Today is my dad’s birthday. I just left him a voicemail. We haven’t talked since April, but that is normal. Our relationship has been a winding path—arduous, but enduring. In 1987, when he drove away from Mook Street for the last time, my young heart could not grasp what this new future would hold. And that was probably best.
Along the way, I have been shaped by both his presence and his absence. The good and the bad. The laughter and the tears. It may not be the path I would have chosen, but it is the means the Lord has used to draw me to Himself, and that I wouldn’t give up for anything. So for these invaluable lessons, Dad, thanks.
1. Life is not a bed of roses. What is it like to grow up within the shelter and security of loving parents? What is it like to be protected from the pollution of the world and the stress of adulthood? What is an idyllic childhood? I can’t say I know for sure. But I have learned that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Life’s difficulties can either be stumbling blocks or stepping stones.
2. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. It is odd the way that the custodial parent can slave and sacrifice working multiple jobs, and yet you want to impeach them for every bump in the road. Somehow, the absentee parent gains respect by default. It’s not fair, but it is reality.
3. A little hard work never killed anyone. First, I learned this by living in a single parent home, where the workload was divided around the table. The day wouldn’t have been complete without a to-do list waiting for me after school. That is where I learned about lawn mowing and toilet scrubbing and why you don’t leave the iron on the clothes too long. And I still like to cross things off a list. Secondly, I saw my dad work incredibly laborious jobs to pay for two families, and then come home to dinner and dishes and lawn-work. He never grumbled; he just got to the doin’. I still like that about him.
4. Psalms 68:5—God is the father to the fatherless. Not that I was orphaned, but He intervened in ways that I could not see at the time. In retrospect, I can see His divine Hand every time I was afraid or vulnerable or lonely. Psalms 37:23-24—My steps are established by the Lord, and He delights in my way. When I fall, I will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds my hand (personalized by me).
5. Don’t judge a book by its cover. When I was a child, I saw dad through rose-colored glasses. Through the needs of a seven-year-old. Through the stories and opinions and tears of the wounded who were left behind. I guess it was impossible at the time for me to digest fully the complexities of our trail-mix family. Maybe it was a mode of self-protection. But I had to reassess my entire heritage when I reached adulthood. Rediscover my dad. As a person. As a father. From an untainted perspective. From a parent’s standpoint. With no ulterior needs attached. What I knew as a child, even though more than I probably needed to know, was not all of the story. I have learned to dig deeper. To get all the facts. To see both sides of the story. And then to still give people the benefit of the doubt—around the table, across the board.
6. A good sense of humor covers a multitude of sins. Even if deep down I felt hurt or neglected, I have still always enjoyed just being with my dad. He has a quick wit, and that has always made him fun company. Whether playing Scrabble or Spades or football, he knows how to have a laid-back kind of fun. I will take this quick opportunity to interject two other things that I gleaned from him: Television is a waste of time. Family dinners are important. Three or four weekends a year were enough for me to learn the value of these two principles, which I have integrated into my family life now.
7. Still waters run deep. Dad has never been a flashy, charismatic type. More a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get type.” I like that. You can’t have two flash bulbs under one roof. So in this quality, I am glad that I married someone akin to dad. I have learned to listen. Some of our best conversations have been at two in the morning over coffee, when the kids are in bed and the guards have come down. At home I don’t drink coffee—ever—but in Tampa, I am always up for another cup of joe.
8. Bloom where you’re planted. It was an awkward moment. Dad and I were in the meat section at Kash’n’Kerry and my heart was palpitating as I knew this was the moment. The private get-away that I needed to tell dad that we were pregnant again. It was a big deal since this was our third in three years, I was twenty, and we were currently in-between jobs and in-between housing. But I spit it out … and he was congratulatory. I think he sensed my surprise, so he shared. Apparently, the idea of him remarrying and having three more kids wasn’t always a welcome idea in his circles either. “But,” he said, as we checked out, “sometimes you just have to do the best you can and then walk on.” At that moment, as he offered me absolute support unfettered, some old wounds were healed. Where once a plastic statue sat high on its dusty pedestal, now a newly-potted seedling emerged from uncontaminated soil. Childish misnomers were replaced by a new hope, a fresh optimism. And in that moment, I grew up.
9. To have friends, show yourself friendly. As I navigated this new terrain of parent-child adult relationships, I discovered that my dad wasn’t the most prioritized of men. If it isn’t urgent (e.g., for today’s baseball game or tomorrow’s Sunday School lesson), then it falls through the cracks. That would be the phone calls, birthday cards, and the granddaughters that are falling through the cracks. And so I set out on a mission. Enough of neediness and pity parties! If I wanted a relationship with him, then I was going to have to be the one to call or write or visit. And so I did. And I have thoroughly enjoyed our visits in the last couple years. Frisbee at the beach. Grilling out steaks. Late-night card tournaments. Sharing houses and road trips and cups of coffee. Whatever energy and resources I have spent reaching out for him has been doubly returned in the restoration of relationship and absolution of years lost.
10. Good things come to those who wait. I don’t know if there was a moment in time where I released my dad from being everything I always wanted him to be. I don’t remember how often I poured out my heart before the Lord seeking reconciliation and peace in this relationship. I don’t know how much my dad thinks of me or misses me. But I know that God has answered the prayers that I never uttered. He has given me the peace that I needed and the joy that I longed for. I am thankful that I didn’t give up. Sometimes it would have been so easy. But if I could talk to that little girl at Mook Street, I would tell her to hang in there. It is all going to come out okay. I write these last lines with tears streaming down my face. The path won’t always be easy, but that’s all right. Good things come to those who wait.