On Becoming a Daddy’s Girl

Daddy and me

My parents planned a big vacation every summer which usually involved driving long distances. We were on our way to Colorado one year when we stopped at a mom and pop diner in some dusty town out in West Texas or maybe New Mexico. My father hated—really loathed—fast food. As a result, we found ourselves in lots of these local joints, which every once in awhile featured miniature juke boxes at each table. Cool! My older brother and I were always interested in these little gadgets but even more interested in finding a quarter that might be left behind in the return slot.

We must have been five and eight years old or maybe a bit older when this incident occurred. Sitting as a family at the table, relieved to be out of the car after miles and miles and miles, my parents no doubt would have done anything to prevent an argument between Travis and me. Directly we discovered a quarter on the table right under the little juke box.  You know what happened, right? The all too familiar it’s mine, no it’s mine fight commenced. My weary parents endured a few minutes of this before my father intervened in his usual heavy handed fashion.

KATH-erine!!” He often overemphasized the first syllable when he used my full name. “Leave it there. It’s not for you. That’s a tip that was left on the table.”

More arguing, whining, and negotiating ensued, but Dad could put the fear of God in us. We sat and sulked and the quarter remained, shining tantalizingly, on the table. I just almost couldn’t stand it.

In my defense, I didn’t know what it meant when he called this quarter a tip. Had he simply said, “It belongs to the waitress,” I might (heavy emphasis on might) have done things differently. From the moment we spotted the coin, I believed that it had come from juke box’s return slot (this is still my firm conviction, by the way). Calling it a tip made no dent on me whatever, and to this day I do not understand, if he was so concerned that the waitress have what was rightfully hers, why did he not give her the darn thing?  That mystery remains.

The waitress came and went several times, but the quarter kept its lonely position on the table near the salt, pepper, ketchup, and sugar packets. What’s a greedy girl to do? It worked its manipulative magic on me until I could take it no more. To put this in perspective, in 1975 that one quarter could buy a young traveler such as myself a whole pack of Juicy Fruit. I mean, this was a gold mine. Why oh why is it forbidden?

By the time we had finished—and my father had left that poor waitress a more substantial tip—the quarter had a cozy new home inside my pocket. Not exactly a master criminal, I didn’t have the sense to keep the news of this good fortune to myself, especially when I’d gotten the best of my older brother and half the fun of that is harassing said sibling.

We piled back in the Impala and prepared to bake on the dark vinyl interior. No more than a mile down the road, I pulled out my new prized possession and dangled it mockingly under Travis’ nose.

“Daaa—aaadd!!!!!!! Katie took that quarter off the taaaaa—-ble!!!”

The car lurched violently at the sudden application of the car’s brakes.

Oh dear. It appears I have overplayed my hand. This was most unwise.

Locking his gaze on me in the rearview mirror, Dad’s reaction played out terrifyingly in the reflection for me to see. His eyebrows shot up over the rim of his glasses and rage took the rest of his features captive. It may be that smoke actually shot out his ears, or that could have been my vision fading to black as horror took me right to the brink of passing out and then snatched me cruelly back.

A loud, angry lecture followed which included repetition of my first, middle, and last names (KATH-erine, not Katie, mind you), and the declaration that I would be taking that quarter back into the restaurant and apologizing to that poor waitress for stealing her money. That I had actually robbed someone of their property was news to me. But other than that, his thorough indignation and resulting rant was no skin off me; I was more concerned with derriere preservation at this point. How could I feasibly get from the car to the restaurant lobby and back without the full weight of his wrath landing squarely on my behind?

I should not have wasted any time on that lost cause. He was sneaky about it, though. Shoulders slumped in humiliation, heart pounding in fear, I walked into the restaurant lobby where I delivered a most sincere apology to several amused waitresses gathered around the hostess stand.  Summoning the courage to make my little speech and then practically dying in embarrassment at the wait staff’s smirks afforded me just enough time to forget what was inevitable.

And, as if out of nowhere, shuuuu-WAPPPP!

Dad gummit. This ain’t my first rodeo.  What was I thinking? In the event of an imminent pop on the rump, always allow the parental figure to walk in front of you.

One of  Suze Orman’s methods of turning you around financially is to get you in touch with your earliest memories of money. I thought this was an interesting exercise. I don’t have to dig deep for that memory. My father used to drop me off at my Sunday school class when I was two years old. He would always take out a penny, put it in a tithe envelope and help me write 1c for the amount.  It was my happy privilege to turn the money in to my teacher. Also a great exercise.

I can point to other memories of my dad with money, too. Another time when we were traveling, I skipped up to the window at a gas station with my dad during a stop. Though I wasn’t paying much attention, and was kind of young to understand the exchange, I clearly remember my dad handing the attendant a bill and taking his change. We started walking back to the car when my dad made an abrupt about face and returned to the window. I followed, but I didn’t see or hear my father talking to the attendant. I just remember the attendant acting very surprised, a little flustered and quite grateful, while taking some bills back from Dad.

When I got older, I realized that he had given too much change, and from the attendant’s reaction, I gather it was way too much change, possibly a costly error. He must have acted so surprised because most people wouldn’t have corrected an error like that. When the attendant shortchanges the customer, yes, expect a little hissy fit. But not when the mistake fattens the pockets of the customer.

So, Suze Orman, here is what my father taught me all those years ago about money. No amount is so small that it doesn’t have to go where it belongs.

He was teaching me even when he wasn’t teaching me. My dad was a great man.

I was determined not to let him die without saying everything that needed to be said.  I thought I’d done this when I told him repeatedly how much I loved him. If I had a few minutes with him today, I know exactly what I would say:

Daddy, when I was single and dating, the number one quality that I wanted in a man was integrity.

And when I found and married that man of integrity, I was so proud to be your daughter that it actually grieved me to lose my maiden name.

Wedding Day

I miss you, Daddy. Happy Father’s Day.

On disclaimers and death…

The following post requires a disclaimer. It’s not light or humorous commentary on life. Not at all. What follows is an example of why I waited so long to start a blog. I’ve wanted to–and friends have been telling me to–for a few years. When I quit my teaching job, a blog was on the to-do list. But right at the time the job ended, my father was locked in a battle for his life againt leukemia. The week prior to Father’s Day last year was one of the hardest of my life. He was dying and I couldn’t be with him. A week later I was there at his death bed.

For months after he died, I simply didn’t have the emotional energy to write anything that I felt could be published, just lots of personal journal entries. I didn’t want to start a blog and only have gloom and doom to discuss, so I got myself a ways into the grieving process before I started writing with the hopes of getting published. But since Father’s Day is this week, and the first anniversary of his death is approaching, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about where God has taken me in the last eighteen months. It’s actually been very surprising, especially to me. Someone should be able to benefit from what I’ve been through.

What follows is a post I wrote for a fundraising website in fall of last year. When my father was diagnosed, I committed to running a half-marathon with Team in Training to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. For a while I entertained the fantasy that he would be well enough to cheer me across the finish line. I ran the race in his memory. This was written about six months after his diagnosis.

“I haven’t wanted to update because I haven’t wanted to write. Normally, I enjoy ticking away at the computer, and it’s fun to run across an old picture that I’d forgotten about. Here we have a picture—that I didn’t know existed—of my dad with my now six year old daughter. What a joy to find this little gem buried in my computer files. Yet there’s a terrible sadness I feel looking at it.

It’s very difficult to put into words what this loss is doing to me. Nothing could have prepared me for this. NOTHING. There is no adequate description of grief in this world, I think. If we could describe it, then we might be able to give others a heads-up, and maybe there wouldn’t be this awful shock when a crisis occurs. I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to see my dad—my hero—sick and in pain. More than that, I was completely ignorant of how deeply you ache when you lose someone you love. What a child I’ve been.

Today in church it hit me. I was listening, Mom. In fact the sermon, “What Happens When We Die”, was practically written for me. Barry even mentioned in his introduction that several church members had lost fathers recently. I know what happens when the followers of Jesus Christ die. Thank God for giving me parents that wanted me to know the truth, to know God’s Word, and to have wisdom to turn to it when I need answers about sin, grace , salvation, and eternity.

I haven’t been thrown off so much by what happens when we die, but over why it’s so hard when we’re here. My despairing comment to my husband a few weeks ago was, “The world really is just a giant ant hill, isn’t it?” It feels that way. Just a bunch of insects. Here and there, a few get squashed (or some idiot fourth grader sets a firecracker off in the middle of the mound) and for a short time the rest of the insects go completely bananas. But even then, the chaos is more about getting the rest of the ant hill back to business.

Todd’s response to my ant hill metaphor was spot on. He spoke without hesitation. “Yes. But God chose to redeem the ant hill.” Thank you for agreeing with me but also not letting me get away with it.

It’s all there in scripture, and I periodically turn to descriptions of Heaven so that I can picture my dad, young and healthy, enjoying his reward from a loving Father—our God and our King. Having lost count of exactly how many pregnancies I’ve lost, I especially like to picture my dad playing with the gaggle of grandchildren that are with him in Heaven. Wes Prescott’s suffering is over, and I’m grateful.

But I’m still here. On the ant hill. And I’m in pain.

This morning the revelation was more about what good it does us to be here. God has given us little glimpses of Heaven in life on earth. My relationship with my dad is a perfect example. He was so special. He loved me so much. And being his daughter in that loving relationship gave me so much joy. As I Corinthians 13:12 tells us, “we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face…” There is so much more joy to be had. This loving daddy/daughter relationship is a very, very faint echo of a relationship that cost the Father His Son, and the Son His life. I was bought at an enormously high price, so that I could enter into the joy of my Master at life’s end. In Heaven with God. Where Jesus is. Where my daddy is.

But that’s not all. If we are allowed some shadowy awareness of the joy of Heaven, then certainly God in His wisdom exposes us to a tiny fraction of torment—just a bee sting, really—in comparison to Hell. I could run through a list of all the things that make this life so hard—with disease and loss topping the list. The hardest thing to describe about my grief is how awful it feels to be separated from my father. I’ve told my husband so many times that I just want to be able to make a phone call and hear his voice. The scene that plays over and over in my head is the last time I hugged my dad. It was June 1, 2011. I feared it would be the last time, and I was right. It all came to such an abrupt end. Without the cross, I’d have no hope of seeing him again.

The real lesson for me here is not about my father, but about my Father. If I feel such pain just trudging my way through the grieving process, how would it feel to face death without ever a hope for a hug and “I love you” from the Lord Jesus? If I feel sorrow that drives me to my knees in prayer, then how unspeakably horrible would it be to have no hope of my prayers being heard? If my relationship with my daddy could be so precious to me—as imperfect as we are—how grossly have I underestimated God’s love for me—that He would purchase me from Hell with the life of His only Son? The cross is truly a rescue.

I’m still angry periodically about this whole ant hill thing. Why IS it so hard? I can’t point to a scripture to answer the question, but this seems reasonable. Do you look for healing if you aren’t aware that you’re sick? Would I pay any attention to someone pointing the way home without first knowing how lost I am? And this one’s the kicker: Without sorrow, would I ever crave joy? I’m certain that the answer is no, because I have never hungered for joy like I have in the last six months. I guess you have to have some frame of reference for Hell in order to feel homesick for Heaven.

I ran eight miles last night. There is a song on my iPod—which I’d completely forgotten about—that I kept replaying after listening to the lyrics. It’s a Jars of Clay version of an old German hymn that was translated into English by John Wesley. All of the verses spoke to my heart, but the last verse is my favorite:

Through waves and clouds and storms, He gently clears the way

Wait because in His time, so shall this night

Soon end in joy, soon end in joy

Soon end in joy, soon end in joy

God will lift up your head… “