Me, My Dad, Matt Dillon, And Tough Goodbyes

matt dillon

Women just don’t dig Gunsmoke. A show that ran for 20 years and 600+ episodes, and I can’t even get my wife to sit through one episode with me. “Karrick I don’t see why you watch this.”jThat’s been a bit of a puzzle to me. But I think I’m beginning to understand. It’s a guy thing that boils down the beauty of Marshal Dillon’s character.

I attended a funeral this week. And for me, funerals always bring up reflections and reminders of what the heck we’re supposed to be doing with our time on this earth. My 82 year-old dad lost a very dear longtime friend. A friend of mine since childhood lost a wonderful father. And as I sat in a church listening to tearful tributes to this loving, Godly man and the ways his life impacted theirs, my thoughts somehow circled around to the Matt Dillon’s character on Gunsmoke.

Dillon was a man’s man. He could lick anybody in a fistfight, and nobody was faster on the draw of their pistol. But he was a peacemaker for sure. Chaos quickly ensued in his absence. Calm returned when he was in town. Evil was quickly removed when he was present (usually by a non-bloody single shot to the chest). Dillon could be counted on to do the right thing at all times, regardless of personal pain or risk. He was a protector of justice and of people, always putting others above himself. He somehow always had a way of making people and situations around him better.

I find it strange now, the timing of an episode that I watched the night before the funeral. Miss Kitty, frustrated with Matt’s noncommittal attitude about their very undefined romantic relationship, began to see another man during Matt’s brief absence from Dodge. By the time Matt returned, Kitty’s suitor had turned out to be a violent psycho, and Matt had to shoot him dead, just in time to save the lives of Kitty and Sam the bartender.

A remorseful and grateful Kitty tried to find words to apologize to Matt. But he cut her off with just a couple of words and a reassuring smile that said, “It’s ok, you don’t have to say anything”, before walking away to take care of business. Things were always better when Matt was around. Sam knew it. Kitty knew it.

Sam turned and told Kitty, “He’s an awful good man to have around.” And after a perfect pause, Kitty replied, “He’s the best” before slowly walking up the stairs of the Longbranch Saloon. She knew that she was fortunate to have this man in her life. She knew the town of Dodge was fortunate to have him in their lives.

For boys that grew up watching Gunsmoke, we wanted to be like Marshal Dillon.  But more than that, I think we wanted our dads to be like Marshal Dillon. A mighty man and a protector, always doing the right thing, and just good to their very core.

It sounds so simple. But in the real world, most kids eventually grow old enough and wise enough to see through the faults of their fathers. The weak spots and weaknesses of fathers (or total absences) can no longer be hidden behind the wishful thinking of children.

My friend Barry didn’t come right out and say it at his father Dave’s funeral. But I’m certain that he thinks his dad is “the best”. I feel the same way about my dad. When I was a kid, I thought my dad could fix anything. Now that I’m older, I realize that he simply has the the will and the ability to make everything better. With a father’s touch.  To have a dad who really does turn out to be a hero, to never be forced to accept that he isn’t the man you thought he was or wanted him to be…………..oh what a blessing that is.

This world has a twisted view of what makes a person successful. To an outsider, a man’s active life in business and politics, and an accumulation of possessions and financial stability may indicate a degree of “success”.  But God has different ideas of success. An accurate measure of this type of success can be found in the lives that we impact while we’re here.

The people who spoke of our friend Dave at his service painted a clear and beautiful picture of a life of impact. Loving God and loving others. A man of humility, compassion, and generosity. An encourager. A man of moral courage. Someone who treated others fairly. A great family man…..father, husband, grandfather. A peacemaker whose presence just made things better.

This was the kind of man that Dave was. This is the kind of man my dad is. And this is the kind of man I’m still trying to be or become.

The pastor at Dave’s service said “they don’t make them like that anymore”. He went on to say that he hopes that God calls more men to this type of life. But I think He’s already made that call. Who will answer it?

 

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