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MOVIES: Gene Wilder & Dad

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP) — Every few days we read of the death of a celebrity like Gene Wilder on Aug. 29 or a past world leader or someone who often made the headlines. Thousands of non-headliners, meanwhile, die every day, with no newscast reports on them.

Ironically, in this electronics-charged era, when it’s so easy to tweet, email, Facebook, Snapchat or simply call, far too often the only time we acknowledge someone’s worth is at their funeral.

Oftentimes, the memorial service is a sad occasion because it dawns on us that we never told the deceased, “I’m glad I know you.” We never asked about their work or their lives. They were just here and we never gave it a thought that, someday, they wouldn’t be.

We’ll remember Gene Wilder for his funny films. He made us laugh. And upon his death the general public learned that he was more than a comic actor/writer/director. Articles and tweets verify he was also a kind man.

My dad, when he died four years ago on Feb. 29, made no headlines. He wasn’t in show business but rather a salesman for the National Cash Register Company. He also was a kind man. P.D. Boatwright was devout in his faith, loyal in his marriage, gifted in sales and caring of others. But he wasn’t famous.

Many nonbelievers have argued over the years that a belief in a hereafter is man’s way of dealing with mortality, or that Earth and its residents are an accident caused by a big bang. Or, perhaps people were placed here by a higher power to fulfill His will. If the former is true, then there really is little reason for our existence. If the latter is the reality, then Christ’s words in Matthew 6:4 remind the faithful that an omniscient power takes note of us and our deeds: “… and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Either belief takes faith. But only one is true. Dad knew which was true.

Dad also understood that it’s not important if we are forgotten by our fellow man, that the temporal becomes lost in the sands of time. “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever,” we read in Scripture (1 John 2:17). In the terminology of a sports manager, team members should be playing for the coach, not the stands. The fans forget. God doesn’t.

Still, everyone wants a pat on the back from time to time.

On two occasions, I asked Dad about my writing career: “I’m not making much money and I’m not sure I’m having any impact. Should I give it up?” Both times he responded, “No, this is what you do.” He understood that my writing about Hollywood’s impact on society and its culture was my mission. He questioned me, “Have you ever met a rich missionary?” As he neared death, I didn’t have to ask him a third time.

In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” director Frank Capra reminded us that the things we say and do affect the lives of others. In “Jesus of Nazareth,” Robert Powell, portraying the Savior, teaches viewers “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And in each of the Hollywood takes on Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge discovers that it’s never too late to recognize the needs around us, and fulfill them.

I miss my dad, especially each time I watch “Rio Bravo” or the films listed above. But I never wish he was still watching movies with me. I know where Dad is, and he knew what he meant to me. I pray I will never have to cry at funerals because I haven’t said, “I’m glad I know you.”

    About the Author

  • Phil Boatwright