“Can I take you to lunch?” Dad asks. “Your mom has an art class, and I’m driving over with her.”
I look down at my calendar, which is unusually bare today.
“I’d love it,” I say, and we make plans for him to pick me up later.
He hugs me when we see each other and asks me where I’d like to eat. We choose a healthy cafe downtown, and after we’re seated, he folds his hands to pray for us.
Suddenly, I have a lump in my throat.
I think of him a few months ago, ash-grey skin and breathing by machine. His triple bypass happened unexpectedly, and I was grateful my family and I had moved to the city where his surgery occurred just the year before.
In the cold, sterile pre-op room, my brother, Mom and I held hands with him and prayed, while he tried not to cry. It was hard to see my Daddy tear up. And harder still to say goodbye before the surgery, not knowing if it would be the last one.
Thankfully, his operation was successful, though he stayed in a rehab facility for several weeks. During his arduous recovery, I was able to visit him regularly.
“Amen,” Dad says, and I echo his words as we pick up the menus. When we order soup and salad, he harasses the server, which normally embarrasses me. This time, though, I just smile.
We talk of everything—and nothing. I tell him about a friend’s messy divorce and ask his professional opinion about whether or not the legal advice she got was correct. He asks me about my husband’s job search and my new boss. And when he offers to buy dessert, I don’t wave him off. We linger over coffee and chocolate.
For years after I left home, I wrestled with the way Dad raised my brother and me. We lived twenty miles from town, and I often felt isolated and lonely. He wasn’t much for socializing, and I resented him for keeping people away. At the same time, I felt smothered by a strict upbringing. And during the first decade of my life, an anger problem kept Dad chained and the rest of us unsettled.
But over time, I learned a bit about his childhood and young adult years, which had been traumatic. I sought counseling for my own anxiety and perfectionism, and I learned more about the perfect Father who had given me my family. Gradually, the expectations and frustrations that had hardened my heart toward Dad faded away. As I had children of my own, I recognized the Herculean job God gives parents, and I forgave my mother and father for their failings.
Unlike many daughters, I never once doubted that my earthly father loved me, even if he sometimes had funny ways of saying it. (“Have you checked your oil lately?”) He provided well for our family, so Mom could be a full-time homemaker—giving me both stability and a godly role model to emulate. And as a successful small business owner who began as the son of poor cotton pickers, he taught me hard work, discipline, and perseverance. Those traits have served me well in my career as an author.
Over time, Dad allowed God to soften his sharp edges. Now, with my two boys, he’s kind, patient, and funny. He apologizes when he messes up and is quick with hugs and kisses. And I know from experience that if I ever need prayers, a loan, or a listening ear, Dad is more than happy to oblige.
Back at lunch that day, we finish dessert, and when he takes me back to work, I thank him for making time for me. “Wouldn’t miss it,” he says.
I feel the same way.