In the latter parts of my childhood, I was raised in a single parent home. It took many years for me to even wrap my head around that fact about my life. Confirmation came in an effort to make connections with some of my students who were not going home to a father to greet them. I found myself saying, “I’m like you.” However, my father’s presence, attention, and love embraced me so much in the time I had with him that I never really felt he was absent from my life.
So many memories and lessons relating to Daddy have guided me through my friendships, marriage, parenting, and teaching. It’s almost as if there was an unspoken knowing that his time with me would be short and that each of our interactions carried a responsibility of deep meaning; a meaning deep enough to be revealed in layers during the years yet to come.
In this way the memories ebb and flow regularly along my journey. It’s through these memories that Daddy shows up at the right time in my life. There is one recurring memory that continues to guide me in my day to day activities. The memory is unchanging but the layers of meaning exposes new revelations each time.
The memory begins in my room with my 11 year old self sitting at my desk either writing or drawing as I was often creating something with pencil and paper. Daddy comes in, sits on my bed and asks, “Is everything ok? Is there anything you want to ask me?” I remember first thinking how tiny my bed looked with his 6’ 4” frame sitting on it. Then I thought how odd the question seemed at the time. Of course, everything is ok. Both of my parents made certain of it. Our home ensured for me that I was loved and affirmed. I answered him in the typical way a happy 6th grader without a single worry in the world would respond to such a question. “Yeah, everything is ok.” Then I returned to my own world of creativity. He lingered a bit before walking out of my room saying that I should let him know if I think of something I need to talk about with him. Again, this seemed odd but, “Ok, Daddy.”
It wasn’t long after that Daddy died on June 3, 1978. What I didn’t know on that day he walked into my room was that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer a couple years earlier. By then he had already defied the doctor’s predictions of his pending death by over a year. Daddy knew that his time was limited. For years, I felt guilty and regretful about not having some problem to ask for his advice. Why couldn’t I have thought of something…anything to ask him in order to give him that chance to share his insights? But since then I’ve realized that my not asking made the moment deeply meaningful and powerful enough to last my lifetime.
In my relationships, I now know that saying what needs to be said is critical. It’s unfortunate that most of us only think of this in times of illness or grief. Don’t wait. Today is the best day to share a heartfelt truth with the people who adorn your life.
In my marriage, I now know that there are times when I have to stand strong and times when I have to lean for support. Back then, I couldn’t see it. However, because of Daddy, the look of a strong man courageously leaning is forever etched in my mind. Having to face your greatest fears alongside the someone to whom you committed your life demonstrates vulnerability only love will allow.
In parenting, I now know that I must routinely share my thoughts, hopes, and fears with my children. There is more to me than they will ever know unless I openly share where I’ve been and where I’m going. They deserve to know who I am besides Mom. And that sometimes, I, too, must lean.
In teaching, I now know that young people don’t always know how to talk about what’s on their hearts and minds. Often, they don’t really know what’s even there. As an educator it’s important to foster an environment of growth that includes communicating in ways that build connection and community.
I miss Daddy and I miss that moment when I had the chance to ask him anything I wanted to ask. But in the paradoxical way that life teaches us, I’m grateful that I didn’t. It’s because I didn’t ask that this memory of Daddy’s smile, voice, vulnerability, and loving intention shows up when I need him. And who knows what other layers of meaning still lie hidden in that moment with Daddy.