I originally wrote this tribute in 2012 for my Dad on Father’s Day. I edited it and am sharing it again this year because I received such a positive response to it last year. Happy Father’s Day to you and your Dad from me and my Dad! ~Beth
I spent a lot of time thinking about the words I wanted to say about my Dad this week in a Father’s Day tribute. How does one accurately paint a picture with words someone who has been there for you every moment of your life, beginning with your first breath? It’s a daunting challenge to be sure, but one that I will face like I face the other challenges that I write about every day. I only know how to write about what I know, about what is written upon my heart. In this heart of mine, a heart that is a composite of beautiful scars and held together by colorful patches, I carry the love and laughter of my father written in an ink so permanent that time and space, scars and patches, could never erase it.
I’ve always been told that as a new baby, I belonged to my Dad from the moment he first held me in his arms. My first night home from the hospital, my parents didn’t know what to do with me, this 6 pound, 8 ounce screaming pink bundle of little girl fresh from the womb. It wasn’t until my Dad laid down on the couch, and my Mom placed me, his brand new baby girl against his bare chest, that I finally settled down, content to listen to the beat of his heart. As I understand it, I spent many a night like that, chest to chest with my father, cradled safely in his arms, sound asleep and at peace in the big, scary world I had been born into.
To my Dad, I imagine I grew up far too quickly, just as my own six year old son has grown up in the blink of an eye. I still remember just like it was yesterday how it felt to be my son’s age, and how proud I felt to be my Daddy’s Queen B. I was quite positive that I had the strongest, bravest, most handsome Daddy in the whole world. When I was with my Dad, I was always so proud to be his little girl, to walk beside him and hold his hand. When the sun would shine on his flaxen blonde hair, he reminded me of my Barbie’s Ken doll, and I knew, I just knew that I was the luckiest girl in the world to have a Daddy like that.
I can still remember how he smelled, like Old Spice and soap and the leather of baseball mitts. To me, it was the best smell in the world. My Dad’s eyes were so blue, like the waters on the lake he would take me fishing on, just the two of us, and teach me how bait my hook with real worms and cast my own line, important things that every little girl needs to know how to do.
There were many other important lessons I learned from Dad that I know I wouldn’t ever have learned from anybody else if he hadn’t been there for me. From my Dad, I learned to love nature while following him around in the woods, my brown hair in a ponytail swinging behind me, pink rubber barn boots on my feet as I walked behind him, surrounded by the magic I saw in the trees and rivers and heard in the life hidden where I couldn’t see. My Dad, though, had a gift, and could always see what I couldn’t, and as we walked he unlocked the mysteries I so longed to see: the doe and her fawn nestled beneath the branch of a tree, the family of squirrels high up in their nest in a tree, watching us as we passed by, a coyote, hungry and on the prowl in the distance. My Dad taught me the importance of being still, the importance of watching and listening to the life that surrounds you, on our adventures in the wilderness.
I remember when I was maybe 7 or 8, I was finally learning how to ride my bike without training wheels. Since my family lived in the country, the terrain was not exactly what you would call friendly for learning to ride a bike on. Once I had finally gotten the basics of riding my bike down in our gravel driveway, I wanted so badly to ride my bike with my Dad while he went on his evening run out on the country roads. Reluctantly, he agreed, but the bike ride ended up being a disaster.
My sky blue banana seat bicycle, and I, took a beating that afternoon. I lost count of how many times I ended up in the ditch, or sunny side up in the middle of the road. My dad ran his entire two mile route and back while I was still trying to make my way up the first hill past the grain silo less than ½ mile from our house. As my Dad ran back by me, he said encouragingly, “Don’t give up, Beth! Go just a little farther than you think you can. I know you can do it!”
That was just the encouragement I needed.
I felt like it took forever for me to find my way back home that night; the sun was sinking low in the sky, fiery orange touching the perfectly paralleled rows of corn as they stretched out as far as my eyes could see. Yet, as I finally rolled up on my bike to our white, two story farmhouse sitting on the hill nestled between the pussy willow trees and peony bushes, I saw my Dad standing by the mailbox, still in his running clothes, waiting for me.
He had been waiting there for me all night.
That night, I learned from my Dad two important things: first, you never, ever give up. Always keep pushing, just a little bit further than you think you can, and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish. This truth has served me well during my life, and I owe it all to my Dad. The second thing my Dad taught me on that summer Indiana night as the fireflies began to light up the night sky is that you never give up on the ones you love. Never. Even if it takes forever, no matter if it feels like it lasts a lifetime, if you love someone, you keep waiting patiently for them to come back home to you.
Now, I wish I could tell you all that my Dad and I remained the best of friends forever, my Dad the hero of my heart, and I, the Queen B of his. Time has a way of passing even when we don’t want it to, and sweet little girls grow up into willful, headstrong teenagers, no longer children but not yet women, rare hybrids who think they don’t need their fathers anymore. I think I may have been more willful and headstrong than your average teenage girl, and to put it nicely, I am quite certain there were times that my father didn’t know what to do with me. My Mom tried enrolling me in Kaydean’s Charm School for girls; however, I was kicked out and she was given a full refund after one session. I was beyond hope, I guess. Military School might have been a better choice for me, but I probably would have managed to get kicked out of there, too.
My senior year of high school my strong-willed, insubordinate attitude was coming to a boiling point. I was an interesting dichotomy at that time in my life, my personality divided into two distinct, parts, sometimes jointly exhaustive and sometimes mutually exclusive. The reality of that time was that I was a good girl, a sweet girl, a smart girl, a girl who was overwhelmingly successful at everything she did. I was loved and adored by everyone that I met. I had a huge heart, and even bigger dreams, and every reason in the world to believe that I could go out and make those dreams come true.
Yet, in my mind, I was unworthy of all of my successes. I was a catastrophe, never good enough, not smart enough, completely unlovable. All the love in my heart, all the dreams I held so dear, didn’t really matter because I didn’t believe in myself enough to go out and make something with what I had to give.
My Dad taught me an important lesson about the lies I was telling myself, the untruths that were holding me back from a future I wanted to run towards. I needed so desperately to know that I was loved, and my Dad found a way to reach me in the middle of the unlikeliest of situations. In the middle of an Indiana cornfield, my Dad showed me what it meant to be loved unshakably.
I was up to no good with one of my friends one night, trying to be stealth and ninja like while en route to a toilet papering (TP) raid. It will probably surprise no one who knows me that I made a wrong turn into the middle of a cornfield, getting my Mom’s red Ford Astro minivan imperviously stuck in the mud after a hard rain had fallen earlier in the day. Believe me, my friend Nikki and I tried everything we could think of to get that van out of the mud. If I had been the Incredible Hulk, I would have lifted it right up and ran with it all the way to County Road 800 East. Unfortunately, if I was green at all, it was from the thought of what was going to happen to me when my parents found out where the van was at, and how it came to be stuck there.
There were times in my youth I tended to be a little bit delusional, and this was one of those times. I thought that my parents wouldn’t notice that I had left with my Mom’s van that night, but when I came back home, I had no van, just some really lame excuses and thinly veiled questions like “Where does Dad keep the shovels at again?”
The next day, the van was still stuck in the mud out in the middle of the field, and Nikki and I were back, furiously trying to dig the Red Devil out. I was sitting with my back to the road when Nikki said, “Um, Beth, somebody is coming.”
“Who is it?” I asked, not bothering to turn around and look. I was busy digging!
“I think it’s just the farmer guy,” Nikki replied, not sounding very sure.
Then, I heard a voice I would recognize anywhere as it erupted in a stream of expletives that I can’t possible repeat here, leaving a death sentence hanging in the air over me.
My dad was standing right behind me. My mom was, too, but I wasn’t worried about my Mom. If there was going to be bloodshed, it would be by my Dad’s hands, not my Mom’s.
I was caught red handed, or rather, shovel handed, with the Red Devil up to its axles in mud.
Of course, my Dad demanded to know just exactly how the van ended up in the middle of the field. I replied innocently enough, “I made a wrong turn.” My Dad opened the sliding door to the back of the van, which revealed two cases of discount store toilet paper, and several cans of silly string and shaving cream. He looked at me knowingly, and I knew that he knew exactly what I was up to.
In that moment, I was pretty sure my Dad had done some TPing of his own in his younger days.
“I swear I don’t know how you, of all my children, always manages to be the one to get into so much trouble,” said my Dad, shaking his head and pounding his fist on the hood of the van.
He was right. Up to that point, I was the reigning queen of catastrophes in our family. In fact, I pretty much still am.
“We will talk about this later, young lady,” my Dad told me, after confirming that both Nikki and I were okay. “In the meantime, consider yourself permanently grounded, and I think it goes without saying that it will be a long, long time before I ever let you drive one of my cars again.”
To me, this sounded reasonable. A life sentence without the possibility of parole and never having to drive again was preferable to the alternative of the electric chair, which was what I felt like I deserved.
Later, after the van was extracted from the field and the steam rolling out of Dad’s ears had dissipated after he received the bill for the new transmission, towing service and other repairs, we had the discussion he had promised. There are a few conversations that my Dad and I have had over the years that stand out vividly in my mind, and this was one of them. Even though my Dad was unquestionably angry with the choices I had made, even though I made a royal mess of things that night in the cornfield, my Dad loved me anyway; in fact, in my muddles, he grew to love me more because I had revealed for all to see, including myself, that no matter how I old became, I would never be too old to deeply need the love of my father.
How nice it would be to honestly say I never disappointed my father again with the choices I have made in my life, and with the subsequent spectacular failures that followed, but I can’t. What I can say is this: my Dad has established a consistent pattern of showing me that when I am in my darkest places, and when my heart is shattered into a million pieces on the ground all around me, he will be there to protect me, to guide me, to help me pick the pieces up one by one until I am tenacious enough to start fighting my battles on my own again.
With everything that I am, I thank my Dad for showing me here on earth a piece of what my heavenly Father’s love for me must be like.
When I am disobedient, He sets me straight. If I’m stuck in the mud, He tenderly pulls me out, sets me straight while loving me any way.
As I sit amidst the broken pieces of my heart, shards littering the ground around me, He picks them up one by one even as it causes His own hands to bleed with grace and mercy.
When I fight with everything I have to climb insurmountable hills with a shaky and unsteady gait, He’s there, too, encouraging me to press on, whispering in my ear, “You can do this! It’s just a little farther now!”
As I’ve wandered in the desert of my own sinfulness, dying on the inside for a quenching drink that only He can provide, too stubborn and willful to confess my sins, He’s been there waiting by the mailbox patiently for me. No matter how long it takes for me to come to my senses and come back home to Him, He has always been right there waiting for me, waiting to bring me back home to where I belong.
So, it is with much love and gratitude in my heart for all of these lessons, and the ones left unspoken, that I thank you, Dad. The older I grow, the deeper I appreciate how blessed I was to have a man like you for a father when I was growing up. I am infinitely more blessed now to watch you be a Papaw to my Alex, your grandson and spitting image. If I had one wish to give that would change the world and make it a better place, my wish would be this: that all the little girls in the world who don’t have a Daddy like you were to me would find one just like you to call their own.
I love you, Dad! Happy Father’s Day 2013 from your oldest daughter who shall remain always, your Queen B.