Family Name

My dad taught me that our name was an honor we were to guard, something gifted to us – but something we must hold in safekeeping both as a debt to those before us and as the richest inheritance I would pass to my own children. My mom gave me a plaque when I was in the third or fourth grade, lettering on a bronze plate fixed to dark chestnut. It hung by my bed. I don’t remember the exact text, but it had “Collier” in bold letters across the top followed by a poem about a father giving a son his only treasure, his good name. The poem was cheeky, but the point stuck. Your name matters. Where you come from matters. Being a Collier means something.

Our name, I believe, is one of our pearls of great price. A good name cannot be bought, but – and here is the power – it can most certainly be given.

I remember my grandpa R.J. Collier’s lean frame perched on the top step of his porch, working those cigarettes, his cap tilted askew and his overalls hanging off his thin body, his green 1953 Chevy pickup parked next to the house. My grandma Collier died before I was born, and so visits to my grandpa lacked the gregarious matriarchal energy I’m told I would have experienced if my dad’s mother had still been alive. Grandpa Collier gave all the grandkids $5 in McDonald’s gift certificates every Christmas, and we in turn supplied him with a case of bottled Coca-Colas (R.J. insisted on the glass bottles).

When my dad, fresh out of high school, went to the bank to arrange a loan for his first used car, he met a roadblock because he was under-21 and possessed no credit history. The banker looked over his file and said, “So, you’re R.J.¬†Collier’s son?”

“Yes,” my dad answered.

“Well, I know R.J., and that means I know something about you.” The banker picked up his pen and signed off on the loan, with nothing other than “Collier” as collateral.

When I have serious talks with Wyatt or Seth about their character or integrity, about how they are to treat others or how they are to make choices in this world, I’ll usually say something like, “You’re a Collier man, and this is how Colliers live.” My father and mother, like their fathers and mothers (this story could be written for my mom’s family – and for Miska’s family too), has handed us an identity. Being a Collier means something. I only hope to live up to the truth of it.

A friend told me recently that in English history, a Collier (a coal-er) was one who delivered coal to his neighbors. A Collier was one who went house to house carrying the light and carrying the heat. I like that. I like that very much.

A Blessing on Father’s Day

Men of tender courage, strong hopes and firm presence: When you see your world – and move into it – you model our God who refused to be aloof and insisted on bold, visible love. With your daily labor, you carve life from the soil of this world. Like God, you bring order from the wild chaos. You name the truth, and your love has the power to touch the deep places of our soul. You are a poet, a craftsman, a priest. You are necessary.

For the ways you take on the weight of this world – and shield others from it,

For the many times you surrender your desires for the good of family,

For your faithfulness to your marriage, in a world that knows less and less about fidelity and loyalty, less about love,

For the times when all you want to do is fling your weary bones on a couch but instead you wrestle or sit down for a tea party or toss a football,

For the moments you’ve fought to the bitter end for what you believe is true and right, even if you lost,

For those of you who bear the scars from your own father,

For those of you who have become father for another,

For sticking around,

For keeping your word,

For laughing – and for being able to laugh at yourself,

For teaching us how to tell the truth, how to say “I’m sorry” and how to cry,

We bless you.

May the God who filled Father Adam with life and who filled King David with wisdom, boldness and tenderness and who brought our Redeemer into the world to enact and demonstrate selfless love, fill you with all grace and joy today. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.