Tribute to my father, Bruce Dent (2/13/37-10/28/18) at his memorial service (11/2/18)

My name is Eric Dent and my brother, Kyle and sister, Becky are Bruce’s children.

It’s so nice to be back in the church of my childhood but I wish it were for a different occasion. On behalf of my mother, Jane, and the rest of our family, I’d like to thank each of you for being here today to honor and celebrate my father’s life. As I read his obituary, which is on the back of the bulletin, it just seemed wrong that a life of 81 years could be summarized in less than a page. Likewise, there is much more I could tell you about my father than I can in just a few minutes and my mother said to be brief, so I will.

Rev. Tift has already mentioned some characteristics of my father that I’ll underscore. I liked what Patti Morehead Belyeu wrote on Facebook. She noted that Bruce had a larger than life presence in this choir loft, actually, for about 45 years. A former pastor here, Rev. Ken Roughton also posted that my father was a “game changer.” My parents have been members here for nearly 50 years. My father, and my mother, have held nearly every office in this church and some representing this church in wider settings. As a child, I watched my parents spend hours every week, in the evenings, working on behalf of others, and I learned from, and followed their example.

My father was a man of his generation who led and witnessed by example far more than spoken word. He was steadfast in being a pillar of this church, this community, and our family. Our house was a stable, fun, and happy place growing up. When I reflect back on my father’s life there wasn’t much that was flashy, although he did wear some colorful leisure suits in the 1970s.

My father’s life reminds me of John Wesley’s notion of sanctifying grace that comes from Matthew 5:48, which says that we should all be moving on to perfection. I don’t mean that my father was perfect, but I believe he was a better father than his father, and my goal is to be a better father than Bruce was.

I’ve already fallen short of him in a couple of areas, because in my whole life I really only saw him lose his cool twice, and I only ever heard him swear once. I’ve done much worse than that. I did have 5 children, though, and I’m convinced each child exponentially increases the odds of swearing and losing your cool. 🙂 My sister, Becky, who assumed the major responsibility for my father – thank you – knew him as an adult so she may have heard him swear more than that.

This will be a bizarre tribute, but I’d like to tell you the story of one time when he lost his cool. We had a small boat growing up, which appeared in the slide show a few times if you saw that. I recall taking it on two overnight trips, one to Captiva Island near where I live now and the other to the Keys. On the latter trip, good friends, the Jacobis[1], came along on their boat. We took turns leading this expedition and at the point of the story, we were the lead boat. Our boat had an in-board motor with a huge cushion on the top. I had fallen asleep curled up on that cushion. Suddenly, I was startled awake by a tremendous jolt and loud noise. As my eyes opened, I could see my father standing in front of me motioning to the Jacobis dramatically with his hands and calling out, “Go back! Go back!” My first thought was that the boat was going to explode, and here I was laying on top of the engine.

Come to find out, we had run aground and the tide was going out. My father had some experience with boats, but not a lot. He tried a few things to get us afloat but nothing worked. Suddenly he shouted, “Get out of the boat! All of you, out of the boat!” None of the kids hesitated because we never heard him speak like that and we just jumped. I think my mother wondered if this instruction applied to her and quickly found out that it did. She looked overboard and the water was grassy, reedy, and marshy and she didn’t like the look of what she was asked to jump into. She said that she wanted to put her sneakers on, and I have this image in my mind of her having one shoe on and trying to put on the other when my father “helped” her out of the boat fairly dramatically.

Then we turned into a scene from the African Queen as my father tossed us a rope and Kyle, Becky, and I pulled the boat into deeper water. I don’t think my mother helped pull because she was still looking for her other sneaker somewhere in the grassy water.

So, that was the worst it ever got in our family.

I offer to you that one of Bruce’s legacies is to inspire each of us to be steadfast. His life testifies to Philippians 3:14, “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Jesus Christ, is calling us.”

My prayer, which I invite you to apply to yourself if you like, is that my life also be steadfast and that I be a better father than my father was, and that I help prepare my sons to be better fathers than I am. If I can accomplish that, it will only be because of the love of my Heavenly Father, and the example of my earthly father, Bruce Dent.

[1] Corrected from what I actually said. 🙂

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