From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Man of Few Words

Atalkative fellow may be compared to an unbraced drum, which beats a wise man out of his wits!

Owen Feltham

I was an extremely verbal child, and growing up with my dad was an experiment in linguistics. My father was a man of few words. Whenever I wanted his permission for a certain activity, I planned a speech that included who would be there, where it would take place, how long it would last, and why it was an incredibly wonderful opportunity for me. He would listen and then say either “Yes” or “No.” There were never any qualifiers; not “Yes, but be home by dinner” or “No, unless you can convince me otherwise.” It was yes or no, plain and simple.

I remember being particularly frustrated with “No” answers. I’d present my best argument, supporting my position with facts and logic. But my father didn’t debate with me. He’d say, “Didn’t I already tell you no?” If I persisted, he would sigh, “No, Elaine, end of report.” And that was that.

My father’s phone messages were also lessons in patience and long-suffering to a teenage girl. I was quite active in high school. Not only did I enjoy being involved in many areas, but I came into contact with many a gorgeous teenage hunk. I can recall one bountiful day when I had met two great guys and had given each of them my phone number. The first words out of my mouth when I walked through the front door were, “Dad! Did anyone call?” His answer, of course, was simply, “Yes.” I queried for a more accurate description of the caller. His answer? “A boy.” Since I had met two guys that day, this did not help me. I ran to my room in tears.

Knowing my dad’s aversion to language in general and his propensity for terseness, it surprised me to hear that he was going to teach the eleven-year-old boys’ Sunday school class. He did so for not one, but many years. I always wondered if he actually said anything, or if they all just sat in their chairs and stared at each other. I was sure that if people were waiting on my father to break the ice with sparkling conversation or a springboard comment, they’d be sorely disappointed. Still, September after September, my father hung his sign outside the Sunday school room: Mr. Ernst—Eleven-Year-Old Boys.

When I was a junior in high school, I met another one of those hunks. Larry was a big ol’ boy, as my daddy called him, the halfback for his high-school football team. We dated all of my junior year and were still “going together” when Larry was drafted to play football for the University of Texas in Austin. By this time, I was a high-school senior. The University of Texas was having a great football season, and Larry invited me to come to Austin for a big celebration. It was arranged—my dad would drive me and attend the game with me, and then I would be Larry’s date for all the after-game activities.

Dad and I made the quiet drive and arrived on campus just as the football team was entering the athletes’ dining hall. As a mere high-school student, I cringed entering a college dining hall and having the entire University of Texas football team staring at me, no doubt thinking, What is that high-school girl doing in here? But my dad was undaunted. He marched right in, and I followed sheepishly.

Larry was busy eating and didn’t even notice us. I stood frozen, paralyzed by my insecurity. Then from across the room, I heard a shout and watched as the quarterback ran across the room and threw his arms around my father. “Mr. Ernst!” he yelled. “Is that you?”

“Hi, Allen,” Dad answered. “Have you found a church down here yet?” The man of few words had spoken.

By then, the football players were gathering around my father as Allen introduced them to the Sunday school teacher he had as an eleven-year-old boy. Larry finally made his way to me and cautiously whispered that I should pull up my bottom lip from the floor, as indeed I was standing in disbelief, my tonsils gleaming.

Years later, as an adult surrendered to special service, I worked full-time on a church staff as a children’s minister. The hardest task before me each summer was to recruit the Sunday school teachers for the following autumn. I honestly had to beg for teachers. No one wanted to teach the young ones. After all, they were just children—does it matter a lot at that age?

It matters. Eleven-year-old boys grow up to be young men. My father may not have been the most verbal man on the planet, but he communicated a sense of decency, fine character and good will. He lived a life that was a role model to young boys like Allen. Perhaps the sign outside his Sunday school room should have read: Mr. Ernst— Man of Few Words—The Right Ones.

Elaine Ernst Schneider

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