“Where’s Dad?” I asked when we got in the door. I dropped my bags and looked around. The light above the entryway barely lit up the dining room table. I plopped in the nearest seat, ready to share with my parents about my trip. It was dark already when Mom picked me up from the bus, so maybe he was still at work or studying with a friend. My mom’s face looked longer; her eyes bore a weariness I would recognize ever after. Something was up! “What happened?” I barely breathed as my mental ViewFinder circled through the possibilities.
“He’s not coming home. He moved out this weekend.” My mind spun as my world changed from snow-capped mountains beaming under a bright blue sky to foggy gray covering a valley like a lid. This weekend. I had only been gone a little while. I went to a Teen Retreat at my favorite church camp. A smiling short guy, who we knew as “GP”, knew all his his kids by name. He was our Conference Youth Director who gave us lots of “Good Stuff” to know about God that weekend. Just that morning I had been sitting beside the windows overlooking the lake, enjoying a giant square of sweet cornbread. Now it balled up in my stomach, refusing to satisfy, as I took in what Mom was saying.
Where WAS he? Where was my dad right now? Flung into the arms of that “study partner” instead of standing here telling me his decision himself? He didn’t even say “good-bye.” I felt betrayed. Lost. Abandoned. I was just stepping into my teen years, those years where a father’s validation was crucial, in any girl’s life. Little did I know the chaotic life that was to follow. For the next six years, Dad came in and out of our home in unpredictable chunks of time. He continued his affair, completed his degree, started his next career, and finalized the divorce shortly before I walked across the stage for my high school diploma.
A teenager needs her dad
I needed my dad. Mom encouraged him to stay with us, for my sake, she said. Her father abandoned their family when she was only three years ago. She thought she was giving me what she wasn’t able to have. Not knowing how long he’d stay with us “this time,” and having to endure their heated arguments when he was around, made for a tremendous emotional upheaval in our home. Mom provided as much stability as possible to my older brother and I. She was frugal and fair. She encouraged me to excel in school and get the most out of every opportunity. But I still needed my dad.
I needed to know I was pretty, even though the boys didn’t notice. I didn’t need him to criticize and accuse me of being just like my mother. Didn’t he hate my mother? So…Did he hate me, too? I knew my view of a father was being distorted. I missed the dad who let me sit on his lap and write poetry with him. I missed going to church as a family. I missed hearing him talk about God and pray “say name-a-Jesus, Amen.”
Instead, the front door would open late at night. As he passed by my cracked doorway to go down the hall to his room, I could smell her. To this day, Estée Lauder smells like a skunk to me. Anger and the injustice of it all kept me awake, long after he had settled in. Some nights I would still be sitting cross-legged on bumpy green carpet in my dingy bedroom, pouring over a history assignment that was taking forever. He would stand in my doorway and tell me stories.
He was a history buff and highly intelligent, though he didn’t seem to miss being a teacher. How I did miss those days in the mountains of western Montana. He was a good teacher, but Mom thought it best he teach my older brother and I stay home with her. Thanks, Mom. I just didn’t have enough patience to look interested night after night while the time ticked away and my study guide questions gaped with blank spaces, which somehow never matched his topic for the evening. Still I tried. It was good to know he was, too.
Then he would be gone again. His tiny corner room would begin to fill with storage, yet mom kept his study area untouched. Tall bookshelves stood stalwart, reminding me I still had a dad. When I especially missed him, I would twirl in his desk chair. It smelled like him in there: coffee and aftershave mixed with old books and incense. My eyes smiled over at my grandparents’ pictures, wishing I had known them, but proud of the kinship we shared. Their beautiful smiles warmed my heart.
Then I looked up at that white bear perched on a shelf, wearing red and green. Somehow I knew it was from her. I felt disgusted again. Turning behind me, the disheveled conglomeration of boxes and blankets unsettled my thoughts. I swung to the bookshelves to check for my favorite, a brown, Thomas-Chain Reference NIV Bible. I remembered when he got it and I didn’t understand who Thomas was. My dad was a Bible scholar. Often his Bible laid open on the desk and a pen lay across a yellow-lined notepad. I enjoyed standing beside him, hearing his discoveries; the academics of it all was thrilling; plus, it was more time with Dad. We had learned a lot together in that Book, but here it stood, untouched, keeping watch next to the white little Bible from my parents’ marriage ceremony. I held that Book as a little child, reading the inner inscription, and believing. I believed God could hold my parents’ marriage together. I knew it was troubled, but I needed it to survive, because I didn’t want to be left alone. Bereft. Too special to enjoy. Too troubled to be appreciated. Too hard to love.
A different kind of father
And so it was that God came near. In the light of day, He stopped by the house with the cedar shakes. He came through a paint-chipped front door, past dusky white walls, and stood in the open doorway of my room. Clothes and homework were scattered on the floor around me. My Bible lay in my lap. I read this one more than any other because it was easier to read. There was also something about the way it put things that comforted me. That morning I was reading along when I came to this verse:
“And He said to me: “You are my Son, today I have become your Father. Ask of me…”
Psalm 2:6, 7
I looked up, thinking about what I had just read and wanting to understand. Could God be talking about me, too? I noticed my white dresser topped with a bright pink towel. Behind it the blue-white of my walls brought a frown to my face. Somebody’s shoddy paint job greeted me every day, after I had looked forward to having a blue room in this house. I shifted on that bumpy gross-green carpet, unaware that this was to be the backdrop to my favorite memory and the place where my life was to be forever changed.
That day in my room, God identified Himself with me. A thrill of joy broke through me as I looked down at those words and back up. Could it be? “I am your Father.” The words were delivered with unforgettable authority, straight from God’s Word and accompanied by a holy Presence that I knew only in my mind’s eye.
He gave me a different kind of father, Himself. I knew God already to be kind and good, powerful and present. Now all of this was embodied in the One who had become mine. Never alone again. Never misled or let down. Never rejected. Never forsaken. Always I would have His strength, His affection, and His protection. Always He would listen. He and his angels would stand stalwart, like a soldier throughout my whole life. Little did I know how much I would need Him as Father when life grew beyond those walls.
Reflections on this pivotal experience led me to find my old NIV Bible, the one from that era. The blue cover is worn and a corner is missing; the thin pages are underlined and divided with little notes and thick bookmarks; yet its silver lettering still shines with the precious words, “HOLY BIBLE.” I look to see how Psalm 2:6 is marked. There. Wide parentheses extend carefully into verse 7: “Ask of me.” I had forgotten He told me to ask. He is a wise Father to remind me! He still wants to be there for me. He wants me to keep trusting Him. I take another step of faith and feel His smile beaming through today’s turbulent skies.
Love that extends
I smile back as I swipe through memories on my mind’s screen. No longer a kid with a ViewFinder, these “smart eyes” have taken in a lot since the day God became my Father. When I shifted my expectations and dreams off my earthly father, every good thing I got from him I accepted as bonus. Little by little a tenderness towards him grew in me. Eventually I accepted the challenge to let God pour tenacious Love out through me. That choice changed our lives.
Dad and I share a vibrant relationship. His health is very poor. Each phone call is a gift. He ends our visits by telling me he loves me. His sincerity strengthens my heart because I know he has begun to accept Love. We still have intellectually stimulating conversations and try to avoid the pits of blame and regret. He still chides me on my looks and pays for a new haircut on occasion. He has developed an interest in my family and thinks my kids are as amazing as I was growing up! He is still flawed and I’m more humble. I have my Heavenly Father to thank for all of this.
One day I said good-bye to that blue-white room in the dusky house with the cedar shakes. I knelt once more in the light of the cracked-open doorway as I often had before leaving on a trip. Heavy sighs came as I rocked forward on my knees, feeling suspended between two worlds. I looked up at the doorpost for a special verse I kept. Only bits of tape remained; instead, it was fastened on my heart.
“Behold what manner of love the Father has for us that we should be called
With renewed certainty I stood up, knowing that no matter where I called home, I would always be His Daughter.
Enjoy this beautiful, original song by Molly Kate Kestner, called “His Daughter.”