They did the best they could with what they knew.

When my dad passed away over a year ago, a friend whose dad has done a lot of things that brought hurt to his family said to me, “You are so blessed to have had the relationship you did with your dad.”

I kind of wanted to rush in and say that we didn’t have a very noteworthy relationship.  Really.

Then again, maybe we did.

My siblings and I spoke and wrote a lot about Dad over the time of his death.  A good-hearted soul he was, a lover of simple things, optimistic, intelligent but not proud, liberal in his political views (I know, right?!), conservative about buying butter, not an eloquent preacher, someone who cared about the underdog.

But he wasn’t a dad who told us we were beautiful. Not ever.  He never said he believed in us.  He didn’t hold us close and look into our eyes and smooth our curls and tell us how much he loved us like my husband does to our daughters.  He was raised in a staunch Amish home and started parenting in the 50’s. One didn’t do those things.  Dad read all the time when he wasn’t working.  He didn’t fly kites with us or take us to the beach.  He didn’t ask us how our hearts were or help us decide our dating standards. He didn’t give us away at our weddings.

He did a lot of things for our good and I could write paragraphs about his generosity and humility and good humour and optimism.  Time mellowed and changed him. I think his grandchildren got the benefit of the teachings of the 90’s about family and closeness and saying we love people instead of just assuming they know.  Some of his sons-in-law had a closer relationships with him as the man they met later in his life with Christ than his own sons did as teenagers.

I could write a long and heartfelt tribute to this good man, but it has already been done and that’s not what I came here to say today.

I could probably also  fill up a page if I started enumerating his faults.

There might be needs in my family because Dad was a distant father in lots of ways.  There might be some holes in my heart and insecurities that his telling me he loved me and that I was beautiful could have mended.  Maybe I wouldn’t struggle with feeling like God cares if my daddy had been a more involved father. We all carry some scars from ways that our homes weren’t ideal.

But the longer time goes on, the more grace I give to my parents.

They did the best they could with what they knew.

Just like Dan and I are doing today.

I want to give that kind of grace to other people in my life too.  Most of them are doing the best they can with what they know.  Even when they seem harsh or narrow minded or tedious or distant.

(This is not to minimize hurt caused by church leaders and fathers and mothers and teachers and employers.  There is evil and sadness around us and there are times to stand up when we see others inflicting pain.  There are fathers who have caused scars so deep that healing takes years. There are dads who know better and do awful things anyway.  I am not here to tell you how to handle that kind of sadness.)

And maybe my life has just been easy when it comes to relationships.  But when I look at people through the they-do-the-best-they-can-with-what-they-know lens, I can often say, “Ah. That explains things a lot.”

My dad was loved and appreciated and worthy of the good words we have said about him,  I hold close the memories of his dear face and hearty laugh.


I am blessed to have a dad who did justly, loved mercy, and walked humbly with his God.


And where he failed, I give him grace.  The same grace I hope my children will give me.






9 thoughts on “They did the best they could with what they knew.

  1. This has to be one of the best blogs you have written. I did not hear my father tell me he loved me until I was 40. Some never hear those words so I am fortunate to have heard them at that age. He never told us we were beautiful or that he was proud of us because that might make us proud. He did not hold us on his lap and read us stories. He did not play games with us. But he was a great man in so many ways that it would take too long to write. I’ll mention one thing and that is, he was a prayer warrior for his children, his wife, and ironically, people he didn’t even know. He use to sit in his living room chair with oxygen on and in the middle of the night when he could not sleep, he watched the airplanes come in for a landing at a nearby airstrip. Papa knew about what point the plane should be coming in over the trees and if the pilot was coming in too low, or too high he would pray for safety for the pilot. Many times he watched as the pilots picked up speed and circled around coming in again at a different level. I have always firmly believed as you wrote that “they did the best they knew” and my heart has always longed to give them grace. That is probably why I am still a conservative Mennonite today. My parents raised me in a church that was ultra conservative and instead of abandoning it when I saw the flaws, I stayed the course, convinced there is merit in many of the conservative ways. Just like, I loved my parents even when I saw the flaws knowing my own parenting skills might be even more flawed. I surely hoped not, but as the water of time has gone under the bridge, I believe it to be true. I did end up parenting as flawed as my own parents just in different areas. We rejoice when our own children can also “stay the course and give us grace”.

    1. Your comment is refreshing, Lois Ann! Amazing to hear that when it seems like there’s so MUCH of the opposite heard. Seems like gratefulness, Grace for others, and plain commonsense all come into play in accepting where we are in life! Am I way off in my thinking??:) Thank you, Luci, for your thoughtful post, too. Bless you.

  2. Luci, this is poignant. Applicable to so many of us who have lost our dads… thanks for writing this!

  3. This is so beautifully written it almost makes me cry. My dad grew up Old Order Mennonite, and I’m not sure if he’s ever told me that I’m beautiful or not, or that he believes in me. But it doesn’t matter, he doesn’t need to say it. I’ve always been sure of his love for me, and the older I get, the more thankful I am for his deep integrity and the secure and happy childhood he and my mother gave me. As I relate to people who are frustrated and hurting by parents who haven’t done it all right, I want to remember these words: “They did the best they could with what they knew. “

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