Friday, September 21, 2012


Good parents, and good parents-in-law, are a precious gift. I've been blessed with both.

Even before we were married, Lorie and I began to refer to each other's parents as "Mom" and "Dad." I share that in praise of our parents. I also share it so that you don't get confused. The "Dad" I'm talking about in this post is not MY FATHER, but Lorie's father Jim Carlisle, who passed away this past Saturday.

One of the things I admired about Dad was his ability to enter another person's world. When you were around him, it was more about you than about him. He would find out who you are, what you do, what you're interested in, and those things would be the topics of the conversation.

He was great at entering the world of his grandchildren. I have memories of him playing with my kids for hours. When my son David was young he used to dress up and play Batman -- Dad was always willing to be the Joker, the Penguin, or some other arch-villain. I remember he and David putting a GI Joe in a jeep and sending the poor soldier careening down the driveway at breakneck speeds.  I remember seeing Mary sitting in "Pop Pop's" lap as he read children's books to her, over and over.

And I remember Snicklefritz. When the grandchildren spent the night at his house, or when he spent the night at theirs, he would always tuck them in, and then sit on the edge of the bed and make up stories about this imaginary creature that he invented. I never heard the stories -- they weren't for me -- but from what I gathered, Snicklefritz was a hapless creature with the body parts of several different animals and the head of a dragon. While he was a kind and loving creature, he wreaked all kinds of havoc when he would sneeze -- and accidentally set something on fire. But Snicklefritz always managed to save the people he put in danger, and somehow the trouble he caused would bring about something good in the end.
Male Wood Duck

In 1980, Dad began carving decorative duck decoys. Before long he became a world class carver. He won all kinds of awards, and people bought his ducks for thousands of dollars.

Each duck took around six months to carve and paint. It was a slow, painstaking process that demanded passionate attention to detail. The decoys in the shows Dad entered had to be exact replicas of the actual living duck. That means that the size of the bill, the length of the feathers, the width of the neck, the distance from head to tail -- all these had to be exact.

And so Dad spent hours studying books, photographs, and the bodies of actual ducks, to get these dimensions perfect. He kept plaster casts of the bills of every duck known to man. At one point he actually kept some real (dead) ducks in his freezer.

Female Wood Duck
Then after the carving came the burning of the feathers into the wood. And then the painting. Again, the colors had to be exact.

And to make all of this more difficult, the ducks had to float. They had to be hollowed out in such a way that when you put them in water, they looked just like a real duck.

Can you imagine the level of detail work and patience this required? I would have gone bonkers. But Dad loved it. And he excelled at it.

Speaking of excelling -- Dad was an excellent golfer (another patience-requiring pursuit that would drive me crazy). It was good to see someone with a healthy recreational passion.  After he retired, he taught my mother-in-law (Marty) how to play. They played together, sometimes 2-3 times a week. I often use them as an example when I work with couples preparing for marriage: "Find  something you both enjoy that you can do together."

Dad was a committed Christ follower. When we were on trips together, I would often see him sneak off in the mornings with an orange index card in his hand. It was his prayer list. He was very involved in his church. He served on and chaired pretty much every committee that exists in the United Methodist Church. He helped with the Food Pantry, he sang in the choir, he helped with setting up for events ... And here's the really cool thing: he did all that with no personal agenda. Really. He wasn't trying to make a name for himself, wasn't pushing his own desires for the church.  He just wanted to serve his Lord.

Dad's funeral was Tuesday. It was at Maple Springs United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, where Lorie and I were married. It's a fairly large church. And it was packed.

The ministers at Maple Springs, Randy Waugh and Jeff Copley, did a wonderful job. The entire Maple Springs choir came out in the middle of the day to sing. David spoke on behalf of the grandchildren. I read ROMANS 12:1-18 and explained that the family chose this Scripture because it sounded so much like Jim Carlisle.

I'm sad to see him go. But as I write these words, I'm beginning to feel a sense of gratitude--for the life Dad lived--for the people he touched--for the fact that I got to marry into his family--for the legacy he leaves behind.

And for the memories.

Lorie, me, Mom, Kim, Jim (Jr.), and Dad in Switzerland

At Gruyere Castle (where Gruyere cheese comes from)

Dad's last (unfinished) duck

1 comment:

  1. I stumbled across the post when looking for pictures of a hen wood duck. I saw the picture above and knew that was one of Jim Carlisle's birds. Mr. Carlisle and I met through the carving community and became friends while I was at Wake Forest. He was truly one of the best in so many facets of life. As I prepare for the "Worlds" competition, he is thought of often and is greatly missed.

    - Andy