In his book, The Forgotten Commandment, Dennis Rainey encourages readers to write a formal tribute to their parents and present it to them during a special occasion (birthday, anniversary, holiday, etc.). Following is an example of a tribute. Click here for more information on honoring your parents and for more tribute examples.
Bob Helvey grew up in the 60s, and writes, “When I was in college there was a lot of conflict between me and my parents—especially my military dad. I was foolish and naive and hurt them deeply. Soon after, I became and Christian and some sweet reconciliation took place between us.”
After reading The Tribute, now republished as The Forgotten Commandment, Bob and his brother decided to write tributes for their 50th anniversary. They read the tributes aloud during the party. “My parents were in tears. My brother and I and our wives were in tears. The guests were in tears…. It was, without a doubt, the most special and significant thing I have ever done for my parents. Like the commercial:
Printing costs: $30
Matting and framing cost: $100
Tears running down my parents cheeks: Priceless
“Nine years after this, both my parents died. I’m so grateful I didn’t wait.”
A tribute from Bob Helvey to his father, H.D. Helvey, on his 50th wedding anniversary:
A lone figure stood at the end of my bed, erect and silent. His square shoulders appearing even broader by the cut of his military uniform. There was no mistaking it was him, even though all I could see was his silhouette against the light shining through my door from the hall.
Slowly his arm would raise until his straightened hand stopped just below the small brim of his hat. For a few moments, no movements, no sound. Then, like countless nights before, began the distinctive melody, sad and yet peaceful, that brings pause to so many Americans. Evening Taps.
Too young to understand this eulogy’s significance for the friends of his father and many like him who through the ages have made the ultimate sacrifice; it was a hymn, with words on these occasions, that simply meant to this five-year-old boy, “It’s okay now, son. Go to sleep. Your Dad is here.”
To give tribute to my Dad is an awesome task, who, even in his twilight years, seems bigger than life. Relentlessly challenging each day to make a vain attempt to get the jump on him, his habit is to raise before sunrise—a habit that this son has yet to master. I remember his firm hand giving a coach’s slap to my teenage bottom as I lay in Saturday morning’s bed, stunned; yet not surprised. “Get up son! It’s a beautiful day” “My Dad,” I would drone, “is out of his mind.”
The hand that delivered the coach’s slap would deliver other lessons as well. Sometimes it would be the lesson that would teach me there are always consequences to misused anarchy; that for the son of an officer, courtesy to elders, respect of rank and especially completion of duty was the essence of proven character and self respect.
Completion of duty—that became etched into my personage one cold winter’s night in Virginia. This 10-year-old paperboy had arrived home uncommonly early from his route. “That was quick son!” Dad commented. “Yeah, sure was”, I replied as I made an effort to pass quickly by so that he wouldn’t investigate further. But he found out. He always found out.
The truth was that early into my route a mighty gust of wind upset both rider and cargo. The newspapers took flight so quickly, that all I could do was watch them hitchhike each new gust to destinations unknown. Nor did I bother finding out. I remounted my steel steed and pedalled home, feeling quite justified by my actions and not a little peeved at my father who probably talked me into this merciless form of child slave labor in the first place!
Upon hearing my defense, my father said only one sentence, “Get your coat son and meet me in the car.” Obedient in form, but definitely not in spirit, we were soon driving to the scene of the mishap. I felt a decent amount of silent satisfaction, I must say, when not one page could be sighted. Yet almost mystically, he parked the car, and told me to follow him as he approached the front door of a nearby house.
We were greeted and welcomed in by a man who led us to a sight I could never erase from my mind even if I wanted to. There, filling his living room to about chin level (albeit, my chin), was the chaotic dissected contents of what was once scores of neatly folded Falls Church Dailies. I was speechless.
The three of us spent the next hour or so resurrecting them. “Here’s a sports section.” “Anyone seen a classified?” My father’s hand extending another lesson to his son.
After the surgery was complete, we, that is, I (after a piercing glance from my Dad) thanked the man earnestly and proceeded to complete the route with dad as chauffeur.
It was a little annoying that Dad didn’t give me a lecture. He knew he didn’t have to. The everlasting warmth I felt of a difficult task completed, a duty fulfilled, was its own mentor.
Oh, and the answer to my Dad’s uncanny ability to go directly to the paper-filled house was revealed to me only after many years when he finally admitted, as I recall, that before I got home from my accident the neighbor had called my Dad and told him his “good for nothing” son had reigned havoc on his yard. Together they conspired to teach a young boy a life long lesson. It worked. The neighbor must have been a father too.
Other times his hand would be the one that clinched around a bat to teach a son not to lose the battle against the opponent’s curve ball; or the hand that would model the ageless timing of releasing the line, just right, to produce the perfect cast into the deep pool where that King Salmon just had to be hiding. His hand was the first that would grip firmly and encouragingly on my shoulder as I came to a stop after passing the finishing gate sometimes just a split second before any other downhill skier. Even today, it is this hand that grasps mine, communicating mutely, yet so clearly, “You’ve been gone a long time, son. Welcome home.”
The remembrance of that hand is under keen competition with my memories of the fruit of his mouth—the wisdom, the instruction, the encouragement. Oh yes, and on occasion a string of words that could strip the stripe off a skunk. (After all, the boy my leave the farm, but the farm will never leave the boy.)
No, the words were not always divine, nor often legion, but they were always guileless. Exaggeration? Indeed! The bread and butter of Helvey folklore are hyperbole. Whether it was old farm adventures or the finality of fighter pilot combat, all become a little more Technicolor when filtered through the lips of my Dad. But to compromise integrity was anathema. Even as I write it astounds me that I cannot recall my Dad ever telling a lie—ever.
Now that I’m wiser, yet humbled by all that I have yet to understand, one assurance steadies me at those times when haunted by self-doubt and allows me to lift my head and set my course—I have my father’s blood flowing through my veins—a legacy that is now being handed down to his children’s children.
Yes, in me resides a resolute heritage that upholds me and whispers, “Its okay now, son. Your Dad is here”.
A tribute from Bob Helvey to his mother, Elizabeth Helvey, on her 50th wedding anniversary:
The scene was not an unusual one. A sun-glassed mother driving a light green Chevy convertible, top down, dark hair blowing out from under a flowered scarf. She was driving her sons and one or two other somewhat rowdy 9-year-old, fully clad, on the way to their Little League ball game on the odd occasion when Dad got stuck at the Pentagon. After all, it was a summer’s day in suburban America in the 50s.
What was unusual was what could not be seen. Mom’s feet never touched the accelerator or the break. Upon arriving at the ball park, the mystery would be exposed. Several heads would turn as a visual testimony was played out about this remarkable young woman. Opening her door and sliding around, she would lock her leg braces that by now where familiar and welcomed companions, and stand. Retrieving her crutches from the back set, she would slowly and resolutely, one step at a time, will herself to the stands—the dust from the young boys having long ago scampered off to join their team mates, settling on her freshly washed and press white blouse.
Once in the stands and seated, her unique identity was lost as she blended in with the other parents—robustly encouraging me on the pitcher’s mound, cheering at the runs being made and occasionally offering a somewhat unladylike comment to the ump who just called “strike three” on her son at bat.
The game now over, I, even at this early stage, taking her efforts for granted, would comment, “Aw, Mom. How come we’re always the last ones out of the parking lot?”
In some ways, people don’t need to hear a tribute to my Mom from me. Her life is a living tribute for all to see. Having been seemingly arbitrarily struck down by polio in the prime of her life, my Mom, mother of two active boys under five—swimmer, golfer, equestrian, animal lover, pilot—was permanently grounded.
I remember asking my Mom once, “Wasn’t it hard for you that year in the hospital realizing you’d never again do the things you’ve loved the most?” I’ll never forget her reply. “No,” she said, “The hardest thing was not being with you boys.” Something must of happened in that hospital. For when most people would have embarked upon a life long voyage of self-pity, my mom must have vowed that “not being with you boys” would ever occur again because of her. She never broke her promise.
The woman with legs that couldn’t kick, often would swim with us; that couldn’t run, would journey with us literally around the world. The woman with the legs that wouldn’t freely support her, supported me on her lap in her wheelchair as she comforted me over a bruised knee or the loss of a family cat.
Perhaps you can forgive me when I tell you that I never thought of my Mom as handicapped. This legless “paraplegic” bathed me, washed my clothes, cleaned my room, made by bed, and provided for me a meticulously clean home to enjoy. She strengthened me with great home cooking, entertained my friends, and was my ever-ready chauffeur. If she was quick enough, she would discipline this young overactive child that once, with my brother, standing on the back of her wheelchair, soon found ourselves pinned to the floor by Mom, who we had flipped out backwards.
Mom was fun, rarely depressed. I always enjoyed her laugh when my brother and I would threaten to “bend her spokes” if she didn’t comply with our request. There were times in my innocence when I even considered myself lucky to have a handicapped mom. I mean, what other boy on my block had at his immediately disposal a lightweight, streamline, hi-tech, gleaming go-cart on which to roar down declining driveways and nearby sidewalks? I could have charged at dime a ride from my friends and made millions!
Mom was always present to watch me play ball, to watch me compete in skiing, to cheer me when I succeeded and, in the purest spirit of the phrase, “stood by me” when I’d fail. All of this, and much more, she did for me, without ever allowing a complaint or one syllable of regret to issue from her lips. And I love her for it.
I love her for not only the countless ways she served me but also for singular thing she taught me. Not formally, with words, this priceless tutorial was demonstrated to me in deed. More caught, than taught. You see, my Mother, showed me the meaning of courage.
I’ve been in the army and I’ve known powerful men who have stared death in the face and laughed. But I have never met a solitary figure who is as courageous as my Mom. The species of courage cemented in her character is not the kind that happens infrequently and suddenly, adrenaline being instantly shunted to the blood stream when confronted by a superior and lethal foe.
No, hers is the variety that takes up permanent residence in the heart of a person who confronts that superior foe each day, every day for a life time and has determined never to give in, never to quit; having fallen on her face, to pull herself up, lock her braces and take one more step forward – without a whimper, head held high. Mom has that kind of courage.
James A. Mitchener in his novel, Mexico, like several writers before him, dedicates the majority of pages to describe the ancient artistry, traditions and nuances of bullfighting. But unlike Hemmingway and the like, Mitchener exposes the scrupulous attention that must be given over many generation to the breeding that will ultimately produce, perhaps a handful of special bulls that have the potential to make a fortunately matador famous.
About this Mitchener makes this statement: “A bull gets its build, horn structure and stamina from the bull that sired it. But from its mother, the cow, it inherits its courage. The mothers determine the courage of their sons.”
More often hidden than seen, I know that courage resides deep within my being. For I am my Mother’s son. Her stamp on my soul is indelible. So if ever I find myself confronted by my fears, I know I can reach deep into my heart, and retrieve the legacy my Mom has left me, and say to that superior foe, “you’ve seen this before, haven’t you? You will not have victory over Elizabeth Helvey’s son.”
In time, her grandchildren and generations to come will rise up and also call her blessed. For they too will discover their inheritance. For my Mom’s gift of courage, polished with a life time of gentle grit, is eternal.
Thank you, Mom
Copyright © 2004 by Bob Helvey. All rights reserved. Used with permission.