Let me tell you about my dad…I call him Papa. I didn’t grow up with him the normal way little girls grow up with their dads, dancing on their feet, wrestling on the floor, memorizing his face as he read Bible stories, going on daddy/daughter dates, twiddling thumbs while enduring dating advice. I was not his little princess or tiny whirling dervish passing in, over, and around his legs. No, I had that with someone else, and so did he.
I met my papa when I was about 15. In a lot of ways, I knew him then just as I do now, as a hero, friend, angel (after all, his middle name is Gabriel!). He was the nurse that cared for and healed a severe bed wound that my grandfather had acquired during a stay in the hospital. The patient tenderness and single-minded dedication with which he worked his gift of healing, paired with his ability to put others at such ease, was inspiring. So when the time came for the necessary teenage job that pays the car insurance, instead of flipping burgers, I took the classes and became a Certified Nurse Assistant in a nursing home. At one point my papa was even my boss! He was never a harsh boss; we often worked side-by-side, feeding, clothing, changing, and dressing wounds on our beloved people (residents).
My papa became “part of the family” quickly, and cared for us in many ways: he ushered at my wedding, tended physical wounds, joined us for game nights, provided care for my grandfather as he passed away, and gave much love and laughter. In December of 2001, the man I grew up with, the man on whose feet I danced, chose death over life. My papa came to where I worked, and held me as I cried.
I wonder if, perchance, you can guess the next part of the story. He was, after all, “part of the family”. He did help us navigate the waters of pain and heartache. He saw us through the most difficult time of life to that point. We did always love him. And so, the heart of the little blonde was stolen once more, I stood as witness, and the two became one.
Life as the daughter of the one I grew up with is much different than life as my papa’s daughter. The one I grew up with prayed, “Our Heavenly Father .” My papa prays, “Hey God.” The one I grew up with wore suits. My papa wears scrub uniforms. The one I grew up with cut his own hair. My papa lets me cut his hair. The one I grew up with wore ties. My papa wears Indian neck pieces. The one I grew up with knew me then, and held my childhood memories. My papa knows me now, and is making new ones.
We have shared almost eight years of our own memories now. A few painful ones. He stood by us as we once again walked through the death of family, but this time, I not only lost my brother, he also lost his son. He stayed awake into the wee hours of the morning, waiting and praying, as I suffered greatly in the E.R., only to learn he was going to be a grandpapa, but now his grandchild was waiting in heaven.
But more memories than not contain loads of joy, fun, laughter, and ever increasing love in all. We have taken two cruises together. He helped us move across the state, and back again. He assisted with remodels in our home. He has cooked for and with us. We have gone camping, planned parties, started traditions, shopped (as a date!), prayed together, and even co-led a Bible study together. We are both lovers of “beer-thirty”, and he is the only man in my life to give me a gun! As an aspiring writer, I was thrilled to recently be hired on for my very first professional writing job. My papa knew my heart and presented me with a precious symbol, a Cross pen.
And so, on Father’s Day, I will be celebrating not only a father, but a man – a dad. I call him Papa.