The World's Greatest Storyteller

Yoko Ono and her son, Sean Lennon, recently recorded a conversation about their lives as a part of the National Day of Listening. This is a project that encourages family members and friends to take some time the day after Thanksgiving to record interviews about their lives.

This made me think of my 92 year-old dad, who remembers more of his life and tells more stories than anyone I know. You can’t mention a topic around my dad that he doesn’t have a story about.  Dad told us one of my all-time favorite stories a couple years ago when I asked if he wanted coffee after dinner.

“Do you want to hear a sad story?” Dad asked.

“Yeah, Dad, I want to hear a sad story.  I love sad stories.  Why don’t you tell us?”  I knew he was going to anyway, and that once the story began, it would be a good 20 minutes before it would be finished.

“Well, Earl Fribertson was an oilman down in Tulsa, and one day Earl took me to lunch at a fancy place downtown called the Allied Club.  When the waitress came, Earl said, ‘Bring me some coffee and keep it coming.’  So I said, ‘Earl, you really like coffee don’t you?’  And Earl said, ‘Boy, do I!  I have my wife make me a big pot of coffee before I come to work, and then when I get to the office I tell my secretary to make some coffee and keep it coming.  I drink coffee all day long and then when I get home, I drink coffee all evening long till I go to bed.  Yeah, I love coffee.’”

And then Dad paused, and looked over the top of his glasses like a wise old sage about to reveal some deep and profound truth. “And you know what happened to him?”  Poignant pause.  “He wound up in the IN-sane asylum.”  He looked around the table with his eyebrows raised, as we sat there, waiting for him to go on.  Then he took a bite of his pie.

“That’s it?” I said.  “That’s the end?  He winds up in the IN-sane asylum?  What are you saying, Dad?  That I’m going to wind up in the IN-sane asylum because I have a cup of coffee after dinner?”

“Nope, just telling you a story.”

“Wow, Dad, thanks for the sad story.  That was great!  I was hoping I could be sad tonight and now you’ve satisfied me.  I’ll be thinking about Earl Fribertson every time I have a cup of coffee now.  Got any more sad stories?”

“Did I ever tell you the story about the Heath Bars?”

Usually my dad fills his stories with unnecessary details and conversations that transform his stories into epic monologues.  “So I said to Stan, ‘Hey Stan, I’m starving.  How about you?’  And Stan says, ‘You bet I am.  Hey, I know a little burger joint across town.  You want to go over there and get a burger?’  And I said, ‘I sure do.  Let’s go.’  So Stan and I get into his Hudson and head across town. Do you remember when I had a Hudson?  Man, that thing was nothing but trouble.  Well, you’re not going to believe this, but Stan and I get into his Hudson and head to the burger joint….”

If you’d like to hear one of Dad’s classic stories, you can listen here.  He gets to the Heath Bars around 3:55 into the story…

What’s so ironic is that when I was a kid and tried to tell Dad a story, he’d interrupt me and say, “Wait a minute.  Make it like Dragnet – ‘Just the facts ma’m, just the facts’ – don’t give me all the details, just the facts.”  Now he tells me stories OVERFLOWING with details.  Something’s not fair about this.

I’ve got to admit, I’ve heard my Dad’s stories so many times, I could do a much better job at listening.  My son David’s great about drawing Dad out.  David asks him, “Grandpa, when the Germans were firing at you, were you scared?  What was it like in the trenches?  What did the rations they gave you taste like?”

The National Day of Listening is a good idea. So often I’m slow to listen and quick to speak.  Too often I want to dispense advice or tell someone how to respond to a challenge before entering into their suffering.  So many times after my wife Kristi shares something she’s struggling with I give her a quick fix.  Sometimes she says, “I wasn’t really looking for you to tell me what to do.  I know I need to do that.  I just wanted to tell you how I’m feeling.”  “Oh” (Dumb Husband mistake #236).

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger… (James 1:19).  I want to be a better listener.

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Mark Altrogge is the original triple threat: singer, songwriter, pastor. He has been the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA for over 25 years, and is the author of many well known worship songs such as “I Stand In Awe”, and “In The Presence”. When not pastoring or writing songs, Mark can be found consuming vast quantities of coffee. Unfortunately, Mark is not particularly gifted in the area of athletics.