By Norris Burkes Jan 19 2022

“I love you, man” was an expression popularized in a 2009 movie of the same name. But for me, the phrase rings most truly when I think of my father-in-law, Wilbur.

Over the past 42 years, he’s remained both my mentor and my foster father. So if you’ll forgive this short indulgence on the weekend we honor fathers, I want you to know the man I call “Wil.”

On that day 45 years ago when Becky, my then-girlfriend, took me home to meet her parents, Wil extended his hand and his heart.

“Any friend of my daughter’s is a friend of mine,” he said without guile.

He’s never wavered in his promise.

At 89, Wil walks with a slump in his 5-foot-10 frame but he remains a handsome man. He carries a full head of hair that prematurely grayed over his near sixty years of pastoring.

During his career, he often walked to church. It was on those walks that his neighbors first witnessed not just his physical fitness, but his spiritual fitness.

He’s remained in the same home for 60 years and he considers his neighbors among his flock. He’s officiated their weddings, (201 to be exact) their funerals and visited their loved ones in the hospital. He’s not asked for anything in return like donations or church attendance, just friendship.

Nowhere do I hear his spirituality more deeply than during mealtime prayers. Avoiding clichés that express thanks for weather, beans and biscuits, he prays with holy poetry that is an extension of his daylong conversation with his creator.

He studies his Bible for hours each week, not in a pious way that seeks to justify his actions, but in a way that seeks a genuine relationship with God.

He’s a Fundamental Southern Baptist pastor and wears the term “Fundamentalist” not politically, but theologically as it relates to seven core fundamental beliefs about Christ.

Still, he can be a stubborn man at times. He votes straight Republican and doesn’t mind telling you of his grave disappointment with the present administration. He favors traditional marriage and is fond of proclaiming Christianity as “the only reasonable hope of salvation.”

But beyond his fundamentalism, Wil’s short on the negative aspects of the label. He’s a man who loves people more than he loves a fight. And believe it or not, he edits many of these columns.

Wil keeps his word in an intentional way. He makes his appointments months in advance, keeping even the most trivial ones with the diligence of a banker.

For 49 years, he kept his word to the people of Fairvale Baptist Church, Fair Oaks, Calif., to be their pastor and spiritual leader.

He retired ten years ago, but not before his faithful leadership produced missionaries, pastors, chaplains, marriage counselors, musicians and last, but not least, his daughter Becky, now my wife.

In 1992, when I was only 32, I lost my dad. He was 65. After the funeral, Wil sent me a sympathy letter that I still have. He followed it up with a phone call.

“I want you to know that I could never replace your dad,” he said with a wavering voice, “but I’m here to stand in his place whenever you’ll allow.”

A few days later, after collecting myself, I called him and accepted his offer to become my “earthly foster father.” It’s a decision I’ve never regretted.

So Wil, I’d like to tell you that the single day we call “Father’s Day” isn’t enough to celebrate you. You deserve an entire month.

I love you, man!

PS. When I sought Wil’s input on this column, he added this last word: “I refuse to believe I’m stubborn. Please consult the fifth commandment.”

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