In my father's footsteps
For every three steps she took, he would take one long stride.
Her short legs would follow after him as fast as they could, her hand interlocked with his in a death grip, just to make sure she was safe so late at night.
He had woken her up and whispered to her not to tell Mom that they were going to go get a midnight snack at the local 24/7 corner store.
This little father-daughter secret that they shared so he could spend a little time with her.
Their special late night outings.
The first person who ever told her she was beautiful had been her father. When she was too short to give him a proper hug and her head would get buried in his stomach, she would stand on top of her bed and wring her arms around him. She didn’t like hugging other people but she loved hugging him. He was her safe haven.
He smelt of cologne and soap. When you entered his bathroom the scent would linger, blending with her mother’s floral perfume. His scent was slightly more prominent and every time she hugged him she inhaled that comforting smell. She treasured those hugs because they were the only time she could see him during the week. Even if she was already asleep, he would sneak into her room and kiss her on top of her head and he would whisper ‘Goodnight beautiful.’ He loved her. Anybody with eyes could see how much his little girl meant to him and how much of him was in her.
He taught her compassion, kindness, love and how to be gentle even when all she wanted to down was scream and lash out in anger and frustration. He never showed his anger but reprimanded her in love when she was wrong. He never lost his temper even when she deserved it. She wondered where his patience came from.
He was strict but always fair. When he was wrong, he would humbly apologise. He was her father. Larger than her, stronger than her. He was her protector and he loved her.
So realising he was sick was like being emotionally whipped when you felt you had done nothing wrong. Understanding that some of the ‘business trips’ he had been on were actually hospital trips. Going to stay with a friend was just to get you out of the house so that your mother could take care of him.
The signs with time became more visible. Childhood innocence matured into awareness. Being an eight year old in a country where no one spoke English was scary. She helplessly watched as the ambulance took him away. The realisation that he didn’t recognise her shattered her little heart into pieces.
The last Christmas she spent with him was in a hospital. Her family laughed and he cracked jokes and it all felt normal.
Less than a year after that she stood over his grave. Now a young lady. Her older sister had known this day was coming and and so had she when the parish priest came to see her father before he died. But it had meant nothing to her. It was just the symbolic tradition of her faith.
She felt that no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t get the hospital smell of methylated spirits to wash off her skin. It was the scent of death which clung to her, a reminder her that her father had been dying.
Now he was gone.
She was allowed to see his body before the funeral and even then she didn’t shed a tear but kept a stiff upper lip. She stood over his grave with the dirt in her hand, so coarse she felt that the grains could be counted. When she delivered her speech at the funeral, her words were loud and clear. Not once did her voice break.
In that moment, she truly believed she would see her father again in heaven. She was grateful that his pain was gone. She imagined him looking down on her and in her nightly prayers she would ask God to pass on messages to him.
These thoughts consoled her for many years. Yet her heart did not heal. The brokenness grew. This fairy-tale view of life started dismantling as truth was confronting her and ‘what ifs’ began unsettling her. She was unable to fully recognise what the discomfort was until one day it looked her in the face.
What if her father was not in Heaven?
Her view that good, moral people went to heaven was being shaken from a place deep within her heart. Her father was a good, moral and kind man. He had done the right things. He had acknowledged God and was a loving man. Surely that had gained him entrance through Heaven’s gates? Even if he didn’t go to church, even if he didn’t read his Bible, surely he had a place there, right? What if she died? Would she go to Heaven? Her belief system was beginning to fade. Something was not right.
She wished she could fight it but she knew the truth that the Gospel had revealed to her. She had accepted that truth. She recognised that morality and acts of kindness were not enough anymore and she wondered what that might mean for her father who was already gone?
She understood that if he had not surrendered his life to Christ before he died then all her hopes of seeing him in Heaven were lost.
Grief, fresh and new, washed over her. Her mourning wasn’t because her father had died, but over the fact that she didn’t know where his soul was. The ache in her chest was unbearable. Her hero was gone, forever, and left her lost and alone. A little girl without her dad to love her and be her protector.
Although her heart beat in her chest with deep emotional anguish, she felt that this pain would soon subside. The wave of assurance began to wash over her with the knowledge that her heavenly Father loved her eternally. He would never leave her nor forsake her, even now, in this moment of toil. Nothing, not even death, could separate her from His love because she was His before the foundation of the earth was laid. So she stood up and let Him work through her heartache and she knew….His plan was perfect whether she understood it or not.
So she would hold on tight to Him and follow in His footsteps.