I used to call him Da-Da when I was a tiny tot. He was the apple of my eye, and I was his. His handsome smile was like my North Star, and his deep strong voice made me feel secure. His laughter was loud and contagious. He had an easy way about him, and everyone who knew him loved him.
My Da-Da would have turned 80 years old today, had he not suffered a fatal heart attack at the young age of 56. We had just reunited about 10 years earlier. You see, we were separated from each other when I was just four years old. It was a day I’ll never forget.
My mother and I came home one evening, as usual. When she opened the front door, I bolted from room to room looking for him. I can still hear the pitter patter of my patent leather shoes on the hardwood floors. I can still hear my little voice shouting, “Da-Da! Da-Da!” But what I didn’t hear was his booming voice. All I can remember hearing was, “Girl, your daddy’s gone.” My world changed that day, and I had to learn very quickly how to manage my own tears and confusion.
My next prominent memory was my mother moving us far away. I was still four years old when we drove from Louisiana to California, just the two of us. In the span of months, a little girl suddenly no longer had her father, grandparents, great-grandmother, cousins, or other family members. She had been a daddy’s girl, but who was she now?
My parents were very young way back then, just trying to figure out life. We all make mistakes in our twenties that, unfortunately, last a lifetime. And now, as a 54 year old mother and grandmother, I have empathy for what must have been a difficult situation for them. But as a child, as a teenager, as a young college student, even as a young mother, I still had to manage my hurt. Some people act out with anger when they’re hurt, but I learned very early on to just stuff it down somewhere deep in my soul.
Over the next 15 years or so, my Da-Da and I communicated primarily via birthday cards and infrequent telephone calls. We’d see each other whenever I’d spend a couple weeks visiting my great-grandmother in Louisiana. And one year he visited us in California. Times were different then. Long distance calls used to cost money, and air travel wasn’t as common as it is today.
So I am grateful for whatever efforts he made to maintain contact with me, however, they weren’t enough. Even though he always told me that he loved me, I didn’t even know what that meant. Deep down, where the hurt was hiding, I didn’t feel loved.
At some point, around the time I was going to college, my Da-Da moved to California. He had spent many years reading the Bible, learning about Christ, and developing a prayerful life. So he called me one day to say that the Lord told him I was going to need him. Sure enough, within months of him telling me that, I did need him. Actually, I needed Jesus!
I didn’t have a relationship with Christ at that time, and didn’t even know that I could. I knew there was a God, but I just didn’t know Him. As most young people do, just trying to figure out life, I made decisions in my life based on what I thought was right for me, myself, and I. My Da-Da introduced me to a better way, and I’m thankful for his insight and obedience. I know it had to be God, though, because the timing lined up perfectly.
When things started spiraling in my young life, I thought back to how easy going and positive my Da-Da had always been. I thought of all the times he told me that he loved me. But more importantly, I thought about what the Lord told him about me needing him. So, I called him. And, he answered with patience, understanding, counsel, and prayer.
He introduced me to a loving God who wanted to have a relationship with little old me. He taught me how to pray with faith and thanksgiving. And, he taught me about forgiveness. In the years that followed, he would give me cassette tapes with Biblical teachings, articles about people and their personal testimonies, and handwritten prayers for myself, for my marriage, and for my babies.
To this day, I treasure those prayers and have had the pleasure of passing some of them down to my own children who are now young adults, just trying to figure out life. Because their Pa-pa died when they were very little, most of them don’t remember him. My twins were only one year old when we got a phone call in the middle of the night that he was gone. I cried like a baby, just like the first time I learned that he was gone. I could still hear those words, “Girl, your daddy’s gone.” But this time, he was gone for good.
In the years after we reunited, I was so consumed and overwhelmed with raising babies that I never sat down with him to ask about his life. Stories I might have heard over the years that we were apart were never shared. Questions I was too afraid to ask about why he left were never answered. I thought we had more time.
My Da-Da had called me and left a message on my answering machine the day that he passed. I can still hear his voice saying, “Call your dad, doll. Call your dad, any time.” There was a little rattle in his chest, as if he was clearing his throat, but I didn’t think anything of it. And, because I was tired when I got home, I told myself I’d call him back the next day. But, I never got the chance.
I can still remember his phone number. If I close my eyes, I can still see my fingers pushing the buttons on the telephone. There were times in the following months and years that I’d have a question about the Bible or about life, and I’d almost pick up the phone to dial, but then I’d remind myself, “Girl, your daddy’s gone.”
About a month or so before he left for good, he wrote me a note and dropped it in the mail. It was for my 30th birthday, which falls on the day after his. To this day, I keep this treasure in the pocket of my Bible cover.
I stumble across it from time to time. It's been 24 years since I received it, and it still makes me tear up. I'm reminded how much precious time we lost. But, I'm also reminded how he made sure that the time we did have was filled with unconditional love, wisdom, and encouragement.
Over the years since he passed, I’ve grown more and more thankful for my Da-Da because of how he helped me get to know my Abba Father. I have forgiven him completely for leaving me, both times, because he left me in God’s mighty hands.
So, today I’d like to wish my Da-Da Happy Heavenly Birthday. We still think of you, we’re still grateful for your prayers, and we wish you were still here. Somewhere deep down inside of my soul, where the hurt used to reside, I’m content in knowing that we would have made you proud.
Thank you so much for stopping by my little blog. It’s simply a vehicle by which I intend to reveal a bit about my own personal journey as a woman, a mother, and a believer in Jesus Christ. I appreciate you taking the time to “listen.” We do a lot of talking these days, but not enough “listening” when it comes to understanding each other’s differences and similarities. If you are so inclined, feel free to subscribe, drop a comment below, or follow me on social media @listen2leslie.