Father Gave Everyone the Gift of His Attention

By Sarver, Susan | The Christian Science Monitor, April 29, 2002 | Go to article overview

Father Gave Everyone the Gift of His Attention


Sarver, Susan, The Christian Science Monitor


My father could talk to anyone, but even more amazing, he could get anyone to talk. I first became aware of his gift when we moved to the country and claimed an acre of harvested cornfield to build a home, like a dozen others we would come to call neighbors. Our new house took shape beneath a crew of builders whose names only my father took the time to learn.

We wasted no time planting trees, while our next-door neighbors erected a chain-link fence. I saw the steely shield as a ploy to keep us five children and our vast assortment of balls at bay, but my magnanimous father saw it as a prop on which to lean while he drew our silent neighbors into conversation.

The neighbors had a way of keeping their eyes on the ground, pretending not to see us. But my father always bellowed a deep, friendly, "Hello!" across the yard in a volume that couldn't be ignored. Their response was always a single, quick wave.

One evening, the man next door asked to borrow a tool, little knowing that his request would turn into an evening of conversation. My father handed it over the fence, then spread his hands wide on the rail and asked our neighbor his opinion on something of minor importance.

My dad's grinning brown eyes and embracing stance declared keen interest and a reluctance to retreat without an answer. Once the neighbor responded, my dad, like a layer of intricate brickwork, turned the answer into another question, and every new topic into a spotlight for the neighbor. He discovered the man's views on sharpening mower blades, rolling the lawn, and flushing out ground moles.

My father's intense desire to learn the intricacies of his neighbor's thought was dignifying, and the once- silent man was transformed into a fellow with much on his mind and a willingness to share. My dad made drawing silent acquaintances and stoic strangers into conversation seem easy - a natural consequence of his interest in knowing those he encountered, day to day, in ordinary places.

I watched him pull civility out of the most abrasive temperaments: surly store clerks, pompous clergy, ill-tempered repairmen. Even people in a hurry were drawn by his charisma into at least a token greeting. I saw farmers who were racing to finish plowing a field before a storm, draw to a halt atop idling tractors to converse with my dad. …

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