Living

On our last day, I knew something was askew with you. You were quieter. You didn’t tell as many jokes and stories. You didn’t make eye contact as often. You didn’t even wrestle the kids.

I couldn’t pinpoint the problem. Maybe you felt left out of our chitchat. Maybe you had more trouble hearing. Maybe your blood pressure was off. But something wasn’t the same, and I sensed it.

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With my best dad

Other parts of our last day were perfect.

 

We drank a glass of red wine together. We always did that. You commented on your failure to perfect the gravy’s consistency, and I insisted it was perfect already. I always insisted your cooking was great (it was). I scooped up a huge spoonful of succotash and claimed I loved it. I didn’t. But you made it, and you loved making it, and I loved you.

Our last day was the day after Thanksgiving, but it was our celebration of the holiday. For me, lover of gratitude and all things gushy inside, what greater gift than for our last day together to be a day of giving thanks?

I carried my coffee outside. I couldn’t stop yawning; it’s easy to relax at your house. The two of us were observers during the family baseball game, sitting on the sidelines, cheering for the kids and heckling the grown-ups. When the boys argued over taking turns at bat, and my little Maggie became distraught, you distracted her by inviting her to sit on the porch swing. You always had a way of making peace in a tense situation without sticking your nose where it didn’t belong, smoothing out hurt feelings like a delicate linen dress, nice and slow.

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In our woods, 2011

While you sat on the porch swing, rocking gently in the shadows of the late autumn sun, I regretted forgetting my camera, knowing my smartphone would never capture movement and light and real moments. I watched you whisper to Maggie, wondering what you were saying, so lucky to have a grandpa like you, something I never had.

 

When I left, I leaned in close so you could hear me, and said, “Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you. I love you.”

I didn’t take any pictures of our last day together.

But we lived it, the same way you lived 69 years of your life, dodging bullets in Vietnam, driving your truck home down dark highways to make ends meet, crooning radio tunes in your bride’s ear with your big hands around her waist, casting bait into the White River, tossing your little girl up in the air and smoothing her long brown hair at bedtime, heaving two shotguns over your strong shoulder before your son could carry his own up the long hill when you taught him to be a man.

Maggie has asked what you are doing in heaven. She asks if she can talk to you.

Of course she can, we tell her. We tell her she can talk to you any time she likes.

scan_20161204-2We tell her you are fishing with your new fishing reel and taking care of her two cats and baby white chicken. She loves seeing this in her mind before she drifts off to sleep.

Many people, when they pass on unexpectedly, might have regrets. I imagine you have none.

You lived.

Father envy

I think eye rolling in church might be inappropriate.

But I’ve done it my whole life—if not outwardly, inwardly.

With Kay and John Egan, circa 2000

With Kay and John Egan, circa 2000

Confession: Until recently, the two concepts of “God” and “Father” did not mesh well in my mind. A local preacher I know used to—and perhaps still does, but thankfully I don’t know—insert “dear Fathuh” every 12-15 words during his prayers, or maybe “Fathuh God.”

Ugh.

Why the disdain? There are plenty of references in the Bible to God as our Father. Of course, there are multiple other analogies and metaphors as well, but why should this one feel so ingratiating?

It’s hard to explain to people who have dads like John Egan, a family friend of ours who passed away a few years ago. He was the ultimate family man. Served on the school board. Always there for his family. Cracked jokes in his recliner, complimented his beautiful wife often, and barked at anyone who called the house after 9 p.m. Would definitely have taken a bullet for anyone in his family on any occasion. Took care of business.

George Woolf and his daughters

George Woolf and his daughters

Or take George Woolf, for instance, who also moved on to heaven a few years ago. Best hugger in the world. Spiritual in a quiet, no-frills kind of way. Fun to the core. Always up for a new adventure with his wife and three daughters. Not afraid to take risks, and not afraid to deviate from the status quo if it meant being happy.

Mickey Jones, photo by Sandra Stroud

Mickey Jones, photo by Sandra Stroud

Or Mickey Jones, maybe. Married to the love of his life for several decades. Leads musical worship in a way that makes me cry every single time I’m lucky enough to be part of it. Passed on his passion for God to his two daughters, who are passing it on to their five children. Pays the bills, but more importantly, prays, laughs, and leads.

My dad wasn’t much like John Egan, George Woolf, or Mickey Jones. He struggled with addiction almost all of my life. He either wasn’t around or was temporarily a whirlwind of fun. The problem was that I never knew when That Fun Guy was going to disappear again. I wasted a lot of wishes on chicken bones over my dad, hoping he’d rejoin our family. I hosted many pity parties for myself because he never did.

To sit in church and have GOD, the Creator of everything beautiful, the Lover of my soul, the Redeemer of my life, the Light that cut through the blackest darkness to find me, the Peace that replaced quarter sacks of weed—to have that God compared to “father” felt a little sacrilegious to me.

Let me make myself clear—I have a wonderful stepdad, and as the years go by, we continue to

grow closer. He wasn’t very emotionally available when I was growing up, but as a former stepmom myself, I can cut him some slack for that now. Step parenting is tough—anyone who’s done it is nodding in agreement while reading this. And my dad was not the worst dad ever. My dad never abused me. My dad always told me he loved me and still does. His addiction just kept him from being the kind of dad I know he could have been. And it left me with a cynical perspective when it came to the father/God comparison.

I wanted a John Egan dad. I wanted a George Woolf dad. I wanted a Mickey Jones dad.

But God knew better.

He gave me just what I needed. He knows me, and He knows that due to my stubborn, controlling, and independent nature, He’d need to take the Father role into his own hands. Maybe He held back what He knew I’d never find in Him if He gave it to me any other way. Maybe He knew that someday, I’d need two dads in my life who have been total wrecks from time to time because I am often a total wreck, too. He might have known that I’d need to watch Him give them both countless chances at redemption because I’d someday need multiple opportunities to get it right myself. Maybe He knew that if I watched them grow into strong, spiritual people, I’d believe in His ability to carry me when I floundered, felt like I could not continue, and take me where I needed to go safely.

He is my Dad, after all. That’s what dads do.