My cousin Tom and I have always wondered this about our fathers: How could two brothers be so different, yet so alike?
Tom and I were best friends throughout childhood, even though we lived 100 miles apart.
The three or four times we were together each year, we’d describe our dads in similar terms. The conversations continue today, although the words have gotten bigger.
Impatient, intimidating, prone to lectures and frustration. Judgmental, demanding, funny, insecure, unpredictable, and sometimes mean. Distant, yet capable of warmth, with the loyalty of a Labrador.
Neither ever touched a drop of alcohol. Both liked cars and old radio shows.
Each was always right. About everything.
With such a list of common traits, how could they be so different?
Don loved Christmas, but Dale boycotted it. He usually broke down and bought his kids a present, but he didn’t ride with the family to Christmas dinner. He’d show up late, alone, and leave early, usually after getting into an argument with his brother.
The arguments were often about politics. Dale liked Nixon. Don liked Humphrey. Dale liked Reagan. Don liked Mondale.
Tom and I didn’t really care about politics, but we didn’t like how tense the atmosphere became each Christmas.
Our moms liked it even less.
Don and Dale were 10 and 6 when their dad was killed in a car accident. They were in the car, and no one ever spoke to them about what happened. No one ever asked them how they felt, or helped them process the trauma.
It was a community of conservative Swedes who didn’t talk about feelings.
Instead, they went to church. For a while.
When Tom and I were young, both our fathers stopped going to church with the family. Something happened to them that either made them feel unwelcome or convinced them that the church had gone astray.
And yet, from birth to old age, Don and Dale remained motivated by one thing above all others: Love for and service to the God of their fathers. When no one else was there for them, God was, and they returned the favor.
You could’ve covered them with boils, infected their families with pestilence, brought fire and brimstone down on their doors, and yet they would revere the Lord and never question his justice.
With Job they would declare, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”
Two brothers, convinced of their special relationship to God, shadow boxing in opposite corners of the American political ring.
It seems like they would’ve met the same God, coming from the same family, attending the same church for the same number of years.
Maybe they did. Each God gave his servant a righteous indignation that turned him from the church, but never from his faith.
Neither God cured his servant of his weaknesses, yet each brother was blessed with a family that forgave him his faults.
I know there’s a metaphor in there somewhere, a moral to the story or a message about politics, religion, or both. I know there is, but to me they’re just two men, two old men, two young boys who never got to talk about it.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.