A year later I got married. I asked Daddy to walk me down the aisle, mainly because I didn’t want to regret it years down the road if I didn’t. The following spring, my husband and I had our first of three beautiful daughters. She was brown eyed and had huge dimples in her sweet little cheeks.
Those first years of our marriage were pretty rocky. My husband went to college during the day and worked swing shift at night. I stayed home with our little girl. When my husband and I would argue, panic would well up within me and I’d threaten him that I was going to pack up and take the baby and leave. My biggest fear was of him leaving, of him trading me for someone else like Daddy had done to Mama. I figured if I was the one to go, I’d beat him to the punch.
The saving grace for our marriage was our determination to serve God and get help. I learned to
banish the word divorce from my vocabulary. I worked on disassociating my childhood hurts from my relationship with my husband. In the process of all of that, I was confronted with the fact that I needed to forgive my Daddy.
I sat down and wrote Daddy a letter, asking him to forgive me for harboring unforgiveness toward him all those years and telling him I forgave him. He wrote me back expressing his love for me, but it hurt a bit that he never admitted that what he’d done was wrong. He never said he was sorry for leaving.
Not long after that, just before our second daughter was born, I got a call that Daddy had had a heart attack, resulting in triple bypass surgery. I guess God used that to get Daddy’s attention, because he turned back to Jesus after that.
In the years that followed we had daughter number three and I stayed busy raising our girls and working beside my husband in the churches we pastored. Our contact with Daddy was infrequent, due more to the fact that he felt like a stranger to me, than from bitterness. My daughters never really knew their grandfather. As my own relationship with God matured, childhood hurts and residual pockets of unforgiveness towards Daddy, layer upon layer, became healed.
When our youngest daughter was approaching middle school age, we got word that Daddy’s wife’s health was very bad, so bad that both her and Daddy needed to be moved into an assisted living facility. It was there that Daddy’s wife died.
In the meanwhile, Daddy’s health declined. He had Parkinson’s disease as well as dementia. He was moved to a care facility closer to my home and I began to visit him more often. He was often back in World War Two in his mind, but when I talked to him about Jesus, read the Bible to him, or sang an old hymn he would track right along with me. During those visits, I began to remember all the things I had loved about my Daddy as a little girl. I began to realize the enormity of the grace of God, and knew beyond a doubt that Daddy had made things right with God and was ready to meet his Maker. My Mama had even gone to see Daddy and the two of them had asked forgiveness of one another.
One warm, sunny afternoon I was driving to visit Daddy and pondering the goodness and grace of God and the healing He had brought into my heart in regards to my daddy. The thought entered my mind that Daddy had never once asked me to forgive him, or told me he was sorry for leaving us. However, the thought was more like a random fact flitting through my mind. There was no more pain attached to it.
When I arrived at the care facility, Daddy and I went out into the hallway near his room and sat next to one another on a vinyl covered bench. I put my arm around Daddy’s shoulders, the shoulders of the man that as a little girl I believed to be the most handsome and strongest man in the world. “I love you, Dad”, I said. With perfect clarity he responded, “I love you too. The hardest day in my life was the day I sat you kids down and told you I was leaving your mama”, and he proceeded to describe everything about the room we had sat in, the moment he told us he was leaving, in all the same detail as it was etched into my memory. He told me he was sorry and asked me to forgive him. I told him I already had.
The phone rang early one morning, jarring me awake. The caller said he regretted to inform me that my Daddy had just passed away. By this time, Daddy was in a care facility just blocks from my house. My husband and I rushed down there, and I hurried down the hall to Daddy’s room. He was still in his bed, looking like I had just caught him napping. There was a smile on his face. He had gone in peace. It was well with his soul, and I could say my final goodbye knowing it was well with mine too.