A Tribute to My Dad: Joe Sarr

My dad, Joseph E. Sarr of Colville, Washington is not dead. In fact, he’s quite healthy. He’s been married to my mom for 41 years and is the father of six children. He will turn 74 in a couple of weeks. He is still a great dad and grandfather (“Papa” to my kids). But too often we wait until someone dies to say what we wish they would have heard in life. I imagine my father has plenty of good years ahead of him, but what better time than Father’s Day to offer a tribute to the only earthly father I have ever known, and the one who helped to shape my idea of God the Father? And this is the way that God intended for things to be. We dads help to orient our children’s thinking about the nature of our Heavenly Father. When my children pray, “Our Father,” what comes to mind? This is a relentless, inescapable burden and joy.

In fairness, my dad wasn’t perfect; he’d be the first to admit it. There were some things about his parenting that he would do differently, and by the time I rolled around (the youngest of six children), he was already applying some wisdom gained in his first sixteen years as a father. I imagine most parents can relate to this.

But the composite effect was a good one, I think, and I’m very thankful for what I have learned from my dad, and for how he will be remembered for generations. I suspect that much of what he’s taught me has been accidental…lessons he never intended to teach. They are nonetheless powerful; more of what we learn is caught than taught right? Well, here’s some of what my dad “taught” me:

Simple people are the skeleton of our culture

“Simple” here simply means “uncomplicated,” not “unintelligent.” I gave up playing Trivial Pursuit and Jeopardy with Dad and my brother Matthew years ago, because I never stood a chance. Rather, my dad’s greatest pleasures are simple ones: walking the dogs, playing Wii bowling with the grandkids, watching Gonzaga basketball, rotating the brake rotors of a friend from church.

I’m not kidding. When I think of Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, I’m reminded of my father: the simple, sturdy folk who coruageously do the right thing when duty requires it, but who would otherwise be contented weeding their gardens in the Shire. And my folks’ place sort of reminds me of the Shire.

For every Martin Luther there are a thousand lay ministers who are simply faithful to their own calling, day by day, in their workplaces and homes, living out the gospel. My dad is sort of like that. He’s never been internationally famous, but he’s been adored by hundreds of appreciative families as a lifelong elementary school teacher. He faithfully showed up to school and served two generations of children. People like my dad are the leg bones, backbones and arm bones of our culture.

You’ll be remembered more for what you give away than what you collect

My dad has never been much for earthly possessions. He likes most of the stuff he has, but has never exactly been a hoarder. And he’s always held what he has with an open hand. I’m sure he told me “no,” for good reasons at some time or another, but I have never requested help from my dad and been turned away. He (along with my mom) is always giving of himself for others’ sake. If he thought someone else needed it, I’m certain he would quite literally surrender the shirt from his own back. I know that – long after my dad is gone – he will be remembered for his generous spirit. I really want to be like that.

It’s always a good day to go fishing

There’s never a day when it’s not fitting to get outside, enjoy God’s creation, spend time with your kids and get skunked at the lake. Considering the number of times that my dad and my brothers and I have been fishing and caught nothing, you’d think we’d have some pretty rotten fishing memories. Rather, I can’t think of a single one. We’ve made memories getting poison oak and finished the day with a net negative total of fish (in the Sarr family, catching a mud sucker counts as a negative value toward your fish total). But there was never a bad memory…a time I wished I hadn’t gone.

Growing up, fishing was rarely about the actual fish. It’s still the case today. Fishing is about the time spent, the conversation, the togetherness, the time captive in a boat or lawn chairs without a television. I’m so thankful that fishing was always in order growing up.

When I think of my father, I’m reminded of the many graces of parenting. In His kindness, God covers our shortcomings with His grace. We parents have a great responsibility and privilege as stewards of our children. And yet – at the end of the day…or the end of childhood – it’s only God’s grace that makes us look like decent parents.

I thank God for my father. He is a good one, and I don’t deserve him. He is my favorite fishing buddy, and I still get to help him with projects now and again. Here’s to many happy Father’s Days to come.

Happy Father’s Day to my dad and to all dad’s everywhere.



  1. Marlee says

    Really enjoyed your words and the level of respect you show for your dad, and family in general. A pleasure to read in a world where so many families are fractured and hurting. Thank you.

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