samaritan and Matthew 25 shaped his thinking. “Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger or in prison…?”
I remember his beard, and the way he liked to nuzzle when he gave me a kiss.
I remember his loving response when we called to announce our first born child.
I remember him calling to ask for forgiveness when he had offended me in a recent conversation. Passion probably got the best of both of us, but Dad would never let these things fester.
Today, as I remember Dad, I recognize his imprint on my brothers. They share his sense of humour, and like their Dad, they love their wives well. I know my sister shares my melancholy thoughts as we remember Dad. I see Dad in my sons. One whistles like his Grandpa, another sports his beard and stature and passion; each one in some way embodies his earnest care for the least of these.
Today as I remember Dad, I’m thankful for who he was, for how he lived, for what he gave. I miss him and simply wanted to share his memory today. Thanks for allowing me to reflect.