“He fought a good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith.”
As I contemplate another Father’s Day without Dad, my mind once again returns to the day when my brothers Bobby and Eddie and I were making arrangements for Dad’s funeral and burial. Bobby, a Floyd County Baptist minister, suggested these words from 2 Timothy 4:7 for Dad’s tombstone. After a stroke and cancer treatments, Dad’s death was not unexpected, but we struggled to comprehend the unimaginable that day — Dad was no longer in our lives. Nothing would ever be the same.
Dad was born 63 years earlier in Seco, a small Letcher County, Kentucky coal camp. According to his birth certificate, Rudolph Baldridge entered the world at 7:00 AM on the ninth day of June in 1925. His parents were Fair Baldridge, age 28, a miner, and Rebecca Reed, age 25, and he was their third child. The attending physician was Dr. D. V. Bentley. Dad’s older sister, Murial Louise, had been born on October 31, 1922.
Dad attended high school at both Wayland and Garrett before enlisting in the Navy in May 1943. He married Azlee Workman, age 16, in 1946 when he returned. They had four children, my brothers and I and my sister Anita Louise, but Mom left our family after 12 years. The three boys would live with Dad and Mamaw Rebecca, and our sister lived with Aunt Louise and her husband Jim Pinzone.
Dad struggled to endure and continue in the years since his marriage with Mom had ended. He loved her deeply then and continued to love her to the end of his life. We knew this was likely the reason that he drank so much for so long. His drinking had caused so much concern and heartache for all of his family, but Dad always kept his commitment to providing for his family. Until we were all grown, Dad never failed to be there for his children, no matter what. This is why my brothers and I were so grateful to Dad; and we knew how much we were loved by him.
As Bobby explained that day, Dad really did fight a good fight, every day of his life, because he would never permit himself to fail his family. And there could be no doubt that he finished the course that life had set before him, though it certainly was not one he would have chosen.
As for keeping the faith, despite his many flaws and failures, in the end, Dad kept faith with us, his children and his family, because that was what a father does. It was very simple for Dad; he loved us; and that love was his unbroken promise to us. Who we became and everything we accomplished in our lives was possible because of the love of this remarkable man who was our father.
It was clear on that day, there could be no better words than those Bobby had so carefully selected for Dad’s tombstone. They perfectly reflected all of our best memories of Dad: who he was, why he was that way, and, how much we had lost with his passing from our lives.