My Daddy died yesterday. Unexpectedly- but not without warning.
He had just been over last week to have dinner with me and my kiddos. I was trying my culinary hand at boneless buffalo strips, (kinda thinkin’ I could bring the same flavor as bone-in wings) ah but you can’t! You must have all the flavor-makin’ marrow to bring the “finger-lickin’good!”
Anyway, he came over like he always did when he could and he hung out with me in the kitchen while I cooked and talked. He told his stories; asked about the kids, digressed about food and retold some of his same ol’ confusions about the mishaps and misunderstandings of his life. We did our daddy-daughter dance. It’s what we always did-he talked, I listened, and ever-so-often replied with a question ( usually to see if he could explain his thinking) or I would just interject an “ah” or an “hmmm” so he would know I cared even though I didn’t fully understand where he was going with much of it. Although for many years, he has struggled with confusion, fretting behaviors, and delusions, my brother and I had noticed his mind had really begun mixing up his stories over the past year at an undeniable rate. So, I have to admit that I wasn’t always paying as close attention because I would sometimes wander off into my own problems-brought back by his asking me a question, usually about the kids. Daddy loved the kids. He was so proud of them, and he always enjoyed a diversion about them, so that is usually where we would waltz while I was cooking.
Kids had a dance with him too. They would come in quickly, eyes lit to see he had come over, big long hug, a few exchanges of affectionate how’s it goings, and then sometimes listen in awhile to him talking, but most often scurry upstairs to go about their time ’til dinner. My daughter just confessed the other night, “I sometimes listen to what Papi is saying for a little while, but I just can’t follow any of it or understand what he is talking about?” “Oh, I know baby. There is no way you could,” I assured her. “He’s just ramblin’. No worries. But, he loves seein’ you kids.” That was pretty much every visit every time-greet, visit with him while I cook dinner, call kids down, eat together, let them run on, listen more while I clean the kitchen, then it was the exit exchange-always same steps, right then left…
“Oh Baby, Daddy’s gotta go now.” (big hug and kiss on the cheek) “I love ya baby; your daddy loves ya.”
“Oh I know Daddy; I love you too, so much! You be careful drivin;’ stay awake!”
“Aw, (slight chuckle) I will- I most tha time do.” (playful smile)
And he was out the door, until the next visit about a month later when we would do it all over again.
It was our dance. Same one we’ve been doin’ for years. But not last week. It was different. When it came down to the closing moves, he missed his cues. I finished cleaning the kitchen, made my verbal gesture and then-he stayed. Instead of moving to his usual line, he kept lingering. He stopped talking; he had somethin’ he wanted to say, but he was stalling, hem-hawing like something was bothering him. He started telling me he had been having some pain in his chest and arm for awhile, about a month. We talked about it, me getting on to him for not going to see the doctor, ’til he promised he would. I figured that was it, but then he still stayed. Instead of making his way to the door, he came in the living room and sat down on the couch. I was stunned. Something was definitely up; he had something on his mind that put him outta his routine. And that just never happened. So I sat down too and waited.
“Baby, he said, you foundja anybody yet?” He was serious.
“Oh, Daddy.” I realized where he was headed. “No, Daddy. I’m not lookin’ for anybody.” I laughed nervously; he stayed serious.
“Well now Baby, you’re gonna need somebody. Ya know Baby, you’re just gonna have to get back up on that horse; you know that, right? You just can’t hang around here like ya are forever?”
I paused and thought for a moment. Wow, he was really serious.
“Ah Daddy, I’m fine.” He hasn’t even been gone a year. We’re all still grievin’ it. I’ll move on when I finish; I’m good Daddy. I’ve got my kids, my job, and I’m really, really good.” I had been looking down while I gave him my reassurances, but happened to glance up; and he had gotten completely still. He was giving me eye contact, and listening, not fidgeting like he normally did; he was concentrating hard on my every word. I stopped too-looked him straight in the eye, “Daddy, I promise. I’m good. I’ve been talkin’ with God everyday. He is carrying me through this like I never could have imagined. I promise, when they’re all gone to college, I’ll get back on the horse-besides, you never got back on the horse?” I gave it a light chuckle to lighten his mood. “What about that, huh Daddy?”
He relaxed, but just a little. “Well, it sure wasn’t cause I didn’t want to, Baby.”
There it was-the warning. I have to admit that in the moment, I completely missed it. He used the past tense-“not because I didn’t want to.” He knew. He was done. He had come over to have one more dance with his baby girl-his only girl. And he wanted to know that I was gonna be okay, that someone was gonna take care of me, and in his East Texas man-way, that meant a husband.
For all my daddy’s faults and confusions, I never once wondered if he loved me. And I know he knew I loved him too. Since his passing yesterday, each moment has been a glance back over that visit and this morning it wakes me with gratefulness. I had a precious daddy who loved me deeply and wanted to make sure that in his absence, I was gonna be alright. He wanted me to keep on living even though he had decided to be done; and he took the time to come have one last dance. I will forever praise the Lord for my fun-loving, whistling-a-tune, sweet-serving, storytelling, fixer of everything, hippie-man daddy that the Lord let me have all these years of my life. He had a beautiful mind and a kind spirit, and both are free today from this world and the weights of it that held him captive. He is free, and I will rejoice and be glad in it, ever-giving praise to the One and only, Jesus Christ, who sets us all free from this world. Thank you Lord for my daddy. May he rest in peace with you this morning. Psalm 149:3-4