My mother married Harold Stoesz on May 31, 1951. They went to the same high school, fell in love and decided to marry while my dad was a student at St. Paul Bible College in Minnesota. After finishing St. Paul the following year, my dad decided to continue his education at Wheaton College. The summer before they moved to Wheaton, Harold and my mom moved to Shell Lake, Wisconsin, where my dad filled in for the pastor of a little church, and where I was born.
Yet my father was hopeful. It was part of his nature. Unbounded optimism, a sharp sense of humor and a passionate desire to serve the Lord: these were his innate qualities, and they were amplified by the times. If you know anything about the history of the church in the last half of the 20th century, you are aware that this was a period of unmatched evangelical fervor and fertility. Members of the builder generation, sometimes called the Greatest Generation, founded great Christian ministries in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Youth for Christ, Campus Crusade for Christ, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and dozens more came out of this period.
Wheaton College itself was a breeding ground for mid-century young evangelicals who desired more than anything to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ globally. Jim Elliot, the missionary to Ecuador who was martyred by Auca warriors in 1956, graduated from Wheaton. Elliot’s famous quote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose,” characterized the attitude of many young Christ followers of that time. I am sure that my father’s heart beat in concert with that grand statement.
Harold also died in 1956, leaving a young wife and a four-year-old to literally fend for themselves. My folks had neither health nor life insurance. My mom was penniless and didn’t even know how to drive. For four years we lived meagerly in a variety of locations as she worked for a number of different Christian organizations, including King’s Garden in Seattle (now Christa Ministries), Grace Bible College in Omaha (now Grace University) and Forest Home Christian Conference Center in Southern California. Though it was just the two of us, we were always near family and never far from the loving arms of our gracious heavenly Father. We never wanted for anything.
Through a mutual friend from her stint at Grace Bible College, my mom met Dan Jantz. She was at Forest Home at the time, working as a hostess at Lakeview Lodge, and Dan was living in Fresno, where he managed a small chain of Christian bookstores. I remember when I met Dan for the first time. He came to Forest Home to see my mom, and I remember liking him and wishing he could be my dad. And that’s what he became. On June 4, 1961, ten years after she married Harold, my mother married Dan in a quaint wedding chapel in Pasadena. Mom had a husband, and once again I had a father, who legally adopted me and then loved and taught me until the day he died 43 years later.
I said at the outset that Harold gave me my life and Dan gave me my living. Only in recent years have I come to appreciate just what that means and just how unique it is. All of us have a biological father who gives us his life—his personality, his heritage and his legacy. Of course, your father’s legacy is in large part your responsibility. It’s possible for a dad to do his best to teach you values and inspire ambitions, but ultimately you are the one who determines the how that legacy is lived out and ultimately passed on. Even if your father botched the job and didn’t teach you the way he should—or perhaps was absent for all or part of your life for whatever reason—it’s up to you to live out your fathers dreams.
By God’s grace, Harold left me a beautiful legacy, even though we were together for just four years. And Dan, with all of his own hopes and ambitions, gave me not only the inspiration but also the means through which I have been able to live out his legacy—a legacy that includes the unfinished life of Harold as well. In fact, his was not an unfinished life, but one that continued through Dan and is now being lived out in the one son they shared.
As this reality has sunk in, I feel its weight and am occasionally haunted by the thought that I could be doing more. But that’s a small conviction that is quickly overturned by the gratitude I feel for both of my dads, as well as for my own children, who are amplifying their heritage and shaping their own legacies in ways I could not be more proud of.So thank you, Harold and Dan, my two dads. You have given me more than any one man could hope for: your lives, your love and your legacy.