It happens every year around the time of my birthday. Images from the past come flooding into my mind. Some vivid, some clouded. But all conjuring up some moment that lodged itself in the vaults of memory.

I recall a time in my early teenage years when I was trying to do some yard work with Dad. He always included us in his daily activities, when he wasn’t on the road selling office furniture or styrofoam products or recruiting students to attend a Christian college.

The day was hot, and I was weak in body and spirit. Also rebellious. So I said I was tired and had had enough. And at that, the air stood still as my father turned to me and said two things that ended up changing the course of my life. His comments in response to my complaint of fatigue were, “You’re out of shape, son,” and “Wars are won by tired men.”

I don’t recall the sequence of events that followed that exchange, except that Dad forced me to keep working and sweating. A few days later, I acquired a small set of weights and began strengthening my body. Running followed shortly after that. Distance running.

It was only a year later that I won a trophy at school for being the “most physically fit sophomore.” That little treasure is still with me, sitting on my bookshelf.

And when the patriotic patriarch of our family challenged me with the reference to victory in warfare, his words struck a deep chord in my youthful soul. How that impression affected my choices through high school and college I’ll never know, but I thank God for the motivation that led me to serve in the armed forces a few years later. Maybe I became a Marine at the very moment of my father’s challenge.

Once again, Dad, thank you.