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On my father-in-law's passing

D. Robert Bastian came into my life 35 years ago, and I was scared to death of him. That was because I wanted to marry his daughter. For Mr. Bastian -- and up to the day he passed away this week, it was always "Mr. Bastian" to me -- for Mr. Bastian, me marrying his daughter was not an acceptable idea.

I remember the night we talked to him about our plans. Basically, he said I could be part of the family if that was his daughter's wish, but his love will only be reserved for his daughters. He also made clear his disapproval over his daughter marrying someone non-white. That particularly hurt, especially during the earlier stages of our marriage.

But let me quickly say this. Years later, when I turned 50-something, I wrote Mr. Bastian a letter. I said, you know, now that I have my own grown children, if one of them were to waltz into my house with someone like the young David Wang: idealistic, unmannered, hair too long, artsy-fartsy -- and yes, of a different race -- and if that person wanted to marry into my family, I would also have serious issues. I would probably flat out say NO. I felt a real need to let him know that.

Characteristically, he never responded. But I know he took note of it.

The fear and hurt have eroded away over the decades; certainly it hasn't been there for me for years. And I don't think it was there for him at the end. In recent years I've always looked forward to seeing him.

And I absolutely enjoyed it when he traveled with us to China in 2005. The man actually gave "scholarships" to his children and their families to enable all of them to go. And so the American and Chinese sides of my family hung out for over two weeks going all over China. I climbed the Great Wall with Mr. Bastian. It was one of the most memorable times of my life.

Now, about that love thing. I'm not sure where he stood on that at the end. Love comes in different forms, and one benefit of growing old is you can spot love in more diverse ways, most of them unspoken ways.

One thing is for sure: love only comes when you're stuck with someone for years. You either learn love over time. Or you split. Mr. Bastian never split (years later we were to find out that he resolved not to disown his daughter over our marriage (!!) -- as when his mother's parents disowned her when she married his father).

And sir, I never split either. And now that it's all over, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

There are three things Mr. Bastian added to my life:

1. He was the most consistent man I ever knew. Never depressed, but never exuberant. Always skeptical of people, but it was a consistent skepticism, one that protected his family. A self-made man who wouldn't pay 15 bucks for long distance phone service, but for over 35 years never ceased to lavish generous gifts to his daughters' families. Mr. Bastian and his wife Phyllis, who passed 7 years ago, raised three solid daughters. It was the grace of God that did it, yes, but God's grace included Bob and Phyllis Bastian.

2. I've never said this to anyone, only because his loss this week clarified it for me for the first time. For me, an immigrant, Mr. Bastian represented Middle America during the mid-20th century. The generation that went through the Depression, the War; the generation that had nothing of what their kids, and certainly their grandkids, have now in the way of material comforts, electronic gadgetry ... negotiable morals. The generation that kept America great during those decades. The America of my childhood. The America I love.

3. Yes, unfortunately for all of his daughters' families who follow Jesus, we were never quite able to get Mr. Bastian to acknowledge his need for Him. But over the years I've become more and more challenged -- which is to say, less and less certain -- as to who, exactly, I will see in heaven. I'm more convinced than ever that I'll be surprised by all who will be there. And that makes me more and more eager to go there myself.

As one of our dear friends wrote upon hearing of his passing, "...shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"


Genesis 18.25 That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with wicked: and that thethe righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?


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