A Tribute to My Father

Sam Pittman in hatedit

Twelve years ago today, my father died.  Below are the words that I spoke in farewell and tribute to my dad at his memorial service on January 25, 2001, in Roseville, Minnesota.  Speaking them before 600 people was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  The first part of this tribute was written at 30,000 feet above the North Pacific Ocean as I flew home from a vacation in Thailand.  

This is my annual tribute to him.

The call you dread and fear and never expect comes.  It’s mom.  “Joann, your father died this morning.  Please come home as soon as you can.  I need you.”  Like an arrow out of no-where, somewhere, it hits first the head, then the heart, and slowly the pain sinks into your bones.  One day you’re relaxing on the beach, washing off the stress of a difficult term, and 24 hours later you’re wandering in a daze around international airports—Phuket, Bangkok, Narita—all jammed with people, and yet feeling so incredibly alone.  The words keep shouting in your soul.  “Joann, your father has died,” slamming against your bones and your organs and your skin like a bullet ricocheting around a steel cavern.  You try to drive them away with polite conversation, with reading, with hymn-singing, hoping against hope that driving the words away will drive the reality away as well.

But then the words and reality force their way back and the pain starts again.  “Joann, your precious father stepped into glory this morning.”  “Joann, your wonderful father went home to be with his Savior.”  With every fiber of my being I believe these words, but don’t want to believe them at the same time.  He was a precious father, but now he is lost in wonder, love and grace in the presence of Jesus.

Yet here at 30,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, I feel just plain lost.  Lost in sadness.  Lost in pain.  I know he’s with his Savior, but I want him here with us.  How will I get through the next ten hours on this plane? How will I bear to see my mom and sister and her family at the end of this long journey?  One hour at a time, one grace at a time.  “He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater; He giveth more strength as the labors increase.  To added affliction, He addeth more more mercy; to multiplied sorrows, He multiplies peace.”  Then it hits me.  Despite the pain, I too am lost in love and grace.  Sustaining grace–John Piper describes it like this:  “Not grace to bar what is not bliss, nor flight from all distress, but this—the grace that orders our trouble and pain, and then in the darkness is there to sustain.”  Will the sadness and the tears and the pain ever go away?  Probably not.  But then again, neither will the grace.

So, my beloved dad is gone.  What to say?  The words that scream loudest from my soul are simply, “please come back.”  I know he’s in a better placee, but I still want him back here. There are too many words and no words.  But following are a few—just a few of the special things I remember about my dad.

He had a sense of humor.  He loved to laugh and make others laugh, and he was never in danger of taking himself too seriously.

He was a servant.  He would do anything for anybody anytime anyplace, from bringing coffee to my waking mom every morning to fixing church roofs to shoveling neighbor’s driveways.

He was humble.  In a stuffy academic world, he was just himself.

He was generous.  If there was a financial need, he gave. His giving to us seemed limitless and it gave him great joy.

He was compassionate.  His heart was tender and easily broken by the pain and suffering in the world.  Last month in Beijing, we visited a clothing market that the government was ready to close down.  The peddlers were selling their goods at rock-bottom prices.  In a crowd frenzied over the best bargain, he kept asking, “what will happen to these poor people?”

He loved Jesus.  Quietly and simply, he ordered his life grounded in that love.

He was a wonderful father and I miss him so very much.

Perhaps the greatest tribute I can give will be when I come to the end of my days and people say of me, simply, “she was just like her father.”

Goodbye Dad.  I love you and miss you more than words can express.


If you knew my dad and have any special memories, please feel free to leave a comment. (For those of you receiving this by email, you need to click open the site in order to leave a comment.)

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

24 thoughts on “A Tribute to My Father

  1. A memory that makes me smile…..your dad and mom being such great sports in navigating the Beijing “silk market”, along with a “cast of thousands”.

  2. We have many memories of your Dad, Mom your sister and you back from 1967 – 1968 in Pakistan. Your family was so nice to us, we will love you all forever.

    Our son was born in Karachi, Judy was being induced as she was very late after her due date and nothing was happening. The hospital told me to go home and they would call me. I got a call from your dad to come to the hospital as they were taking Judy into surgery to do a C-Section delivery, your dad had authorized the surgery. If he hadn’t been there at that exact time I think I would have lost both of them. He exactly when to be there and what to do.

    I still think our funniest story is the Redi-Whip at our house in Karachi. Hot dogs at the church was fun too.

  3. I am only a follower of your blog but this post really touched me. Made me think about my own parents and how lucky I am to still have them. May you have comfort in your memories and knowing that he is undoubtedly in a better place. He sounds like an exceptional man.

  4. Hello Joanne-

    I found your blog through a random set of circumstances, and how come to enjoy your meanderings. I have another friend from when I lived in NYC, named Joanne Redman, who also had a keen interest in China. So when I found your blog, I at first thought it was her. But you two are not the same person. I too lived in China and have recently moved back to North America. I will miss your insights from the Chinese culture. I know it is a difficult return to North America. I pray that time with your family will encourage you and help you see His wonderful hand at work in your life and through you.

    God Bless You,


  5. Just yesterday I sent an email to my family with all of my contact information while I’ll be traveling. And as I always do at this time of year, I prefaced it with, “Being with Joaan when her dad died, I need to know you have this information, but I hope you won’t need it.” Jo, he’s still missed by those in and out of your family! I’m glad you’re with your mom today.

  6. Thanks for sharing this, Joann. I never knew your Dad, but I hope to meet him one day. He’s sounds wonderful—esp. the part about not being stuffy. : )

  7. Dear JoAnn,
    Thanks for the wonderful tribute to your dad. He was a special friend of mine, I so loved his sense of humor and he was a friend with whom I always was able to share my concerns and thoughts. I first met him at Kennedy School of Missions in Hartford in 1953. Your dad was a real scholar and certainly was not “stuffy”. All of our colleagues felt a real loss when he died. I’m so glad you have such wonderful memories of your dad. Love in Christ, Ralph

  8. JoAnn, Your words were so touching. I, along with a hoard of others, dearly loved your dad. I asked him one day how teaching was going. He said, “I love to teach. It’s the administration that gives me grief.” He was an excellent teacher, with a coke (or pepsi drink, don’t know which) on his stand, and he liked to take breaks. He would ask me to each about the Middle East, and I would present some of the same material from year to year. Yet, he was always taking notes. Come to think of it, he may have been preparing his next lecture!! And you, dear lady, have inherited the gene from both your parents. God is using you and we love you. Dave and Carol

  9. This particular blog post, “A Tribute
    to My Father | Outside-In” was fantastic. I am impressing out a copy to present to my
    good friends. Thanks for your effort,Selma

  10. Just read this again today. It really gets at that joy-pain paradox that is so much a part of living as a believer in our world. Love these words today: Despite the pain, I too am lost in love and grace. Sustaining grace–

  11. I lost my dad few days ago. My heart is so heavy. Feeling wounded and lost. I came online to start putting my words and tribute together and I stumbled into yours and here I am speechless. Powerful and uplifting words that says so much about my father. So with your permission, I will be using some of your praise and words also for my father. Above all, thank you for reminding me that “despite the pain, I too am lost in love and grace”. Wow

    • I am so sorry to hear about your loss. It is such a painful thing to lose a parent. I am glad that my words can help you express your emotions and sentiment as well. Blessings as you walk this difficult path.