Uppermost House: The best hardest job

 

PeterLewisTreehouseCMYKBy S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

“Are you coming down with something?” the man asked his daughter as he walked by. She was home for a few days of rest with her family. A much-needed break from getting her second college degree. Enjoy mom’s cooking, dad’s laughter, a few nights back in her old room.

He was passing her room when he heard her sniffling. The room the two of them had painted in multiple shades of blue many years before when mom wasn’t looking. When mom finally saw it, she said, “it’s like living underwater,” and everyone laughed.

“I might be getting a cold. Hope you’re not,” the man said.

His daughter sniffled again, but didn’t answer. The man stopped and turned and walked back to her room and stood in the doorway. She was standing next to her bed and looking out the far window, and she heard him standing there and she sniffled again and said, “No, I’m not sick.” And then she turned and he saw her red watery eyes and took a step toward her and she fell into his arms.

They sat on her bed for almost an hour. Talking quietly. Hands fumbling with the blankets as they spoke of difficult things. Long pauses. The story slowly unfolding like an ugly rose. His daughter’s pain was new and raw and unexpected and complicated, and the man mostly listened. She was grown now, no longer his little girl, and these things could not be fixed as his kisses used to fix her scraped knees.

They worked through it, father and daughter, and slowly the talk loosened, turning to the many wonderful and good things of her childhood. She smiled as he spoke of the two of them growing up together — for she had surely not given him much of a head start, he said, scolding her softly.

But even with the grace and love and trust that had been the foundation of their family, even with the encouragement and laughter and lightness, the consistency and dependability, their life had not been perfect. For it never is. No father can guarantee his offspring a childhood without pain.

“You know dad, even I have baggage,” she said after a particularly long pause, fresh tears welling up. And then she spoke low, staring down at the bedcovers, barely audible, hinting at something so very long ago.

“I know about that. I’ve always known about that,” the man said quietly. And he gave just enough details to prove it. And as his daughter slowly looked up at him, the room became still and soft and transparent, and even though neither moved, the distance between father and daughter closed to nothing. And if you’d been there listening, you would have only heard one heartbeat.

And then he was holding her, his hands full of brown curls, cradling her head against his shoulder, her fists knotting the back of his shirt. Her hot tears running down his neck. His precious, twenty-three-year-old, little girl. “Promise me you’ll never die,” she finally whispered against his ear.

Hours later, the man prayed with his daughter and then she got in the car and left to go back to school. He watched her drive away, and his heart broke just a little.

The texts and e-mails and phone calls flew back and forth over the coming days. Tenderness and understanding and encouragement and love and prayers in the air. Some clarity came, and the pain began to slowly recede, like an out-flowing tide.

One evening, a week later, they were on the phone again, the man flopped on the floor in the darkened living room staring up at the ceiling, his daughter similarly flopped 10 hours to the west, staring up at her own ceiling.

“I wish you were here,” he said. “We could sit on the couch under blankets with our legs all tangled up like when we were little and watch chick flicks and just be together and talk.”

“Oh dad, we could just skip the chick-flicks,” his daughter said.

As he hung up the phone a few minutes later, the man thanked God for his daughter and his son. “Being a dad is the best hardest job,” he whispered into the empty room.

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