As he lay near death my dad told me "the Christians are after me." I said "tell them to go to hell." He smiled. Indeed, over the last two weeks of his life, friends and family members prayed over him and sang hymns which he gladly accepted. But when he was preached to about heaven he became annoyed and I don't blame him. He told the hospice chaplain that "religion is for dummies."
To me, the journey is between each person and their maker. A friend who had called him on the phone and vigorously tried to convert him to Jesus so he would not go to hell asked me, "Aren't you worried about his soul?"
I said: "No, I am not worried about his soul." I am not worried about the soul of a man who for 18 years took care of his wife who had Alzheimers disease. Each day he would lift her into his van and take her for a walk at the mall and drive her to a restaurant for dinner and feed her. He never sent her to a nursing home but retired from real estate and playing golf to care for her at home.
I'm not worried about the soul of a man who loved his four children and provided them with emotional and financial support his whole life. This is a man who was a bleeding-heart liberal FDR Democrat who always stood up for the underdog. Maybe it was his education at the Wharton School or maybe it was because his mother died at childbirth and he was raised with his two cousins by his grandmother and he always felt like an outcast.
I'm not worried about his soul because he was a truthful man often to the point of being blunt. When my friend brought him some homemade split pea soup toward the end, we asked him how it was and in front of my friend he said "too salty."
This is a man who joined the Marines to help his country in WWII. Fortunately, he became a radar specialist and did not have to kill anyone. But he did go to Iwo Jima after the big battle and witnessed a lot of dead soldiers. This experience turned him into a pacifist. This is a man who went to anti-war and civil rights protests in the 1960s and was open enough to accept two lesbian daughters and their partners.
This is a man who at one time in his life did have a conversion to the Lord which led to his giving up drinking and smoking and becoming a member of the North Wales Baptist Church to which he took his wife and children every Sunday. Later when many of the members' beliefs about the Vietnam War conflicted with his, he left the church but never discouraged the rest of the family from going. He would never be a hypocrite to his beliefs. He could not fake it for the sake of pleasing others.
I remember once he gave a sermon at the church about how we should get out of Vietnam and my mom whispered to me: "I admire your father." So did I.
Seeing the way that Christianity has been used over the years to promote war and instill hatred toward gays, he decided that religion often did more harm than good in the world so he became an atheist. I would often argue with him that you can't blame Christ for what people have done in his name. He listened but never totally agreed with me.
Yet, my father was more Christ-like than anyone I know. I remember as a child we made a birdhouse out back that he attached high on a tree. A bunch of small sparrows quickly made it their home. Then some nasty crows or some other kind of bigger birds came and tried to bully them out. My dad grabbed a broom, stormed out of the house and shooed away the crows. At the time I was frightened by his actions but now I see it as similar to Christ's turning over the moneychangers' table in the temple.
He was a champion for the poor and oppressed. He was the most honest, generous, intelligent, and steadfast person I ever knew. He was constantly learning and expanding himself. In his 80s he took singing lessons and taught himself Italian and Spanish songs that Pavarotti sang and performed with family members at Day Care centers.
An introvert most of his life, he stuck his neck out and made lasting friends at the Montgomery Mall food court with whom he communed every day after his daily walk. Many of them visited him in his final days.
He used to tell me he never had many friends throughout his life. But on that front, he was wrong. When the word got out that he was under hospice care my cell phone never stopped ringing.
He sent me a sign four days after his passing. As I was driving to a concert a car directly in front of me had a license plate that read "ThankYu." I started bawling because I knew it was from him.
I also got a sense the day before as I was washing the dishes that he was meeting his mother for the first time. It was an exciting, chilling feeling. So an atheist can make it to heaven and I know he is there with my mom, my sister, my brother-in-law, his parents and grandparents, and FDR and Pavarotti too.
So no, I am not worried about his soul. Father, I thank you for all you have done for me. I can never repay you.