Those of you who know Dan Leafblad have likely heard him speak fondly of his dad. He tells us that he has all sweet memories of him, and not because time has erased any bitter ones. He stresses that his dad wasn’t perfect — but a man of Godly character who was full of fun. For Father’s Day, we asked Dan to tell about his dad, Paul Everette Leafblad. Dan wrote not just about his dad, but also about the gift of faith handed down from one generation to the next.
My dad, Paul Everette Leafblad, was born 1925 in Mason, Wisconsin, to Swedish immigrant parents. He was the ninth of 11 children, eight boys and three girls. The family farmed, and when there was snow on the ground, my grandfather ran a lumber camp where “the boys” all worked. It was complete with large two-man crosscut saws, log sleighs pulled by Belgian horses, and steam-powered band saws. A bunkhouse housed men who slept hard after a long day fueled by huge meals that the women churned out.
Growing up in the Depression required creativity and grit, but the Leafblad household that my dad grew up in had something more powerful going for it. My grandparents were part of the Swedish Baptist diaspora, and they passed their Christian faith on to their children. The large majority of their 450+ descendants became believers. We all think that great-grandma Ida’s prayers for every family member, including those yet to be born, had something to do with that. That faith, along with food, fun, friends, music, and stories helped them not only survive, but also enjoy a tough life.
My dad met and married Charlotte Watt, and they passed that heritage on. Lucky me! Dad attended Bethel and the University of Minnesota. Mom finished at Augsburg, and they moved to Waukegan, Illinois, in 1952, where they had me, joined Immanuel Baptist Church (Swedish Baptist, of course, and their home for the next 60 years). My dad started Leafblad Landscaping with his brother.
I have heard that boys learn a lot about becoming a man by observing men. I had a lot of good men to observe, chief among them my dad, and what I saw was good.
I remember at age 12 crossing a Canadian lake in a 12-foot boat buffeted by breakers produced by a sleet-ridden thunderstorm. Dad was at the stern with a little three-horse Johnson outboard motor, calmly telling my mom, my brother and me to lie in the bottom of the boat and bail. I felt no fear, only excitement.
I remember on those same fishing trips dad cleaning burlap bags full of fish at midnight, after a 16-hour day, while we “helped,” blowing the mosquitoes and black flies away from his face and arms.
How did he teach me? Storytelling, for one. He became a true artist of the form. He also involved us in family events and insisted on disciplined church attendance (four times per week!). He used daily life situations as lessons, leaving the more formal catechism (Baptist style) and reading of stories to mom.
And what did he teach?
Do the right thing, always. Be brave. Tell the truth. Work hard and earn your keep. But play hard, too. Have the guts to apologize, and do so quickly. Trust and obey. Love Jesus and follow him.
He did not need to tell me to laugh, but if I had needed it he would have. In my conservative church, many young people rebelled. I didn’t, and perhaps that was just because of my personality. But I think it was more likely because my mom and dad were so fun-loving, hospitable, and caring that I didn’t want to turn away. I respected my father tremendously.
It’s often said that a person’s relationship with their father can deeply influence their image of God. That may explain in part why I see God as sacrificial, powerful yet gentle, demanding but fair, firm yet loving.
Thank God for loving fathers.
Dan is a member of the vestry at Church of the Redeemer. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Arden Hills. Dan’s dad, Paul, died in 2013.