Thursday, June 22, 1944. The average annual salary was $2,600. A family could purchase a car for $1,200 and fill her up with gas at 21 cents a gallon, stock the pantry and fridge with bread and milk for less than $1 combined, and drop a letter in the mail stamped with 3-cent postage.
Just two weeks after the Allied Forces’ D-Day invasion, the eyes of the world were fixed on the events of World War II. But a family in Needham, Massachusetts, only had eyes for their newborn son, Gary Neill Thompson. William and Fanny Thompson held their son as President Franklin Roosevelt signed the GI Bill of Rights to provide financial aid to veterans returning from the war. And later that evening, the Phillies beat the Boston Braves 1-0 in the longest shut-out in Phillies’ history (a mere 15 innings).
Gary made his debut in 1944, along with Danny DeVito, George Lucas, Diana Ross, Tony Orlando, Gladys Knight, Barry White, Joe Frazier, Roger Daltrey, and, yes, even Jerry Springer. Benjamin Green invented sunscreen for the troops’ protection and went on to found the Coppertone Company. Bing Crosby held five of the top ten spots on the US Billboard charts with hits including “Swinging on a Star” (#1), “I’ll Be Seeing You” (#3), and “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra” (#9). Capturing four Academy Awards, Casablanca was awarded Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.
The 1940s were indeed a special decade. The men and women of the Silent Generation have been deemed “the Lucky Few.” They grew up during an era of stifling conformity, yet bursting with postwar bliss. Peace! Jobs! Television! Rock ‘n Roll! The ‘40s certainly made their mark on world history, but more importantly they were the first page of what would become my history.
On January 25, 1981, I gave Gary Thompson a new name: Daddy. They say there’s something special about the bond between fathers and daughters, and that has proven true in my experience. The landscape of my childhood is dotted with countless memories of my dad. From my very first birthday cake, lovingly baked from scratch and expertly carved into a teddy bear, to the countless school lunches consisting of sandwiches of exquisite precision and craftsmanship that were the envy of the lunchroom, my dad has been thoughtfully involved in every aspect of my life, right down to the smallest details. In fact, if my calculations are correct, my dad made over 2,000 lunches during my school career, even into my senior year of high school…and that was in addition to the mornings during elementary school when he woke up extra early to crimp my hair from roots to tip.
My mind is flooded with my father’s thoughtful touches all over the pages of my life story. The small plastic Christmas tree he placed in my fish tank during the holidays so even the goldfish could celebrate the season. The Saturday mornings spent at Putt-Putt’s Super Saturdays over a game of mini golf, a slice of pizza, and a coke. The countless basketball games and sporting events, cheering proudly from the stands, even though I was a mediocre cheerleader and an even worse basketball player. The hours spent filling up my car with gas, changing my oil, balancing my tires, and even making a custom bud vase for my Volkswagen Jetta after I eyed the vases that came standard in the Beetle. The time he stopped to build a snowman on an out-of-town business trip and put it in a cooler so he could bring it home for me. Or the time He drove from Albany to pick me up from yearbook camp in St. Petersburg and then turn around and drive me to youth camp in Toccoa Falls. And all these merely scratch the surface of 30+ years. If it’s true that “love” is spelled t-i-m-e (and it is), then my father has loved better than any other I know.
But even beyond the expressions of his love, my daddy has taught me countless life lessons that have made a lasting impact on my life and the life of my family. He is the most fiercely loyal man I know, and he is steady and consistent. I watched him work honorably for the same company for over 25 years because he believed in commitment and honoring his word to the man who offered him the job. Every Saturday since we opened the Prayer Chapel (now the Prayer Tower) at Sherwood, he has faithfully filled his 7:00am time slot week after week. And this Sunday, on his 70th birthday, he’ll stand behind camera #3 and serve behind the scenes on the media team as he has since Sherwood was founded (okay, maybe not quite that long).
My dad has taught me the value of hard work and wise financial stewardship. He is extravagantly generous in giving of his time and his resources. He taught me to balance a checkbook and make sound financial decisions. I’ve watched him give again and again, from money to meals to building campaigns, mission trips, scholarships, and more. He has held money loosely, viewing His financial blessings as a means to bless other people. I owe all of my perfectionist tendencies to my dad. And though frustrating at times, he has always modeled excellence in every project or assignment he undertakes. “Measure twice, cut once” applies not only to his carpentry skills but also to going above and beyond to be sure things are done correctly the first time. If better is possible, then good is not enough – my dad has lived this, whether shining his shoes and cutting his own hair or reassembling a lobster body for my 5th grade project on the state of Maine.
I have enjoyed watching my dad love people. He’s kept a standing “appointment” to visit his best buddy Nathan every other Saturday for years now. He lovingly and selflessly cared for Mrs. Beard, as his weekly chauffeur service to church turned into frequent visits to the nursing home sharing a Whopper Junior. He fiercely defended and provided for this precious woman without a second thought to his own conveniences. He has loved his pastor and supported him wholeheartedly through his prayers, service, and giving. My dad has “bought into” every vision, every new endeavor, and every step of faith, not blindly following but loyally supporting the man of God at Sherwood. And I’ve never heard him speak ill of Michael – “roast pastor” was never on the menu for Sunday lunch at our house. And, as these small snippets can attest, he has loved and provided for his family with extravagant devotion and thoughtful expressions over and over and over again.
Dad, I can’t possibly summarize the impact of your life in a couple of pages, and my attempt falls miserably short. I honor you on 70 years of a life well-lived. You are an incredible father and friend, and I’m so grateful to be your daughter. Happy Birthday!
I love you,