A few weeks ago I was at a fundraiser and got to hear the founder of an organization that seeks to end violence among young people. Though he spoke of the hundreds of participants as family, he also recognized his own daughter and said that years ago he’d asked her how she felt about his being involved in so many children’s lives. She responded by telling him, “I don’t care if you’re everybody’s daddy, as long as you’re my daddy first.”
These are the words that came to mind when I learned that Vinnie Tyndall had moved from this world to the next, for Everybody’s Daddy is surely what he was. While I have felt the loss of his presence, even from a distance of 1500 miles, I can’t imagine the crater-sized gap his family is experiencing. I will be forever grateful to Lizzie, Cathy and Jenna for sharing him with us.
My personal best story about Vinnie Tyndall will always be the one where I broke into his house and he did not press charges. But in the past weeks, others have come to mind.
There is the story of how he had cancer at a time when doctors were saying, “Do you believe in miracles?” instead of, “We’re having really great success with this treatment.” It involved rat poison chemo and leaving his family for out of town treatments and eventually returning home alive, though he never seemed entirely comfortable with having been the recipient of such a showy demonstration of Divine Power. Despite having a wife, two daughters, and three sons-in-law who were ordained, he wasn’t a churchgoer, which, shows a certain staying power if you ask me, given my own non-attendance and the people who often felt led to question me about it.
There’s the story of how I visited him and Connie during a particularly dark period of life, each day feeling like a wrong turn and a missed connection. Connie made a dinner that was the best sort of Midwestern cooking, and when we sat down to eat, I felt an overwhelming urge to pray - sort of like it was someone else and not me saying, Just wait a minute you’ve got plenty of time to eat. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember how I felt – overcome with gratitude for such active love in my life, and desirous that they (and particularly Vinnie) know how much I felt the same for them. Even now I’m tearful thinking of it, right back in that kitchen saying amen and sort of crying and feeling maybe sheepish and Vinnie saying thank you in a way that let me know he knew what I was getting at--what God was getting at. When I left the next day Connie handed me an envelope with $200 in it, like she’d seen my checkbook in a vision.
She was sick the next time I visited. Lizzie and Tory were in Springfield with their girls and I stopped in with my daughter Hannah who is their goddaughter, on our way home from taking the boys to camp. Connie had just been diagnosed with Lyme disease and Lizzie needed to be at the hospital and asked if we could stay at the house for a couple of days to help out.
It felt like a privilege.
With limited physical mobility, Vinnie ran things from his chair, settling squabbles, consulting about meals and schedules, giving us money to take everyone to the grocery store or the movies, and asking Hannah questions like he really wanted to know the answer to them (he did). This gift of treating teenagers and children and esteemed fancy people with the same levels of interest and curiosity was so uniquely his. I’m guessing it drove his people around the bend at times, but lord it was a tonic to me.
Listen to interviews with Robert Altman and Lanford Wilson and you will hear the Missouri vowels Vinnie used; the pronunciations of men who had traveled the world and felt no need to be from anywhere else. Such authenticity is its own multiplier. I left my visits with Vinnie conscious of my affectations and determined to put them aside. Without saying a word, he gave me permission to be myself; let me know it was more than enough.
We live in a society where selfish and destructive men elbow their way to the front of the line with little regard for those behind them. Yet there are thousands we do not hear about – men who see clearly and make daily offerings from their hearts, their pockets, and their lives, to the people around them. They are feminists and egalitarians and when they see the margins and gaps that other people miss, they make change, often marching to music the rest of us cannot hear. They do not need to be in charge to get shit done, for life is an adventure which needs no spotlight or pat on the back.
Such modesty often means that we do not know how many lives they’ve touched until they’re gone. Like missing jigsaw pieces, stories begin to appear until we gasp with astonishment at the final portrait they painted - life in all its beautiful, ordinary, stumbling glory when we show up with open hearts for the hours we were called here to live.
I imagine Vinnie, taking time out of exploring his new land, watching us add these pieces, tenderly remembering the good the bad and the ugly, smiling and nodding, reaching an arm around and saying, Yes, wasn’t it a gift? Doesn’t it make you want to see more?