If my daddy had survived cancer, he would have been 80 years old on his birthday yesterday. He not only drew the short straw to develop one kind of cancer, but two—prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which surgeons discovered while performing the prostate cancer surgery. Doctors said it would be five years before the lymphoma would need to be treated, but six months later, he had to start chemotherapy. He “did not go gently into that good night” as the poet Dylan Thomas urges us all and “rage[d] against the dying of the night” almost five years before leaving us in 1996.
I think of him every day and miss him . . . and wonder. Is he looking down upon his family and enjoying watching the nine great-grandchildren who have joined the family since his death? He loved my children when they were little, giving each one of them a unique nickname. Is he happy with the way I survived my divorce and raised my children? His temple work has been done—did he accept the work done on his behalf and is he progressing in gospel knowledge? My son-in-law, who did his temple work, said he knows he did.
Daddy spent 21 years in the Army, serving his country well in Korea and then throughout the world and the U.S. He had survived a hard childhood of poverty and parental indifference to become a well-respected, honorable man in the community. He installed floors, and even now, I come across people who remember him and remark on what a good man he was.
He learned to be a good father to his two daughters through sheer desire and determination. I’ve forgiven him for once joking that I was so clumsy I could trip over the pattern in a carpet, because of all the many times he answered our prissy question of “How do we look, Daddy?” with “like a doll baby.” With a sense of humor, he always answered our compliments of how nice he looked with “Always do, always do.”
But mostly when I want to picture a Heavenly Father who loves and cares for me, I think of my earthly father. He was good, he was unfailingly honest, and he always put his children first.
One time when we lived in Germany, Daddy was “out in the field” on maneuvers when my mother somehow got word to him that I was going to be inducted in the Junior National Honor Society. With a father in the Army, you come to accept that he won’t be at home for every event in your life, but that day as the ceremony proceeded, I looked up and there was my Daddy coming up the aisle in a muddy uniform and boots, exhausted, and unshaven to get out of a Jeep and into the school to see me inducted.
Another time in high school, I barely hit the bumper of another car in the 3:15 chaos of our school parking lot. Scared to get out, I drove home a couple of miles away with the boy I hit following me in his car. What a relief when I pulled up and Daddy came out of the house to see what was wrong as the boy got out of his car and approached my car door. Daddy examined the cars, assured the boy there was no damage, and sent him on his way as I cowered behind him.
Years later, he drove long miles to be with me at another bad time. I had taken my handicapped daughter, Dawn, up to the Philadelphia area for a six-month evaluation to a center where we had, I suppose, “enrolled” in a 12-hour-a-day therapy program we did from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day in our home. Every six months we trekked 12 hours away to report and have her progress checked.
The people on the staff were rather irreligious, I suppose is the kind way to say it, and no time was allowed for church or anything other than therapy and occasional rewards. Dawn and I always went to sacrament meeting, but then I felt guilty trying to hide that fact from them. It was a particularly stressful time of my life.
That six-month period I was either pregnant and morning sick or had mononucleosis—I can’t remember exactly which—but had soldiered on as best I could, either nauseous or with a 102-degree fever, to do the daily program.
I flew up to the checkup by myself with Dawn and stayed with some friends. I expected at least a little sympathy from the staff when I shared my ill health with them. Instead, I received a lecture about not fully doing the program and was told I could either leave immediately and take Dawn off the program or commit myself more fully to it and stay for the week.
I was devastated, alone, and dreadfully homesick. Having learned to be stoic as most parents of handicapped children are, I surprised myself when I burst into tears as I related my experience in a phone call to my parents.
Without a second thought, Daddy said, “I’m coming up. Find a hotel room for us.”
He set to work postponing his flooring jobs, put gas in the car, and headed north. He got there 12 hours later at 2 in the morning and slept a few hours before getting up to go with me back to the center. My Daddy was there, and I felt loved and protected.
Now when I feel alone and scared in the universe and think that perhaps God had forgotten this one struggling child of His in a little corner of southern Virginia, I think of how quickly my earthly father rushed to my aid throughout my life. And his love was imperfect. (Remember the carpet pattern comment?) Surely then my Heavenly Father who loves me perfectly must be watchful and poised to help me when I need him.
Maybe indeed my Daddy is the one who watches out for me and then tells Heavenly Father, “She needs us again. Let’s go.”
To me, he’ll always be near and when I need to picture my Heavenly Father, the memory of my daddy helps me and is always only a thought away.