This is the final part of the story about my relationship with my father. In many ways it has been the most difficult to write and yet it portrays the very essence of why I started this series. I hope I do it justice!
One afternoon my phone rang. It was daddy. He was ringing from his shop and he was sober. The conversation went something like this:-
D: “Things are really bad, worse than they’ve ever been…”
Me: “I’m not surprised!”
D: “Will you help me patch things up with your mother? She’s going to leave me”
Me: “No! I’ll do nothing of the sort! I’ve been pleading with her to leave you for years!”
D: “I know I’ve given her a hard time, but I really want to change…”
Me: “Daddy, I’ve heard this all before and you never change. You’ve had your chance…sure I even wrote to you telling you about those men who could help you. Did you ever ring them?”
D: “Would you get me their details and I promise you I will ring them”
Me: “More ‘promises’…I’ve no idea where I put their card! Sure, what’s the point…if you really wanted to get their help you would have done something about it before now”
D: “I’m under pressure, but if you get me their number I promise I will ring them”
Me: “Daddy there’s no point in making me promises – I don’t believe you anymore!”
D: “Well, if you find their number let me know”
Throughout this phone call I remember feeling completely indifferent. I was really giving daddy the cold shoulder. I’d had enough of his empty promises and I felt numb inside. I didn’t want to look for the numbers and I really had no idea where they were. Despite my uncooperative state, I believe God spoke into the situation and my thoughts turned to my Bible. I then remembered that the card John had given me was tucked into the front cover. I went upstairs and there was the card inside the Bible cover.
I rang daddy back and told him I’d found the details. I can’t remember the exact words I used but I do recall the attitude I had towards it all. I was sure this was, at best, a ploy to ‘buy time’ and to prevent mum from leaving. The last thing I expected was for daddy to follow through…but he did.
Later that day daddy rang back to tell me that he had phoned John Brown, but John had just left his home in Limavady to speak at a meeting in Lisburn. Daddy said he spoke to John’s wife and she was very nice to him on the phone. She told him she would try to contact John before his meeting and pass on his message. I learned what followed some time later…
After midnight that night, having diverted several miles in response to daddy’s earlier phone call, John Brown knocked on my father’s door. These were the days before mobile phones, but John’s wife had managed to contact him and conveyed daddy’s message. Daddy opened the door and was, in John’s words, “the worse for wear!” When John introduced himself for the first time, daddy greeted him with “The ‘old dragon’ upstairs is going to throw me out. Go up and waken her and talk to her.” John’s reply was “I think we’ll deal with the ‘dragon’ downstairs first!” They talked for several hours. Daddy recalled that John read from a chapter in the book of Proverbs that he had been reading earlier about the fallacy of drunkenness. John arranged to visit again in two weeks and daddy promised John that he wouldn’t drink in the meantime and that he would go to church every Sunday. When daddy told me this I thought it was a ploy to win me over, and I wasn’t buying it this time. However, while I appeared indifferent, I was genuinely surprised that he had contacted John and that he was going to attend church.
John didn’t get back to see daddy for six weeks, during which time daddy was true to his word. He hadn’t touched a drink and he had gone to church. I still believed it was a ploy and that any day now he would return to his old ways. Meanwhile my mum had put her move ‘on hold’ while she waited to see what would happen. On previous occasions, when I talked to mum about the effects of daddy’s drinking on her, I had asked her why she stayed with him. Her answer was both concise and profound. She said “Because I love him, and he is a good man at heart.” There are no arguments against such a heartfelt response!
After John’s visits I began to notice some changes. Daddy started to visit me and his grandchildren. By this stage there were three of them aged six, four and one year, with number four on the way. At first he would come with mum but soon he started to come on his own as well. Now this was really strange because daddy had never done this before. It was also awkward to carry on a conversation with him, given that we hardly knew each other. Then stranger things started to happen. Daddy would offer to help with practical things e.g. at that time I was decorating the bathroom and he offered to paper it for me. He would also engage with his grandchildren. He took the older two out on trips for ice cream or sweets. He played with the baby. He started to talk to me about the sermons he heard on Sundays and how ‘good’ they were. He made an effort to be there for us as a family. He would phone me just to see how things were. The phone calls in the middle of the night stopped. When his fourth grandchild was born my father arrived with a gift that he had bought himself! This was unprecedented because daddy had never bought gifts before…he ‘preached’ against such things all his life! All of this was unusual and I started to wonder if maybe, just maybe, he had really changed?
About a year passed and one day, while I was talking to daddy on the phone, I tentatively said “Daddy, you’ve changed,” to which he replied “Oh, so you’ve noticed!” We chatted about how different he was. I remember him saying something, I can’t remember exactly how he put it, but it intimated that he had become a Christian. I remember asking him
Me: “Have you become a Christian?”
Me: “But you always told me you already were a Christian?”
Daddy: “I used to think so, but now I know the difference!”
It was a moment I will never forget! God had answered my prayers and those of my mother, my father’s mother and I’m sure many others! I could barely take it in. I did believe him because of the changes I could see in his behaviour…but a little part of me still thought this was ‘too good to be true’ and that something would come along to derail him…for it always had.
However, daddy continued his walk with God. He went to church and started to play an active part in it. The first time he told me he was going to the mid-week Bible study… and then prayer meetings, I almost died of shock! It may seem like a poor reflection of my faith that I doubted him for so long …but that was the nature of the relationship I had developed with my father: ‘alcoholism’ breeds mistrust! However, daddy had also been going to John Brown’s house for a ‘Starus’ meeting every Tuesday night, which included a Bible study, and was starting to share with me the things he was learning. In addition to this and his church, daddy developed a great interest in the ‘Faith Mission.’ I’m not sure how it started but it took him and mum all over Ireland attending missions and other special meetings. We used to joke with him that he had exchanged ‘pub-crawling’ for ‘church-crawling’…but what a transformation!
My father changed and the change was sudden, dynamic and permanent. He grew in grace and confidence in the Lord and he would share his story in a very unobtrusive way with people. I think there were many ‘doubting Thomas’s’, like me, for quite a while but gradually the evidence of change in him was too great to argue with! There was no doubt about it- and no one could dispute the facts – the Lord had ‘transformed’ Jim Sloan!
In the years that followed I completely accepted that my father had turned his life over to God. During our many conversations about how he changed, some of the things he said have stayed with me. For example, one morning after he had been drunk the night before, he said he looked at himself in the mirror and said “Sloan, you’re a fool!” When I asked him how he managed to give up drink he said, “I asked the Lord to help me and He did!” I asked him if he ever craved a drink and he said when he asked the Lord to help him, “The desire for alcohol left me.” This is truly miraculous because, as many people know, an alcoholic usually struggles with the desire to drink, even after they have been sober for many years. But in daddy’s case God took that desire from him and he never craved alcohol again.
After daddy became a Christian he lived and witnessed for the Lord for a further 22 years. During this time I know he helped many people. Being true to form daddy went about helping people quietly. I know this because many people have shared with me examples of how he helped them over the years. One of my cousins described him as “kindness on legs and very generous.” My mother was right. Daddy was ‘a good man at heart’ and when you add to that the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, you end up with a shining example to us all.
Daddy’s last few years however, were very difficult for him. In March 2001 my mother died suddenly. She had felt unwell and daddy was driving her to the doctor, when she collapsed and died beside him in the car. In August 2001 he learned that my marriage had broken down. In October that year he was hospitalised for a month with ‘unstable angina’. As a result of this he was told he would need a triple by-pass operation. Then, in January 2002, his daughter-in-law Jill died suddenly at the age of 30. It was a very difficult year.
Time passed; life went on; eventually he had his by-pass surgery; and he came through that – albeit with some complications which prolonged his recovery time. However, after this daddy’s health improved and he was making good progress in all areas of his life when tragedy struck again. We are not sure how it happened but daddy had a fall at home, in 2005, which resulted in a serious head injury. He sustained several fractures around the base of his skull which caused a number of brain haemorrhages. His injuries were so severe that he was on the critical list and was not expected to survive the weekend. His head injuries also lead to daddy losing his hearing. His rehabilitation was slow but, after about four months, he was discharged from hospital. The Consultant in charge of the Rehabilitation ward told daddy he needed to go into a Nursing Home but daddy replied, in no uncertain terms, that he would be going to his own home and nowhere else! He had a stubborn streak and was fiercely independent A care package was put in place and all our lives had to adjust and change.
Essentially this accident turned daddy’s life upside down because it meant he would no longer be able to drive his car. He had became house bound as a result of his fall and this meant a drastic loss of independence. For my father this was a major blow. His life had consisted of being constantly on the road visiting friends and relatives, attending meetings and doing favours for many people. To be suddenly faced with the prospect of no longer being able to drive his car was almost unbearable for him. In fact he never accepted that he ‘couldn’t drive’ – we just became cleverer in how to avoid the topic of the car! Initially I had to take the car away to my house so he wouldn’t, out of sheer pigheadedness, attempt to drive. After the tax and MOT had expired, every time he asked about the car, I had to say the mechanic had it and was fixing it up for MOT!! Fortunately his memory wasn’t as sharp as it used to be and so this tactic worked for years! It reminded me of the famous line in ‘Faulty Towers’ when the German visitors were there and Basil told Manuel, “Don’t mention the war!!” …in our case it was “Don’t mention the car!!”
Despite having his life turned upside down, daddy adapted to being house bound, accepting his circumstances and never complaining. But there were yet further adjustments to be made. Firstly, his eye sight had been gradually deteriorating due to macular degeneration. This eventually resulted in him being registered as blind. Along with his deafness this was a double blow because it meant that daddy couldn’t see television; he couldn’t read; he had difficulty hearing conversations, especially on the phone; he couldn’t hear the door bell or tell the time. For someone as ‘sociable’ as my father, this degree of isolation must have been very difficult for him to bear. Yet he did so with tremendous grace and patience, never complaining and appreciating everything people did for him.
Then one day, when I had him at the eye clinic in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, he became very short of breath and had chest pain. He was admitted for investigations. At first we thought it was his heart but all his cardiac tests were normal. Attention then turned to his lungs. After several tests had been carried out, the family gathered to be with daddy as the Consultant gave him the results. The news was very bad. She told daddy that he had lung cancer, that the tumours were spread throughout his lungs, and that they were in-operable. Other forms of treatment were also ruled out due to his underlying health issues and therefore she told him there was nothing they could do to treat his condition.
I will never forget his response. He looked the doctor straight in the eye and said in a confident voice, “Well doctor, there always has to come something to take you. And I’m prepared to go.”
He lived for two more years. He lived alone at home, with carers and family support. Such was his determination, stubbornness and spirit of independence, there was nothing any of us could do to persuade him to live any other way. It was the way he wanted it to be. He never complained. He talked about going to be with the Lord. He would frequently say, “The best is yet to be!” He would always say to me, as I was leaving him, “I’ll see you when I see you. And if I don’t see you here, I’ll see you in heaven!” He would say it with a smile and we would wave good bye. I’d turn out the lights and lock the door…driving away, leaving him on his own, was the hardest thing to do!
In January 2008, daddy’s general condition deteriorated and he was admitted to hospital again. In discussion with my brothers and the medical staff daddy finally agreed to go into a nursing home near me, with a view to coming to live with me once the necessary alterations were made to my house. However, this was not to be. A few days before he was to move he suffered another serious fall in the hospital. This coincided with an exacerbation of his lung cancer and over the next two weeks he gradually became much weaker, slipping into unconsciousness and on Easter Monday, 24th March 2008, he went to be with the Lord. The last words he heard on this earth were the words of the 23rd Psalm, which the nurse read to him as he took his final breath.
Daddy had often talked to me about how he wanted his funeral service to be conducted. He had chosen two hymns because of the message in them – ‘All to Jesus I surrender’ and ‘There is a Redeemer.’ But more than anything else he wanted his funeral to be a celebration,“…of what the Lord has done for me!” He wanted people to know his story, of how he came to faith and committed his life to Jesus. He wanted others to know the difference the Lord made in his life; the remarkable change that God enabled by His grace; and he hoped that his life would be an example to others of the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When planning the service I had these thoughts uppermost in my mind and was thinking of how best to fulfill this desire for daddy. Then I believe the Lord directed me to John Brown and I decided to ask John if he would tell daddy’s story at the service and, at very short notice, he readily agreed.
It was during John’s talk that I found out that daddy had accepted Jesus as his personal Saviour that first night John visited him. John tells the story best for he was a first hand witness to daddy’s conversion and also to his life after conversion. For John and daddy became firm friends from that day. What follows is a video clip of what John said at daddy’s funeral service:
Proverbs 23:29-35 is worth repeating:-
“Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?
Those who linger over wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly!
In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind will imagine confusing things.
You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging.
“They hit me”, you will say, “but I’m not hurt! They beat me, but I don’t feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?” (quoted from the New International Version)
I know John’s talk had a positive impact on all who heard it, and I know that because of it daddy’s final wishes had been fulfilled. His funeral service was everything he would have wanted it to be.
The whole purpose of this ‘Father and Daughter’ series, was to share my father’s amazing testimony with others to inspire them with what God can do with a life surrendered to Him. As John said in his talk, “There was a dynamic transformation by the grace of God in Jim’s life.” John described him as “a text” – in other words – his life displayed the reality of the New Birth in Jesus Christ! At 61 years of age my father discovered the newness of life that my mother had known from the age of 16. They were finally united in Christ and went on to share 12 more happy years together in a marriage as God intended it to be.
It was through the ‘New Birth’ daddy had in Jesus Christ that he became a father to me. It was from that point in time that he and I developed a strong bond. We got to know each other. He became a tower of strength to me. He helped me practically, financially, emotionally and spiritually. He became the father I had always wanted and needed. We shared many happy times together and I now have many very happy memories of him. I gained the father I had always craved to have, and his grandchildren never saw him in a drunken state! What a blessing!
Therefore, I thank God for transforming the life of Jim Sloan, my father, and if his story points even one person to the Saviour, there will be much rejoicing in heaven!