It’s Father’s Day, and it’s a day I haven’t reflected on for a really long time.
Really reflected, I mean. Deeper than the childhood memories that surface of those fun and silly gifts we’d give, year after year. Things dad must just love, right? Like soap on a rope! Or how about those ‘magic’ mugs your dad could add water to and then lather up to brush on his face before he shaved? Along with what undoubtedly were some pretty awful ties (!) those are about the extent of my childhood Father’s Day memories.
I’m sure there were nice dinners and handmade coupon books and ‘on your best behaviors’ and all of that too. But in the end, rope soap and ties definitely wrestle with shaving mugs for 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
Pretty funny, looking back, and I bet we would have laughed over it now. Cringed over those ties together, and maybe even talked of bringing back that soap on a rope thing, because, come on. Soap on a rope? What a great idea!
But it’s never really about the gifts (thankfully!). At least not the tangible ones. And today as I think back on those silly but heartfelt Father’s Day offerings through the years, as I reflect back on Father’s Day itself, the one that stands out most is most certainly the last.
Because that’s the year 4 month old baby Jake became the builder of a bridge.
It’s hard to believe now that back then, my dad and I hadn’t spoken for several months. Not since shortly after I had shared the news that dashed their hopes and shattered their dreams. Because what else happens when your daughter comes home at 19, pregnant and …ahem, ready? to marry.
It takes time to sort through that, and my dad’s ‘sorting out’ came in the form of sitting out in silence.
So much worse than the yelling I wished he’d just get it over with and do. But that was his way, and stubbornness was mine, and there we sat for several months on separate sides of a growing divide.
Looking back now, having been through what we have, the depths of their loss must have been so great. It’s a lot for a parent to digest in a pretty short time, and though my mom was accepting and wonderfully supportive in the end, the silence between my dad and I was heartbreaking for me. Especially in the midst of the glorious heart awakening that Jake’s birth had brought. Because no matter if I was aged enough or not, that baby boy had changed my soul.
He was beautiful. Perfect and peaceful, filled with a wisdom and knowledge you couldn’t help but see when gazing into his deep blue eyes. Those eyes so much like my dads, holding the oceans within their depths.
That baby breathed life in and through me. Changed me. Created an instant ability to love ever more deeply, and a yearning to be and do and know all that I could for this new life I was so unprepared for, and yet what I knew in the breath of that birthing moment was what I was made for.
And when we treasure a thing like that, we can’t help but want to share it with the ones we love most. And my mom and dad… even as complicated as our relationship could be, they were the ones I loved the most.
But the months had gone by, the gap widening and the wound deepening. Much as we may have wanted, we just didn’t have the skills to build the bridge.
I still remember making the three-hour drive to their house later that spring. Jake had been born in February, but neither side had given way, and those walls between my dad and I were just as stout and strong as they had been several months before.
So as I pulled into the driveway that day, I’m sure my breath caught and anxiety built. Undoubtedly there was a little toughness in there too. An ‘I don’t care if he doesn’t care’ attitude, that’s really just protection for our hearts.
I didn’t know it at the time, but God was already hard at work at that very thing, protecting our hearts. And He used the flood that divided us, to deliver the bridge between us.
Because as I walked in the house and my infant-cast eyes rose slowly to meet my dad’s, any toughness, stubbornness or vestige of anger was gone. What I found in those deep blue eyes was tenderness, and as I silently placed that beautiful first grandchild into my dad’s strong but gentle, waiting arms… all I felt was love.
That baby boy was the filling in, the breaking down, the widening of hearts rather than gaps, and the deepening of love rather than pain. He was a lifeline from daughter to father and back.
…And how the unrest suddenly turned to rest.
It was a wonderful weekend! Although I doubt there was any soap on a rope that year, there was laughter and pool time, cuddles and love, and much gazing between those eyes, one that matched the other.
It was wonderful! …and it was vital.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 26 years since then. 26 years since we were able to spend a Father’s Day with my dad. Because it was just a few weeks later the phone rang with the most unexpected and life-changing news. The words on the other end way too clear, and yet so undecipherable at the same time. My heart just couldn’t make out their meaning. Because I was only 20 and my dad just 47, so how could it be that he was gone? We were just there a few weeks before. We had just talked, not an hour before.
And we were just getting started…
It’s still hard to believe some days. Hard and painful to think that I’ve now spent more of my life without my dad than with. That I’ve lived most of my adult life without a father to call on, gentle arms to place his next most precious grandbaby in, advice to seek, celebrations to share, and strong arms to fall into when life would fall apart.
I wish so much we could come together over dinner tonight, laughing over soap on a rope and awful ties. I imagine we’d reminisce through the years, lament a little, laugh a lot, and look forward to what’s ahead.
But you know what? Even without my dad’s physical presence, I can do that anyway. Because when my dad opened his arms that day, he gave me a key to the most beautiful gift… acceptance, belonging and love.
What a most precious, most essential gift that’s been as we’ve traversed these years without him. How different if could have been, how very thankful I am that it’s not.
His welcoming arms were his acceptance, as silence broke open in awe and wonderment and joy. A bridge, built by what divided, weathering a love that will never fail.
Happy Father’s Day Dad, and thank you…
Love is always stronger, and love never ends.