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A Love Lesson from My Father

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“Brenda, can you help your daddy and lead him to the bathroom?” my mother’s voice rang out in echoing decibels in my ears. It was as though I rose in slow motion to make my way to where he was seated in the living room. When mom brought him home earlier that day, she explained to us that he had some smoke damage and that was the reason for the bandages on his eyes. But when she called me to help him and I looked at him, I felt a lump in my chest that felt as though my heart was going to burst. I grabbed his hands and started leading him down the hall. By the time I got about 10 feet I was so choked up I could no longer talk, so when he spoke I could only make “uh huh” and “nuh uh” responses for fear of hurting his feelings.

The big white gauze patches over my daddy’s eyes seemed to grow bigger every second. The smoke injury to his eyes was the result of a huge cotton warehouse fire on the wharves in Galveston, Texas in April, 1973. As a Captain for the Galveston Fire Department, my daddy had been to many fires, but he had never had an injury; and certain none like this one. At eight years old and the baby of the family, I was used to being focused on myself and though I loved my family, I didn’t really realize what love was until that moment leading my father around our home. Everything changed for me that day; the day I began my daily ritual of begging God to never let anything happen to my daddy.

I had grown those eight years watching my blind grandmother feel and shuffle her way around her house. Whenever we would go for a visit, she always felt the top of my head to see how much taller I had gotten and felt my body to see how much I had grown. I had never asked why she was blind because I felt that it wasn’t proper to talk about it. This was the first day I ever even thought that my daddy might end up that way too – the exact way he had hoped and prayed she would not have to live out the rest of her life.

My grandmother had lost her sight when my daddy was eight (not knowing of that strange coincidence at the time probably saved me from further angst). She had contracted the measles and had unwittingly gone out into the sunlight. My daddy being the youngest child, and the only one still at home after his sister and brothers had moved out on their own, had become her caretaker. He cooked, cleaned and took care of things. He had to grow up very fast and assume more responsibility than anyone else his age. I think that is what shaped him into the wonderful daddy he was – the one who took care of everything; the hard-worker; the loving buddy; and the most wonderful daddy in the world.

If there was anything I could ever do to ensure that he would not be hurt or injured, or worse, ever again then that is what I would do. I knew right away that nothing would ever be alright again if my daddy couldn’t see when they took the patches off of his eyes. I knew they talked about smoke damage but I didn’t understand what that meant. I turned to the only one who could help me.

I knew all about God. I knew He was the one we thanked for everything and the one we turned to when we needed anything. He was the Almighty – the only one who could help me with my unyielding need to protect my daddy from harm.

Seeing my daddy at his most vulnerable time was the day I realized what real love was; how important it was to care for others; how paramount to being alive; and how loving other people is really the only way to truly live. It was when I realized that love could rip your heart out or set you free. I couldn’t comprehend it at the time but looking back on that week throughout the many years since, I have realized that it had a truly profound effect on me.

Truth be known, I cannot think of a single night when I was growing up that I didn’t pray for God to take care of my daddy. I remember many nights when I actually cried my prayers. I felt desperate to keep him safe; probably the same way he felt all those nights after my grandmother lost her sight.

I was blessed to have my daddy until I was thirty-five years of age. I was with him in the hospital room when the doctor told him he had malignant lung cancer which had already spread to other parts of his body. I hugged him and as I hugged him I prayed. I held it together best I could until we parted ways. Once out of his sight, I lost it. I prayed for God to watch over him. For the next nine months, I watched my strong, brave daddy shrivel away to less than 100 pounds.

I took a week’s vacation time during his last week of life to spend as much time with him as I could. I was with him all day the day he passed on in the middle of the night. I told him how I had prayed that God would never let anything happen to him. I told him that I loved him more than anything in this world, but that I would never want him to suffer, even for a second, so that I could hold onto him. I gave him what the hospice staff called “permission to let go.”

I learned about love by seeing someone who deeply loved others thrust into a helpless state when I was a child. Although my father's eye injury was only temporary, it taught me a valuable lesson. I learned that caring for someone else more than I care for myself is of the utmost importance to me. It is natural for me to want to protect those I love.

I was very angry with God when my father died. I felt that, because he had been such an upstanding, honest and caring man while he lived he should have been spared any agony, pain or despair on his way out of this life. God didn't see it that way and I had a hard battle to face at that time. Good things have come from the loss of my father; paramount to these was the beginning of Starfish Kenya, a foundation begun by my sister and her husband, and for which I sit on the Board. Many children's lives are being saved from the horrible streets of Kenya, but that is not the most fulfilling part of our work. Most important to our mission is that each child is learning all about the love of Jesus Christ, where before they knew only despair.

I know that love flows from God. I know it by way of my father who taught it to me. I learned the meaning of love from my daddy; every little girl should be so lucky. He was my protector, my hero, and I miss him every day. I will see him again someday, of that I am sure. But for now, I send him butterfly kisses.

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