Alec MacNeal had had a reputation for knowing the waters off the coast of his little New England village like no one else around. His father had been a fisherman, as had his father before him. Alec had grown up on the waves, and knew exactly where to drop his nets and when to do it. He had weathered every storm that had ever aimed its winds his way and had enough sense to get out of the ones that he couldn’t weather.
But now he was overcome at last by a storm which he couldn’t steer clear of, a storm that wasn’t in the blowing wind or stinging spray of the open sea, but in his own flesh as cancer irresistibly continued its advance.
He reflected a bit over his life, scenes of joy and sorrow alternately flashing across his mind. He was waiting for his son, Richard, to arrive and as his wait dragged on, his mind dwelled more and more on the weed bed of regret that his own pride and selfishness had cultivated for him.
He and Richard hadn’t been close for nearly two decades, since Richard was a very young man. Alec had always considered himself a good man, perhaps even better than a lot of churchgoers in their little coastal town. Attending church was never something he had ever faulted anyone else for doing, but given the need to be out even for days at a time on the water, he reasoned that he rarely had a Sunday free to attend church and even when he did, he usually used it as his day to catch up on other things.
But he didn’t object when Richard announced that he was going to attend a church meeting with a friend who had invited him. It was, after all, a much better track than sneaking a bottle of whiskey or smoking who knew what on some back road in the country.
But Alec was mystified by Richard’s strange attitude when he returned home and in the following days. He was quiet and reflective as if deeply pondering things. When Alec asked what it was all about, Richard quietly replied that he had become a Christian. Richard went on to explain that at church he had heard about Jesus coming to show the way to God the Father, that He had died as a sacrifice for everyone’s sin so that they could be forgiven and go to heaven. Richard shared that he had asked Christ into his life and was now going to try to live for Him.
Alec simply stared at Richard. He finally shrugged his shoulders and muttered, “More power to you.” And it neither troubled or in any other way effected him until Richard’s new found relationship with God began to effect Richard’s part in the family business.
The older fisherman had always assumed that Richard would simply continue in the family business as Alec had done. But the first clue that assumptions were dangerous things was Richard’s asking to not go out on the boats on Sunday. As far as “needing” him, Alec had plenty of employees to take care of the boats, but he still bristled a little bit when Richard made his request.
“You know, Richard, that this is a very busy time of year for us,” he said crisply. Richard nodded respectfully, but continued to look his father in the eye.
“I know it, and I’ll work all the harder the next day and the rest of the week to make up for it,” he said. “Besides, you’ve got Carl, Edward, and Mac to help you. You could do without me for one day.”
Alec sighed, and then grunted his assent. Richard was as good as his word, making up for the one missed day with extra energy and enthusiasm for the rest of the week.
“Richard is a good lad,” his father thought to himself one day, as he watched him working with the other men on the engine of the boat. He was far more a positive influence on them than they were a negative one on him. Even their language began to get tamer whenever Richard was around. Nevertheless, Alec kept a watchful eye on his son, riding him hard about his work and requiring a level of perfection and performance that he himself doubted he’d have if Richard had not become a Christian.
But one Sunday, he returned home to find Richard once again in his strangely pensive mood as if he had something to say but was afraid to say it. Alec was tired after a long day of disappointing results so, after a somber meal, he turned to Richard and said, “All right. What’s on yer mind?”
Richard looked quietly at the table and then at his father. “I believe that God is calling me into the ministry,” he answered. “I’ve gotten information about a Bible college and seminary and plan to go there at the end of the month.”
Alec’s sunburned and wind-blown forehead crinkled into a thousand lines of agitation. He spluttered a few syllables but didn’t manage to say anything. He stood up suddenly and strode to the wide window that looked out over the bay. His little fishing vessel was well into the shadows that the gable of his house cast eastwards. Two of his ship hands were still inspecting nets before they stowed them away.
Richard came and stood by his father, gazing out across the relatively calm waters. “Dad…” he started to say. His father turned a cold eye towards him.
“Ya got yer callin’,” he growled. “Just go ahead then and follow it. Just go and get out!” With that, Alec turned, yanked his jacket off its peg. “I mean it! Get out!” he barked over his shoulder and then stormed out of the house down to the boats. Richard watched for a few moments, standing as if he had been slapped in the face, and then made a phone call to a friend. He packed some bags, grabbed his Bible, and quietly slipped out the door.
When Alec returned, several hours later, he came home, slamming doors and muttering curses. He cast a quick glance into Richard’s room and shook his head. “After all I’ve done for him, too!” Alec realized that he was incredibly angry… angry at Richard, but angrier at God for stealing him away.
But now, years later, he was dying. Richard frequently came back, but Alec would never receive him and never quite forgave him. Their visits were generally prolonged exercises in strained and awkward moments. Richard had even the audacity on a couple of occasions to try to talk to Alec about a relationship with God. Each time, Alec would just hold his hand up and tell him to mind his own business.
Alec’s heart now weighed heavily with regret. “What was I so angry about?” he now wondered. “If he really did become a Christian, how could I not expect him to want for me what he says he found?” Alec mentally kicked himself now. What if Richard didn’t make it back in time? What if he never made peace with his son? What if he never made peace with God?
But the outer door opened. There were voices in the outer room where the nurse who took care of Alec had been waiting. Footsteps. And then Richard’s familiar form entered the room.
“Dad?” Richard said, his voice a welcome sound to Alec’s ears. Alec smiled and reached for his son.
“Hiya, Dickie,” he said, using Richard’s childhood nickname. “I’m glad you’re here.” There was a pause. “Would you… Could you tell me again how to become a Christian?” Richard’s heart leapt to his throat. He nodded and began to share with his father about Jesus, glad for the peace that now lay between them. Moments later, Alec MacNeal received Jesus as his Savior. Days later, Alec MacNeal went to heaven.
“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, <Jesus> saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. And going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him” (Matthew 4:18-22 ESV).
Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 22 ½ years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at [email protected]