November 11, 2019 – I’m remembering Dad on his 87th birthday. Memories of Dad stir up a mixture of feelings: love, fear, sadness, regret, and thanksgiving. Our father-daughter bond, forever fixed–I love and cherish him with all of my heart.
Ever Present, Ever Changing
At home for as long as I can remember, Dad’s gaze most often met me when I walked through the door after being dropped off from the school bus. Like reading a trustworthy gauge, his facial expression almost exclusively gave me the atmospheric pressure in our home. His mood directed the kind of evening our family of seven would have. When Dad sat with little emotion and his words were few, the evening would most likely remain calm. That’s the face that wrote more pleasant memories in my mind.
After greeting Dad, sitting in his usual chair at the kitchen table, my childhood eyes would quickly scan the kitchen tabletop. Always within arm’s reach, lay his cigarette-rolling machine, his can of tobacco, a pack of white cigarette papers with the little lick edge; an ashtray, partially filled with cigarette butts and his burning cigarette; and often a small bit of loose tobacco, swept into a little pile after rolling his last cigarette. The variables I cared about were: was there a cup of coffee in front of him, or empty bottles of Iron City Beer?
For better or for worse, Dad was ever-present in our home.
Alcohol Transformed Dad
Dad consumed alcohol, but more accurately, alcohol consumed him. In alcoholic episodes, Dad yelled, cursed and bullied. Sometimes his actions became violent.
When I was a very young girl, I remember Mom running into the yard from the house, screaming, “Valerie, call the police!”; as Dad ran behind her with a butcher knife in his hand.
And then there was that Thanksgiving day. After angry words with Mom, Dad lunged toward the food-laden table, grabbed its side and flipped it, and our entire holiday dinner fell to the floor.
Memories. “I don’t want to remember you that way, Dad.”
Something made Dad stop drinking for a few years. What, I don’t know. The few years of relative peace we had, ended when Mom found an escape, and she took it. Without Mom’s influence for restraint, the raging alcoholic Dad returned with unbridled fury.
I made my own escape at 19. Remembering Dad with my two brothers I left behind, I felt sad and fearful for their well being.
Jesus Transformed Dad – Born Again
On August 14, 1998, three months shy of Dad’s 66th birthday, an episode of anxiety opened Dad’s heart for change. He prayed with me to receive Jesus as Lord over his life. His complete surrender to God led him to a baptismal font, where he made his public confession of faith before a gathering of strangers. Dad buried his sin-filled life, and this grateful new man in Christ arose from the water. Dad’s troubled heart could now settle into a peace he had never known. As I’m remembering Dad, those days were the sweetest of days for my soul.
A Gentler Dad / Doting Grandpa
Maybe a year later, Dad asked me if he could come to live in our home. He surrendered his small apartment and became a sweet presence within our family. Both an irony and a redemptive act, it was now Dad who watched for the school bus. Pouring out love and kindness from his heart, he took special delight in having an after-school snack ready for our four daughters. Everyone remembers Dad serving up warm bread from his bread machine.
His short time with us was a gift to all. Dad passed away on January 22, 2000 at the age of 67. His years of alcohol abuse had ravaged his body. Family surrounded his hospital bed as he slipped away from us, into the awaiting arms of his Savior and loving Heavenly Daddy.
“It must have been our Heavenly Father, Dad. This very day, I remembered your bread machine gathering dust on a basement shelf. Sweet memories and happy feelings flooded through me, and I hungered for a loaf of your homemade bread. I used your recipe, Dad. The cinnamon raisin bread tastes delicious–just like yours.”
Dad, as I’m remembering you on your special day…
“I’m thankful that our Heavenly Father turned our bitter days to good.
- He graced you to begin again. You exchanged your tumultuous life for redemptive forgiveness and rest for your spirit and soul.
- He shaped My Story into His Story. My accumulated memories of love, fear, sadness, and regret became gateways for thanksgiving.
“Smiling, I can say, I’m thankful that I resemble you. When others look at my silver hair, I hope that they think it’s beautiful–the way I looked at yours.
“Aren’t we thankful, Dad, for new birth, a new beginning in life? His mercy toward us and His rescue are Infinitely Beyond what we would ever think to ask. Rest peacefully, my precious Daddy. We will meet up again soon. Until that day, I’ll be remembering and loving you.”