Years ago when I interviewed Ralph Waite, the actor who played the father on the popular televison series “The Waltons”, he said he was often approached in public places by people saying, “You are the father I always wanted.”
I was reminded of this when I watched Meghan McCain’s impressive eulogy of her father, U.S. Sen. John McCain, this past weekend. There was no doubt she got the father she wanted. She could not praise him enough — highlighting the love and loyalty and strength he gave his family.
Looking at the solemn faces in the crowd I wondered if they were perhaps thinking of their own parenting. Where they fell in the measure of Meghan McCain’s remembrance of her father. What would their children say of them?
I was feeling like, “Whoa, my kids couldn’t say all that good stuff about me.” Comparison is a trap we set for ourselves. When a disciple of Jesus once questioned Him about another among the group — what about this man, they asked — Jesus rebuked him, “What is that to you? Follow me.”
I decided to look further into the life of John McCain. And once again found the comparison sham is just that. McCain came home from his POW nightmare in Vietnam to a changed wife — his first wife. She had been severely injured in a car accident he knew nothing about, had undergone months of rehab, and come out of it with impairment in her ability to walk. Ulltimately he left this family, which included three children. His former wife, who never remarried, says of him, “He wanted to be young again.” He married a woman nearly 20 years his junior to whom he stayed wed for close to 40 years and with whom he created a new family.
Sen. McCain met the extreme pressures of Vietnam, but the relational challenges within his first family were too much. This isn’t reason for me to say, “OK, so he’s not really all his daughter eulogized.” As if bringing him down somehow lifts me up.
None of us does everything right. That’s why the Bible audaciously claims humankind needs a Savior. John McCain was, in her eyes, all his daughter passionately declared. I believe that. I respect that. I am happy for her to have known the gift of such a father.
But my eyes are open. My life, with all its failures and successes, is meant to be lived by me. I don’t need to measure it against any other person. Because they aren’t perfect, either.