To a child, the mother is the safety net of love and comfort. She is the one to whom a young kid runs to make boo-boos go away, and to feel loved and special during trials.To most young boys, the father looms as both the pillar of strength and the bedrock of stability. He is the one who keeps the monsters away, who enforces What Is Right, and the provider.
Mine was no exception, except that he was exceptional at it.
There are many examples of preachers whose children are rebellious little hellions, deprived of love and depraved in every way. A theory is that the pressure placed upon them to make their father “look good” to a congregation is too much, and an inevitable backlash eventually occurs.
As the son of a pastor who has toiled daily in the church environment for my entire life, this was not the case. My dad had the rarest of abilities, which was the gift of not taking his work home with him. As we grew older, my brother and I have frequently found out about vicious struggles my father endured, only to look back and realize that we had no idea any of that was going on at the time. Not once could I look back and say, “Yeah…I remember when he was going through that. He was always grouchy, and he snapped at us all the time.” Not once, though he might argue that point if you were to ask him.
There was no pressure from him to conform to a standard of living for the sake of his ministry. There was only the continuous exhortation to live our lives in honor of The One who sacrificed all for us.
My brother and I were small kids. We’re small adults now, but as children our 6’2″ dad was literally the biggest presence in our lives. What I remember most were his massive, scarred hands. Each one was the size of an adult boxing glove in my young mind, and they were capable of both shrewd discipline for me, and tenderness for my mother. He was (and is) strong, and that physical strength is what sticks in my memory.
He has always been a deliberate parent. I remember the countless wrestling matches, which were long bouts of him throwing my brother and me simultaneously across the room, then letting us win. He always let us win. I found out years later that he had a whole list of reasons just for that one action, and they all centered around ensuring that we developed into confident young men.
Up until I graduated high school, he was the authority figure. Once I was headed to college, he made a deliberate and visible shift from The Lawman to a confidante and best friend. Again, he was deliberate in that, as with his every single interaction with his sons.
The greatest example of this took place in our shared favorite pasttime; Friday Movie Nights.
Every Friday was our family day. Dad would order from the local “Yesterday’s Pizza” shop, rent some ridiculous movie my brother and I wanted to see, and the whole family would lounge after a long week.
During every single movie, he would pause during a particularly poignant moment, turn to our groaning faces, and ask us what we thought the movie was trying to tell us. We would spout off whatever stupid Hollywood message was inherent in the plot, and he would take the time to set us straight. He didn’t want us to fall for the tiny little non-truths from entertainment that so easily led to outright lies. He was able to remind us of our duty to live for Christ, to treat a woman with love and respect, or to work hard and diligently during every movie. I’m pretty sure he could have pulled a life-changing homily from “Ernest Scared Stupid.”
Now I pay it forward by pausing “La La Loopsie” and giving a lecture to my girls.
There were the hours spent listening to him play guitar and sing to us in English and Italian,songs which have been passed down to my children.
There were the countless “preacher jokes” thrown about willy-nilly, regardless of the innocent bystanders.
The time he took just me to see Mel Gibson in “Maverick” as a deliberate effort to let me know that he loved me as an individual and not as half of a set of twins.
The time he lifted me bodily off of the floor by my overalls after I had playfully smacked my mom to let me know in no uncertain terms that such an action would never happen again. It didn’t.
Perhaps the most lasting impact he had on my life was due to how he treated my mother. He didn’t so much treat her well as much as he cherished and borderline worshiped her. He constantly praised her in front of my brother and me, and would spend many a moment telling us what a special mother we had.
Eventually I grew up, and I realized that most girls and women were nowhere close to the caliber of my mother. It wasn’t even close. After that realization, I started to pay more attention, because whatever my dad was doing, he was doing it RIGHT.
From my dad, I learned how to follow Christ. I learned that I needed to make myself into a man worthy of a great woman (and I did find one), and then how to treat her.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have rubbed elbows with quite a few great men; Warriors, theologians, scholars, etc. When I say that my dad is the greatest man I know, it’s an extremely high compliment.
If I could sum up my dad in one Bible verse, it would be Proverbs 22:6,
“Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.”
From my brother, Matt;
Those of you who know my Dad know about his leadership skills, his integrity, and his hard work. How he constantly strives to speak God’s Word (instead of Mark’s word) at the pulpit. His gift of cat-herding… I mean, administrative work in the Church. How he could probably give that same sermon you just heard in Barese Italian, which is really freakin’ cool, by the way. What I’m gonna talk about is his strength. And his complete disregard for it. No, not emotional/mental strength, although he has that in spades. I’m actually talking about physical, brute force, that I’ve never seen him use before or since. This was just a small vignette (such a good word), a moment that he probably forgot about, but it cemented his position in our minds as the true Alpha Male in our Coffey clan.
1996… 1997, Arcadia, Indiana. Nate and I are in high school. Dad’s a preacher at Arcadia Christian Church, and Mom’s a teacher at Hamilton Heights Elementary School. Now, like all those blessed with the certainty born of ignorance, Nate and I – in our quest to “impress the girls” – decided that we just needed to get REALLY good at one thing. Forget the fact that our plan stopped at “impress” and we wouldn’t have known what to do from there. We focused – with laser precision – on one skill. We disregarded social skills, career opportunities, good haircuts, and actually talking to those girls… all in the pursuit of that one skill that would make up for any other lack:
Yes, we believed that if we could bench press 200lbs while weighing 112-119lbs, the ladies would flock to sit at our feet and revel in our awesomeness. Hopefully, they would ignore our skinny legs, because we also disregarded squats.
…The point is that after school/sports/homework, we would go out to our back shed and do bench press every day, with the desperation born of those who have nothing else going for them. Ten sets of ten reps, with as many of those cheap plastic/concrete weights that we could pile onto the bar. 100 reps. Every day. Even weekends (what else is there for a high school kid to do, really?) With the occasional incline workout if we felt our bench could take the strain. If we failed mid-set, we added another rep to that set. So when things got difficult, we’d be failing our way through a set of 15-20 reps. Workouts got really long sometimes.
Now those of you who actually understand weight training will know that this was a terrible plan. And even if we had known about things like ”rest days” and “recovery” and “calories”, we probably would’ve disregarded them. We’d have continued trying to get stronger through sheer will, and blamed our lack of results on laziness. Basically, bench press was our idol.
Enter Dad, whose idol was, you know, God…
He had probably heard the screaming coming from the back yard. He probably sighed, got up from working on his sermon, and walked to the backyard to teach us some much-needed perspective.
I’d say it was about the fifth set for each of us. Nate had already thrown something, and I was most likely trying not to cry. The ensuing conversation was something like:
“Hey, guys, what’s up?”
“…pant pant… bench press… pant pant… impress ladies… pant pant…”
“Cool! How much is on there?”
“…pant pant… all of it…” (It was about 150 – 170. The weights were all in kilograms, so we had to use a calculator or pencil and paper to add up the decimals. Usually we ended up just piling all of it on there to avoid the math.)
“Wow, you guys are getting strong! Mind if I try?”
“…pant pant smirk… yeah, that’s cool.”
Now, we’d never seen Dad work out in our lives. We’d heard him mention something called racquetball occasionally, which just sounded like playing tennis against a wall (the most relentless of opponents), but never real exercising. Y’know… our exercising. Hence the little smirk. And hence our surprise when he didn’t lay down on the bench, but walked behind it.
He picked the bar up off the bench, and curled it about 6-7 times.
No “workout face,” no pausing, no sign that this was difficult at all, and no warm up. We watched him do with his biceps what we’d been training for years to do with our whole chests and arms.
“Hey, this is pretty heavy; good job, guys!” – he said that in the middle of a curl, when all we could ever manage mid-rep was a gurgle/scream.
Then he slowly set the bar down, and left. The ultimate mic drop. I’ve never seen him lift weights before or since.
What do you say after something like that? Every young kid thinks his dad is superhuman, but we’d just received visual confirmation… when we were teenagers. I think the Holy Spirit gave him that strength. Like, he took a Nazarite vow to never shave his goatee or something. And lo, the Lord did give him the strength of ten Coffeys.
So we just stood there, speechless. Imagining him scooping up honey from a lion carcass he killed after an elder’s meeting on the way back to the house. It was his way of saying “I’m twice as strong as you guys, but there are bigger and better things out there than bench press.”
So did we learn our lesson? Eventually. I think so. But if I ever get too focused on something like grappling, and Dad walks on the mat with a Jiu Jitsu gi, then I’m running the other way. Because the Holy Spirit probably told him to teach me some more perspective. And gave him the black belt to do it.
From his daughter-in-law, Alanna;
I am so thankful for my father-in-law, Mark Coffey. When Matt and I were still “friends with intentions” my parents met the Coffey’s. I remember being… not worried exactly, but hopeful that my parents, who’s opinions I highly value, would give their approval to this young man I was interested in and to his family as well. It could not have gone better. I remember both Matt and my mom talking (dare I say gushing?) about how the dads got along like old college buddies! (So yes, approval was given ☺️) Since then we’ve noticed some other similarities…
Our dad enjoying Skyline (a local delicacy)
From his other daughter-in-law, Abby;
What I’ve always noticed about Mark is his attitude around his grandchildren. He doesn’t just love them, he thoroughly enjoys them, and they can tell. They’re always very excited to see him, and he never lets a moment with them go by without hugging them and telling them he loves them.
He also has done his job well when he taught his sons how to treat a woman. His love for his wife is obvious (and well-deserved), and it has definitely made an impression on my husband.
Thanks Mark, for teaching my husband how to love his wife.