with or without the hat


"With or without the hat..." is the comforting advice my Grandfather gave me one day in the hospital, which is ironic considering I was at his bedside, not he at mine. 

My Grandfather, Nate Casement, was born October 17th, 1933.

Upon arrival, "Nat," as I commonly called him on the golf course, would begin his life-long journey to becoming known. This is common yet still difficult for us all; especially when, like Nat, you're put up for adoption right out of your mother’s womb. Being bundled up and left on a doorstep can leave a pretty lasting impression; one that communicates you, in and of yourself, weren’t valuable enough to be kept — and that is where the hustle and journey begins. 

to be known

At our core, humans are born with a deep desire to know and be known for who we uniquely are. It's a parents' primary responsibility to lead their child to discover the unconditional uniqueness and immeasurable value of who they are, while helping them divorce the common temptation to base their value in what they can do or produce. With the current and common crisis in parenting, it's no wonder why everyone wants to be famous. Most are longing just to feel known for the first time — to be valued and celebrated for what their unique DNA can contribute to a community at large.

Nat was always the best at whatever he put his hand to. After all, he felt he had to be. Multiple languages, instruments, sports, and businesses were just some of the areas where he excelled. Some still say Nat was the greatest preacher they've ever heard, and I believe it. It's not unusual for an orphan to wrestle with, and be motivated by, the constant reminder that they weren't valuable enough to be kept. 

Of course, there were some things Nat wasn't the best at. Though he was far from all bad, Nat self-admittedly struggled with intimate relationships. And why wouldn't he? Adoption tends to unintentionally convey that one's value has to do with what you do or have, more than who you are. As a pastor, I know how easily our need to be valued can spur actions that lead us into a dark corner. It can be a stressful and lonely place. 

I'm not making excuses for any of my Grandfather's behavior, especially his actions that hurt or wounded others. Maybe, though, how he understood his value explains the affair my Grandfather had while pastoring, and the tremendous guilt he lived with the rest of his life. Having counseled dozens of couples in and through an affair, I've learned never to underestimate the overwhelming and destructive nature of guilt.

love and forgiveness

What I’ll never forget, let alone cease to cherish, are the many private conversations Nat and I had while spending time together as family members, friends, and fellow pastors called to the same city. We spent hours on the golf course each month, discussing everything from business to babies. He would share memories from both his and my childhood, open up about his mistakes and graces, and talk about his daughters, sons-by-law, and grandchildren. He loved to converse about his hobbies of golf, jewelry, and cigars, in that order, and we would often find ourselves sharing thoughts about guilt, God’s love, forgiveness, and the Church. And, he would tell me if he could do it all over again, apart from the wonderful gift of his daughter Michal, he never would have left “Buggy."

I know that my (unexpected) pastoral calling is the result of what my Grandparents started almost 60 years ago, less than 4 city blocks away from where I currently pastor. I could write about Nat for a long time but my writing will never be sufficient enough to capture the gratitude I feel for all his life has taught me. 

He turned 81 on his first full day at the hospital where I sat at his bedside, his body struggling to withstand the impact of a fall coupled with dementia. "With or without the hat" is how my golf buddy responded when I told him some didn't like the hat I had on.

“With or without the hat. Some won't like what you do, no matter what you do. It's taken me a lifetime to learn that life is not what you do, wear, or even what you have. It's who you know."

I'm proud to have been his grandson — I wouldn't have chosen anyone else. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite memories: I was 10 the first time Gramps thought I was big enough to go jogging with him. Huffing and puffing, my future golf partner could tell I was struggling. Struggling himself, Gramps shouted, "Keep going. Don't give up! We're champions and champions never quit!”

Nat, soon we will be reunited, playing courses that put Augusta National to shame. Until then, enjoy sitting in the front row watching us finish what you started — because we never quit.

- "Your Boy"