What my 90-year-old father taught me about life

“Never unprepared.”

The McKeever crest actually claims that as our family motto, going back to somewhere, Ireland or Scotland or both.

I used to laugh at the irony of that.  I mean, what were our people, a bunch of boy scouts?

I’m not laughing any more. My dad taught me how it works.

Carl J. McKeever, the 6th generation descendant of Cornelius “Neil” McKeever who arrived from the old country on the east coast around 1803, was definitely an original. The first-born of an even dozen children, Dad started working inside the coal mines in 1926 when he was 14.  His formal education ended with the seventh grade, but he never stopped growing and learning and being curious.

At the time this happened, I thought this was hilarious.

In January of 2002, my dad and brother Ron traveled from the family farm in north Alabama to Montgomery to the annual legislative luncheon, sponsored by the Baptists of that state.The governor and his staff would be present, as well as the State Supreme Court, the legislature, the staff of the state convention, and leading pastors from across the state.

I was their featured speaker that year, and they gave me permission to invite my dad.

Anytime you can have your father in attendance when you are addressing a crowd where the governor is present, go for it.

A few minutes before the luncheon, Governor Don Seigelman arrived and was greeting people at the head table.  As we chatted, I pointed to my father, sitting with a few friends at the center table in front of the dais.  “Dad is a coal miner from Walker County,” I told him.  “When you were secretary of state, he served on some committee of yours having to do with the coal mining industry in the state.”  The governor walked over and thrust out his hand, “Carl, how are you! Good to see you again!”

My dad took it all in stride, confident that the governor had remembered him from those years back. They chatted, and the governor moved on.

Later, when he stood to make his remarks, the governor introduced “the father of our keynote speaker, my friend Carl McKeever, 90 years old!”  Everyone applauded, and Dad loved it.  I was happier at this than anything that happened on that wonderful day.

That afternoon, I forget how, but I learned that in Dad’s jacket pocket he carried a brief speech just in case he was called on for remarks.

I wish now I could hear what he would have said.  Dad was a lot of things, but boring, never!

That is so typical of that wonderful man whom I loved with all my heart and now miss every day, eight years after God took him home.

Dad was always prepared.

Never unprepared.

He who would never be caught unprepared must give advance thought to what lies ahead.  On the highway, we call it defensive driving.  Everywhere else, I suppose it’s defensive living.

What might happen?  And what would I do if it did?

While traveling across the state, I dropped in on a large congregation for their morning service.  Someone told the pastor I was in the audience, so during his greetings, the gracious brother introduced me from the pulpit.  “Had I know Joe was going to be here, he would be preaching today.” That was what we call “preacher-talk” and while it was nice, I knew full well he would not have done that. And had I been in his shoes, I wouldn’t have either.  However, just in case he had called on me for the benediction, I got ready.

Visiting preachers frequently get called on for impromptu remarks or a prayer.  One does not expect it but prepares for it. Just in case.

A couple of times during the sermon I reflected on what the pastor was preaching and put together a fitting closing prayer.  Just in case.

He didn’t call on me. (And I was completely fine with that.) They ended the service in their usual way, I found out, with a chorus of praise.

But it never hurts to be prepared.

“Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season,” Paul said (2 Timothy 4:2).

A good deal of Winston Churchill’s time was taken, historians tell us, in preparing his spontaneous remarks.  Those ad libs and off-the-cuff statements were never unprepared.

One smart man.

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