My birth dad’s name was James Robert Devers. He was one of 10 children and fathered a family of 7 children, of which I am smack dab in the middle, #4 child (1 sister – the eldest, and 5 brothers). Dad was a handsome, strong, viral, 6’ 2” tall man, with sandy brown hair, bright blue eyes and a pleasant demeanor. He and my mom married when he was 22 and she was 16.
Though we lived on our own land, financially we would have been considered a lower income family; living without such amenities as indoor plumbing, a furnace, or electricity. We heated with wood and coal and lighted our home with kerosene lamps.
My dad was raised on a farm in north-eastern Virginia – you won’t find many farms in that area now because it’s mostly a bedroom community for Washington DC. He did not graduate from high school – having quit school to work on his dad’s farm after the eighth grade. At age 17 he went to work for the railroad, doing manual labor on the “yards”, where train cars came in for repairs.
James Devers was a man of integrity – if he gave his word, he kept it. He was a hard worker, an outdoorsman. My dad taught us by his life to not be lazy. He was self-sufficient and industrious.
As he continued to work for the railroad, Dad also did odd jobs for friends, extended family and neighbors. Plus he had a large garden in the summer to help feed his family. Any garden overage was taken to the farmers’ market or given away. He was a very outgoing man, friendly to strangers – there were not many people in our town that he did not know. Dad felt that to have friends, you had to be friendly. He was optimistic, confident, and generous, especially to his girls. He was also proud and prejudiced.
He came from a stock of people who accepted bad news as a part of life. When he was diagnosed with cancer at age 64, he accepted death as inevitable – which didn’t quite gel with his optimistic nature. He lived for only two more years.
Cancer brought him to faith in Christ – as he said to me from his hospital bed – “I know who I have to trust for heaven, and it’s not me.” And the person who led him to Christ was one that, due to Dad’s racial prejudices, would not have been allowed into his inner personal space a few years before. But God’s love does that – it takes down barriers and redefines us and our long-held beliefs.
At the time my dad became ill, I was single, living in NJ and attending a church there. My pastor and his wife had no children of their own and “adopted” me. I remember when my dad was diagnosed they said to me, “You will always have a home with us.”
So, when my birth dad passed away, I had another dad. His name was Phil and he was basically a “city boy”. He was raised as an only child in a middle income family. Phil was very different from my father, though about the same age. He was college and seminary educated, not of many words, and had a deep faith that had sustained him since youth. He was thoughtful and a good listener. He had a good sense of humor, but was not loud like my father. He also was a man of his word and chose his words carefully. He was a careful planner, financial saver, and wise investor. He was a “suit and tie man”, where my birth dad was a work pants, work boots guy, except for occasions like weddings. Phil wasn’t expressive with his affection, but he, along with my adopted mom, parented me as a young adult – shared their lives, even vacations with me and later with my husband.
My third dad was my father-in-law, Dave Alves. I think when he died I cried more than my husband did. He was upper-middle class, college-educated, and had served in the US Navy. He had risen from immigrant Portuguese status to a management position with an insurance firm. Dad Alves was a fun person. He filled a room when he entered. He was the entertainer at family parties. Outgoing, stubborn, but never quite sure of himself. He was warm and accepting and interested in kids – my husband’s childhood friends loved being around his dad.
I also loved Dad Alves because he and his wife, Betty, had adopted my husband, David, from an orphanage when he was about age 4 or 5 years old. They took a chance on a kid who had been in 10 or so foster homes in the first couple years after being removed from his birth parents by the state of Massachusetts. Dave and Betty did a good job with him.
Dad Alves not only accepted me, but was proud of my vocal abilities and encouraged David and me in our Christian concert ministry – though not a follower of Christ at the time. He came to a commitment to Christ on his hospital bed after a heart attack. He died several months later.
All three of my “dads” contributed to what I have been and am becoming, by loving me, encouraging me in my particular ministry pursuits, validating my abilities, and modeling character traits such as: generosity, kindness, friendliness, integrity, hard work, honesty, truthfulness, and courage to face what comes your way. They also taught me the need for listening to others, taking time for fun, and applying yourself to your goals.
But my 4th dad is the best of all – and that’s my Heavenly Father. Though I’m sure He was active in my life long before I recognized Him as “Father”, He proves over and over how very precious I am as a daughter of His. He has provided me with tools not only for this life, but for the life beyond this one. Unlike my other dads, He has promised never to leave me or forsake me. He has promised to complete the work He has begun in me, to give me wisdom for each situation, to answer my prayers, to heal me, to save me from disaster, to be with me in trouble, to cause “all things to work for good” in my life.
I don’t have to travel to visit Him, but I can have an audience with Him any time of the day or night. He listens to my yearnings, my pleadings, my supplications, my confessions, my complaints, my discouragements, my questions, my theorizing and my expressions of gratitude. His presence fills the room, especially the room inside me, more than either of my other dads. He points out my faults and weaknesses only to show me a better way and to lead me to learn to trust Him completely with my life.
Thank you, God for my three earthly fathers, and for being the ultimate Father for whatever “orphans” are out there, who want to be in a loving family with a loving Dad.
©2011, Marcy Alves