I wrote this up around two years ago and it's been on a merry go round of events since then; portioned out and put back together, accepted and rejected, first here and then there. I've finally caught on that its rightful place is here, which, now that I'm putting the finishing touches on, seems painfully obvious. Anyway, this is my story. Well, a part of it. A part that many are probably not comfortably familiar with because its not one I tend to make well known. When an idea relentleessy pursues you at every corner though, what can you do but throw up hands in obedience and offer it in trembling faith, right?
So I hold it out to you, the fathers and the daughters (your relationship is so important), the adopters and adoptees, the stepparents and stepchildren, the lost, the hurting, the hopeful. Everyone really. May the true facts that everyone, everyone, can have hope, that heros do exist, and that the goodness of God will always be more powerful than the darkest evil be like a tear in gloomy skies that offers one of those glimipses of the star studded glory beyond it.
The incessant buzzing of my cellphone cuts through melodious strains of Gershwin and supper prep, finally catching my attention. Setting my knife aside momentarily, I prop the phone awkwardly between shoulder and ear.
"Hello, Santa Maria Police Department. Is Carissa at home? We have a warrant out for her arrest."
"Um, you must be mistaking me for my Dad because, I mean, his humor is absolutely criminal."
His belly-busting laugh nearly bursts my speaker as I grinningly switch ears and resume chopping vegetables.
"How are ya, Dad?"
"Oh I'm not too bad, sweetheart, how are you?"...
The joke always changes from call to call - the police department, the telephone company, the bank. They're all kind of dumb but also endearingly his in such a way that sends a glad surge of warming humor into the iciest of hearts. And lives, mine in particular. Come to think of it, I suppose that's what he's been doing for me in general from our beginning.
He found us at a low point, my Dad. I was just a tiny bundle then, fairly new and wholly fatherless. My mom was on her feet but still reeling from both my arrival and finding herself faced with the lonely duo of just us - my biological Dad being stuck in a terribly nasty rut of life at the time. I don't know the specifics of how exactly things started out; something about old flames, mutual friends, and diaper runs, I think. What I do know is that he bounded into our lives with his expansive enthusiasm, more than filling the space of love and stability vacant to us.
Over the months that followed, he won the cautiously approving eye of family while baby-proofing my great grands home and hopping into my playpen when I was left to my own devices. And whether witnessing my firsts or sneaking forbidden sweets, he found a way to cradle my heart like his own. "I'm still not wholly sure who he was more in love with when he married me," my mom will still laughingly recall, but that statement is always backed by a warm grin in his direction that I pretend to ignore. He sweetened life in surprising and quiet ways while mom and I tried to pick up and jam together the broken pieces of our life. And when the time was right and our horizon streaked crimson with lonely surrender, he offered us a new life altogether.
My first word was Daddy and it was with eyes fixed expectantly on him.
The pan sizzles with the contents of my chopping board as I gently slide it all in.
"So how are the babies?"
"Oh, mischievous and curious as usual. Plucking my latest blooms in the yard for doll soup and then reciting scripture at me in the very next moment. So, good, I suppose."
"Ahh sounds like you're getting dished your own medicine."
We both chuckle over this - I in recalling the events of the day and he in memories. I admit I've always marvelled a bit, from the first night of sleep deprivation to the aforementioned doll soup, that Dad willingly took it all on. At times, parenthood seems such a dauntingly uncharted territory for the ones who expectantly step into it, yet he Louis and Clark'ed it for someone who wasn't even biologically his.
I definitely had a troublemaking streak growing up. I tended to be the one who tickled siblings during family devotions, forcing loud guffaws and feigning ignorance. Often enough I could be found proposing terribly exciting experiments like spraying unassuming solicitors through cracks in a fence with a garden hose. I'm pretty sure I once talked one of my brothers into stuffing rocks into his ears, and then humbly denied any collaboration when he started pushing them up his nose as well. But for all my trouble making and attention seeking tactics perfected over the years, I don't remember much irritation or discouragement from my Dad.
I do remember watching from behind window curtains while he had a serious chat with a six year old neighbor boy who had attempted to kiss me one too many times. I remember him piling us in the back of his latest VW project and hauling off at top speed to lavish us with multicolored Mexican pastries. I remember the annual father's day camping trips and the extra bag of marshmallows he would break out to snowball us and every other child in near proximity with. I remember his honest opinions over the the colored bands on my braces and the last time he tried to buy me shoes - the green vans with pink frogs that horrified me so. I remember the way his shoulders collapsed a bit but his head stayed high when I waved a last goodbye from the boarding gate to a plane bound for southeast Asia. I remember him sitting off to the side of my little speaking gigs, head cocked slightly and expressionless thoughts playing at the corners of his lips as I nervously spouted words from my notes. I remember the proud grin that wrinkled into his eyes when I showed him a small stack of college acceptance letters and attempted long speeches on the benefits of sponsoring my education. . . .
In particular, though, I remember this pivotal moment a few weeks before my tenth birthday. Sitting in traffic, our van brimming with uncertainty as Mom weakly waved a hand at our questions about what Multiple Sclerosis was. Dad, grimly clutching the steering wheel and trying to hide the tears that unbiddingly trickled down sun hardened cheeks.
It was the first time I remember ever seeing him cry.
I slap a lid over our simmering supper, barely remembering to lower the heat before kissing a few owies and attending to a potty run or two. Dad chats patiently on the other side of the line, interjecting humorous sarcasm and monologuing about this and that as the evening business unfolds. I'm silently appreciative of his understanding as I finally turn to the table with a handful of napkins and a carefully balanced stack of dishes.
"So how are you feeling these days?"
"Oh you know, tired. My powerchair is at the shop again."
"What'd you do this time, run it over the railroad ties or across a field?"
"Fell in a ditch. The Fire department got me out."
"They always do. Pretty sure you're their only consistent source of excitement."
"I do what I can. Hey, if I can ever interest you in buying my MS, I'll sell it to you at a good price."
"I'm afraid I'll have to pass this time."
"Mmm, yeah, I figured."
There's a momentary pause before he launches into an account of an encounter with a friend the previous day. I listen quietly as my fingers deftly fold and pat napkins into neat rectangles. I've never pitied Dad for his disease. On the contrary, over time it made him stronger and wiser in my eyes. But I won't deny that having family dynamics drastically change and watching him struggle through the inevitable deterioration of his body once haunted us with heavy chords of brokenness beyond repair.
Those first few years after the diagnosis were hard, really hard. I'm not sure anyone, ourselves included, quite comprehended the war that raged in our home over that time, but it was fierce as it was painful. And as pain is apt to do, it swept change over us so quickly that we hardly knew ourselves after just a few years of its strange work. I watched the progression from the sidelines as time marched on - canes, walkers, wheelchairs, memories. The man who gave me so much was deteriorating before my eyes and much of our roots seemed to be fading right along with him. A long healed scar in my heart began throbbing, subtly at first but steadily as time passed. Throbs so overtaking they filled my ears and pounded down through my vision, screeching the cruelly slow emptying of that Dad sized space yet again. Throbs so demanding that it took all the sickeningly sweet selfishness and deceit I could muster to ignore the surrender required of me.
Just writing those two words sends tingles of hope down my spine again. The very same victorious hope that allowed Dad to win to some degree. He didn't beat MS, of course, but MS certainly didn't beat him. For while I went off in a busy nose dive of blinding self centered bitterness, stabbing his and mom's hearts over and over when they needed it the least, they stayed clinging to the solid rock that is Christ and found wholeness in the midst of brokenness. All the grace my parents had claimed to believe prior to the disease suddenly glimmered through more tangibly against our black backdrop, pushing me to a place of being unable to deny its existence anymore than I could the nose in my face. And dad? That precious, endearing man still found ways to cradle my heart like his own through it all until I finally reached up from my lowest point and clung for dear life next to him.
"Well Dad, I'm off. Supper is on the table and I'll hear some howling if I don't call everyone in soon."
"Me too. It was good talking to you, sweetheart."
"You too Dad, call anytime."
I pause, losing a precious few seconds to thought.
I set the phone gently on the table and stare off into clumps of jasmine vines in the yard, my heart thumping quiet thanksgivings into the stillness of the moment. There's a sweet assurance in being someone's - someone's wife, someone's mother, someone's friend, someone's daughter. But to be left in a lonely heap feeling something like trash and still have someone come along and see you, draw you into their heart, and call you their own? It's unthinkable in all the most wonderful ways.
And it's my story. The one I'm given to whisper into drowsy little ears during bedtime snuggles, that I can pour into willing hearts over the ever present pot of tea on my table, that I'm plucking from my heart and sending off in a breath of hope - you are someone's. The eternal Father's heart beats out rhythms of love for you. He'll draw you through the wind storm of life and cradle your heart. He'll call you His own.