One of the greatest men I know retired in September, and the event deserves celebration.
Jim Barnes, who has been a computer programmer for Total Systems in Columbus for the last two decades has made his last drive down the Manchester expressway as a part of his daily commute. Those who passed him on the drive likely found nothing extraordinary about the graying, newly retired man in the Nissan truck.
His co-workers understood that they lost the daily presence of a friend and capable colleague, but I imagine the gravity of the situation was lost on them as they said their goodbyes. I wish they knew something of the profound dignity of the man who walked out the door carrying the few belongings that he kept on his desk all these years.
Jim Barnes is my father and he has heroically worked for his family these past decades. He grew up on my grandfather’s dairy farm in Meriwether County, where he learned the goodness of work. I remember the stories he and my grandfather and my uncles told about the farm. It was hard work that did not allow for days off, but they all felt an inherent goodness in providing for their family through their labor.
Dad never intended to return to farming. He went to college and then worked in a variety of different jobs through my early childhood. His coming to work at Total Systems was a great blessing to our family. Dad entered into his new career through a program that equipped mid-career adults to shift into the growing field of technology. This new career gave him a way to provide for his family. He excelled at the job and never looked back.
None of this, of course, is very remarkable. The splendor of my father’s story lies in the purpose of his career. There are scenes from my father’s life that show the latent grace and goodness of the world. I would like to share just two of them with you.
The first is to tell you what happened when Dad returned from his commute each day. Our family never left Meriwether County and so Dad drove an hour each way to work all those years. He woke up in the early hours of the morning and did not return until after 6:00 pm. When he came home, he was often mobbed by his children. On bad days we came to him with petty problems and selfish requests but on good days (and I hope he remembers these with most clarity) he was surrounded by four children who craved his time and attention because we loved him and wanted to be with him. I do not remember him crashing on the couch in front of a television or retreating to his bedroom for a deserved break after a long day. I remember walks and building projects and games and conversations. My Dad may once have told me “not now son, I am too tired” but if he did, I do not remember it. All I remember is a Father that rejoiced in his family.
The second scene is of Dad sitting next to Mom on the front porch of their home with grandchildren crawling in their lap. This scene has taken place many times over the past eight years since their first grandchild was born. Often, amidst the chaos of now nine little ones crawling about him, I look at Dad’s eyes. They are sometimes glowing, sometimes swimming with tears, always manifestly happy. He was never a manager, never a person of note in the workplace. But he was never working for the workplace, he was working for us, for his beloved family. In the gaze of a patriarch surrounded by two generations of those who love him there is a measure of greatness that no other accolade can match.
As I reflect on my father’s life, I am thankful for his hard work for our family. I am thankful for the model he has given me for how to be a good father to my own children. Most of all, I am thankful that God in his grace to me has given me such a wonderful father and surrounded me with such loving people.