A Tribute to My Father – 2014

Thirteen 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. Standing before a crowd of 600 people to deliver these remarks 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.  

Posting this on my blog is my annual tribute to him.

Sam Pittman in hatedit

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.)

Hanging out with his granddaughters

Hanging out with his granddaughters

On the edge with my sister and niece

Living on the edge with my sister and niece

Sharing a bowl of ice cream with my mom

Sharing a bowl of ice cream with my mom

Since there were few things he loved more than ice cream, somewhere along the line we started a family tradition of going to DQ on the anniversary of his death to raise a dilly bar in his honor. Because of crazy schedules today and double digit negative temps, my sister and I made a run to DQ last night and brought home a box of dilly bars!






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17 thoughts on “A Tribute to My Father – 2014

  1. How is it 13 years already? Your dad lives on in you, but I know you miss him deep in your bones. I’ll never forget that morning.

    • What an awful morning it was, but I’m so glad you were there to walk through it with me. If I remember right we were planning to drive around Phuket on our rented motorbikes that day. Instead, we flew to Bangkok.

  2. One of my favorite memories of you dad is the first time he, without saying a word or cracking a smile, just kept driving around the roundabout that was up the street from our house in Karachi. A VW Micro-bus full of kids. He actually kept a straight face the first few times around. The more we laughed and commented, the bigger his grin got!

    • I remember that too. He absolutely loved it; the more we laughed, the more he kept going round and round and round! Thanks for that memory.

  3. Sam and Grace taught us so much about enjoying life and having fun. We had many, many great times with them from walks, drives, meals to travel…even Israel and Europe! We worked together and played together for many years. We even had breakfast together at Hardees, which was our routine, that unforgettable Sunday morning. We will forever be thankful for our wonderful friendship and still really enjoy being with Grace and the rest of the family. God gave us such a wonderful and special friendship.

    David & Karen

  4. JoAnne
    Your dad was my adviser at Northwestern. In the days before social media, I was saddened to learn about his death too late to attend the memorial service.

    In the early ’80s – after I graduated – some church friends lived next door to your parents. I attended a party at my friends’ home – around the time of a NWC Homecoming (probably 1981 or 1982). During the evening, someone told me that my grandmother was next door at your parent’s home! (Grandma and Grandpa Swanson met at NWC in 1927.) So I stopped in to visit your parents and my grandmother and another alumna from the ’20s or ’30s. It was a delightful time!

  5. ahh jo, i love reading this tribute every year. thanks for posting the pics this time. i couldn’t help but notice the ice cream bowl was in front of HIM, not your mom! i think the ice cream gene runs quite deep in the danielsons as well… i certainly have it! just ask paul and ladd! warm memories of you all today….

    • The gene skipped me. I don’t care that much for ice cream. In this regard, I was always a big disappointment to him. Never mind. My sister is an ice cream addict.

  6. sorry to hear your dad passed but am pleased to hear your mom is well and that God is blessing you in China. Sam was one of the delights of Northwestern. He introduced me to Gordon H, Clark his
    philosophy professor, and helped me as a mixed up guy in the 70’s. I enjoyed the meals at your
    house, and the hospitality that the pittmans are known for. My wife of 35 years Victoria has stage
    5 kidney failure and is on hospice care at home, failing daily. It was good to hear how God is
    helping you in your work. Be encouraged in Christ.