My dad’s death in April of 2017 at the age of 86 came after a steady decline in his health. Losing an elderly parent is rarely a surprise. For months, we had anticipated Jim Batura’s passing on a snowy Friday night. But little did we know that we would discover a wonderful secret that would shape our lives and parenting journey.
Sorting Through the Memories
It’s emotionally draining to see a loved one fade in degrees. In fact, my father shared with us that in the last year of his life, he’d wake up each morning and greet God by saying, “Okay, Lord, I’m still here – but I’m ready to go when You call me.”
Having moved in with our family for the last 4 years of his life, the task of sorting through my dad’s possessions fell to me. He was neat and organized. His shirts and pants were color-coded in the closet and everything in its rightful place in his dresser drawers.
The top drawer of my dad’s old wooden dresser was the one exception. It was a catch-all for odds and ends, secret and precious items too sensitive for a filing cabinet and too sentimental for the trash.
There were old love letters between him and my mom from Army days, snapshots of me and my siblings, locks of hair from our first cuts, and greeting cards full of heartfelt sentiments. There were notes between my parents from all manner of hospital stays. Some were from childbirths, others from close-call surgeries. No emails or texts – just ink on paper. These secret keepsakes stand today like tender testimony of commitment that stood the test of time.
But there in the corner, under the belts, was something I had never before seen. It was a well-worn black book, 3 inches by 5 inches, with a gold-lettered title: Father’s Manual.
The Little Black Book of Parenting Secrets
The book of parenting secrets had been published in 1968 by the W. J. H. Litho Company, a religious supplier based in New York dating back to the early 20th century. Opening its tattered pages, I could see my dad had spent considerable time in it. Three chapters were especially marked up:
- “Help to be a Good Father.”
- “The Grace of Fatherly Wisdom and Responsibility.”
- “A Christian Atmosphere in the Home.”
My dad was a devout believer, singing in choirs since an early age. In his last few years, and we’d find him praying in his chair quite often. It was something he did between watching the news, Yankee baseball games and old movies on Turner Classics.
There’s an old adage that children don’t come with manuals, which would be technically true. Thankfully, the Bible remains a parent’s greatest resource. My father’s own Bible was always at his side as he retreated to his chair each evening.
But his little black book of parenting secrets was full of marvelous insights and prayers. It was a manual, alright. My dad had starred this passage under the “Help to be a Good Father” section: “Give me the cheerful strength to lift the burden of troubled hearts from the members of my family without vexing them with the burdens that are mine.”
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Memories of My Father
My dad spent 44 years working for Pfizer, a pharmaceutical giant based in New York City. He was a “rail jockey.” He rode the train each day so that us kids could enjoy a suburban childhood rather than life in a metropolitan area like he did. Dad had grown up in a Brooklyn tenement with very little monetarily but more than enough emotionally and spiritually. He learned from an early age to “store up his treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-21)
Jim Batura wasn’t flashy – but he was fastidious. He was Ward Cleaver, but real. Up at 5, on the train by 6, home 12 hours later. He made all our games, played catch in the backyard, barbequed on the hibachi each summer, took us to the town pool and the beach after five because they stopped collecting for parking at 4:30.
My dad drove the wood-paneled station wagon to a lake in Maine each summer, built us a clubhouse in the backyard, and bolted a backboard and hoop to the garage so we’d play at home rather than run off for trouble.
A Man of Deep Faith
Most importantly, my father was a man of deep faith.
“Heavenly Father,” he underlined on page 213 of the book, “Your plan for the family and its needs make it plain that the fact that I work all day to provide our material living does not permit me to remain aloof from the problems of rearing the children and directing them.”
I’ll never forget how supportive both my mother and father were throughout the adoptions of our three sons. They had no experience with it and, being from another generation, found open adoption to be something of a head-scratching phenomenon.
Nevertheless, my parents prayed and encouraged our journey, warmly welcoming our boys. In fact, Riley, our oldest, regularly watched baseball with my dad, especially as his mobility decreased and his need for care increased. They talked, laughed, cheered and jeered together – 75 years apart in age yet united in a common love of the game.
A few years before my dad died, I sat with him for a recorded conversation. It’s so good to hear his voice. If you haven’t yet recorded your mom or dad, I’d strongly recommend it. It’s almost therapeutic.
In the midst of the conversation, my dad shared a previously unknown secret about returning from work. One night he was walking down our street to the house from the train station and paused 100 feet or so away. “I just looked at that house and I was overwhelmed that everyone in it was my responsibility,” he shared. “It made me pray even harder. I said, ‘Lord, I can’t do it alone. I need your help.’”
Waiting at the Train Station
I used to wait for my dad at the Baldwin train station each night when I was a little boy. I would stand in front of A&A Tire on Sunrise Highway. Streams of commuters would flood off the train. I’d crane my neck looking for my father, who always carried a briefcase and wore a fedora. When I saw him emerge from the masses, everything was right again with my world. To this day, when I smell Old Spice aftershave, I think of him sweeping me up into his arms as we walked towards home.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about those gentle evenings at that Long Island railroad station. As the world rocks and roils around me, I long to know more of those parenting secrets that filled his little black book. There will come a day when our roles will be reversed. My dad will be welcoming my arrival on that heavenly train “bound for glory.”
Thankfully, God’s Word and my dad’s little black Fathers’ Manual remain to help me raise our own three boys.
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