More than forty years since we buried him, today I awoke and thought about my father, how his life and death have influenced me. The Commander, The Old Man, Daddy, or @#$%^##, as he was called by me or my siblings, was admired in the Navy, a strong officer and early-on initiator of civil rights reform. Personally, he struggled with his own demons.
And his family suffered.
An alcoholic, abusive, a “womanizer,” a man with a huge hand and the rage to match it that terrorized me throughout my childhood, he sent me to college with a profound Daddy-shaped whole in my being.
All my life, that gaping emptiness pushed me toward excessive shyness and insecurity in my younger years, and some poor life choices as I grew into adulthood.
It also ushered me into the hands of my heavenly Father.
Many times I felt as if I walked high above a rushing river, one foot on one beam and the other on another, shaky one, always threatening to send me tumbling into to raging water, and sure death.
By the time I received the call from my mother that Daddy was dying I was married with two adorable daughters and a marriage that was daily torture. I flew across the country, praying I would make it to my father’s bedside – the first prayer in quite a while.
The pain of my daily life had driven me into the desert, and I’d given up on what had seemed a God who didn’t hear, or wouldn’t. I hadn’t followed his will for my life, and figured I’d missed my chance with God.
To the surprise of his doctors, my father lived two more weeks after I arrived at the hospital. I stayed at his bedside caring for him while he was awake, then simply sitting and reading after he slipped into a coma.
The last night, about 3 AM, I looked up to see his blue eyes open, trained on me.
Full of love.
Due to a tracheotomy, he couldn’t speak, but I’d been his voice while there, and understood he wanted me to come closer. As I leaned over his bed, my long hair fell across his chest. He reached a shaky hand and stroked my hair – my first really pure, loving touch from my father.
I soaked it in.
As I blinked away tears, his eyes said he loved me – the kind of love I’d needed, yearned for, not the empty words I’d heard from a drunken abuser.
I whispered, “I love you, too, Daddy.”
He smiled, dropped his hand, closed his eyes and fell back into the coma.
In the morning, my mother arrived, finally rested from the long vigil she’d kept with him for months at Bethesda Navy hospital. I was totally exhausted. I patted Daddy’s unresponsive hand and left the isolation room to give my mother my chair by his side.
As I pulled off the mask and gown I’d worn while in his ICU isolation room, Mom tapped on the glass and motioned toward the bed. My father was awake, his eyes watching me. I was too tired to robe up again, so I waved, and went on to our room to collapse into a deep sleep.
Sometime later, Mom woke me. “Daddy’s gone.”
All six months they’d been there, she’d been gathering the courage to talk with him about Jesus. Seeing him awake, she told him how God loved the world, and him, so much that he’d given his son. She told him Jesus died for him, to clean him of all his sin. When she asked if he wanted to accept that gift of life from Jesus he nodded yes. She asked if he wanted her to pray for him, and he again nodded yes.
After the prayer, he closed his eyes and died.
As I listened, at first it was anti-climactic. Not there for that moment, after all the hours at his side, I felt shorted.
But a few days later, while I read the passage from I Corinthians 15 for his funeral, I realized that if God could love and transform a man like my father, even in the last minutes of his life, then God could still love me and work in my life.
It was my father’s death that gave my life a new beginning.
It has taken years of work, counseling and prayer, and love from others to heal the ill effects of his impact on me.
Now, I am whole enough to be able to identify the strengths I have gained from him, both genetically and learned by example.
And I am grateful for my father.
I share this today because some of you have also had a father who has harmed, abandoned, or simply ignored you. I want to encourage you into the arms of a heavenly father who will never hurt you or abandon you.
It is never too late for healing, for the pathway that once hurt you to be the one that gives you strength.
And for the man who is reading this who is that kind of father, and you hear the enemy telling you it is too late, you have gone too far, done too much or missed too much, I want to say, “As long as you are alive, it is never too late.”
Not too late to say you’re sorry.
Not too late to receive the same washing every one of us needs from the power in the death and resurrection of Jesus for us.
Not too late to express love to your child.
That makes for a truly happy father’s day, when the hearts of the fathers are turned to their children.
And to those good fathers, the ones who care for, love and protect their children, who interact with joy and sacrifice for your family, thank you. You make our world a better place.