When you can’t thank your dad anymore…

DSCF6960Road tripping it over foothills, skirting the Appalachian mountains, this Daddy’s Day weekend, the vistas all blue-gray sky sandwiched on top of wavy, emerald tree lines dappled in sunlight.
My Spotify playlist lands on a song called “Hills and Valleys” by ironic coincidence and he’s singing,

On the mountains, I will bow my life to the one who set me there,
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there,
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own,
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys,
Hills and Valleys,
God of the hills and valleys,
And I am not alone!

And I’m picturing it out the passenger side window.

Later, as the landscape flattens approaching the Atlantic shore, I find myself scrolling through my Facebook feed to abate boredom.
Everybody’s posting pictures and sentimental messages to their dads.DSCF2462
And I can’t help but think about mine.
He’s six foot under the shade of a towering pine, the sound of the Lake ricocheting off the trees.
Well, at least his body is.
And I’m reflecting on his life tethered to mine even though he’s not here anymore.
And I wish I got a do-over.
And I wonder why I was such a brat sometimes.
And I  now appreciate that:

My dad possessed a more mature understanding of love than I did.
And my dad had more wisdom about life than I gave him credit for.

I’d call it an uncanny gift. My dad disarmed people with his love. He could actually tell people that if they didn’t repent and ask Jesus to forgive them, they’d spend eternity in hell and they wouldn’t get offended. He’d meet people in the grocery store, or old friends at the bank. At family reunions and company picnics, nothing could distract him from interweaving the gospel into any conversation because real love isn’t avoiding topics just because they are sensitive and it doesn’t flinch at potential conflict or confrontation. It doesn’t pretend everything is OK when it’s not. When you’re driving your life into a train, real love throws out the railroad crossing arm and sends out an unrelenting alarm for anyone who has ears to hear. At least, that’s what my dad believed.

And my dad, he wasn’t selective about who he loved. He loved everybody…
That school full of Hispanic immigrants, legal or not, and their down and out families where he cleaned toilets and mopped floors,
The sad looking at-risk youth hanging out where they didn’t belong inviting trouble,
The butcher at the corner market and the auto repair guy who fixed his car,
The people in the pews around him and the ones who hadn’t warmed a seat in church for decades,
And, oh my gosh, how he loved his family, the whole broken bunch of us…

My dad was a softy but when the fine line of respect got crossed, especially if someone was messing with any of his girls, well, it wasn’t pretty.
Like the time I spent a week at church camp. My parents came to retrieve me at the final program. I’d met a friendly but older guy there. He’d taken an interest in me and since I didn’t have brothers and was painfully naïve, I trusted him. At the program, he reached over and squeezed my thigh several times and my dad blew a fuse!
Not publicly, but when we got home, he forbade me from any future contact explaining that any guy who treats my body casually, who touches me without restraint doesn’t belong within a 10 foot pole of my person and shouldn’t get even a tiny slice of my heart or affection.
I didn’t get it.  I thought he was totally over-reacting and I let him know it. But a long time later, life experience proved him right. I learned that boys do exploit girls for a cheap thrill. Sometimes it’s physical and other times it’s emotional.  Usually, both kinds of manipulation feed off each other like a voraciously hungry monster and my dad knew it and tried to protect me.

A parent doesn’t stop wanting to protect their kids even after they grow up. I wish I had comprehended that when I was 30 and he was still warning me about dangerous intersections and driving precautions. Instead, I rolled my eyes and felt justified doing it, telling myself I deserved to be frustrated because he wasn’t trusting me, while totally missing the heart behind his words,  “You’re precious to me. I worry about you. I don’t want anything to happen to you.” Now I know that’s what he was really saying.

That man I called Dad, he taught me to take my first steps and a little more than two decades later, he escorted me down the aisle. And a decade after that, he walked me through a cross country move.hopegramps
And he didn’t guilt trip me for leaving he and mom when they needed me most.
And he didn’t complain that I was taking all those grandbabies a thousand miles away.

Instead, he hugged tight and long, right there in the driveway and whispered, “I’ll miss you’s,” as the tears welled up in his eyes. And I could see them leaking down his face out my rearview mirror as I drove away because sometimes a parent can’t hold back the Niagara Falls of pain they feel when there’s distance put between them and their children.
And he called me every day afterwards for almost 3 years. The phone rang and we all raced to answer it.  “How ‘ya doin’ today?”  He always asked, like an invitation to read him the most current chapter in our story. And no hurry. He wasn’t going anywhere..
I don’t remember how often I reciprocated the question, but I know it wasn’t enough.

Then one day, the phone didn’t ring. And I stood by his hospital bed instead, the shell of his person lifelessly still except for the chest compressions regulated by a ventilator. And I read to him from his brown, weatherworn Bible and sang the hymns he loved best while the nurse turned the machine to the “Off” position and he exchanged the old rugged cross for a crown.

And here I am a dozen years later, on Father’s Day weekend, still navigating the loss.
The absence.
And the deafening silence.

IMG_5331And that guy in the driver’s seat whose profile I’m glancing over at now, the dad whose driven our posse of girls, about a million miles through all the hills and valleys of life, he knows a lot more than his kids give him credit for too. And he loves a lot deeper than they comprehend.

I can’t thank my dad today for his love, protection, wisdom and pursuit, but that guy my girls call Daddy, to him, I just wanna say,
I’m grateful.DSCF9238

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