I have a great father who has turned out to be a wonderful Papa to my children. My dad is really just a big kid in a lot of ways. He works hard, but also plays hard. During my childhood, dad was a professional fisherman and in the vending machine business. He was often gone before I even got out of bed each morning; however, rarely was Dad gone for Mom’s comforting dinners. Afterward, we would sit and eat ice cream or popcorn and watch T.V. together. I used to love to sit on his lap and imitate the goofy commercials that often played in the 70’s.
It was a special treat for me to go with him on his vending machine runs. Sitting in the section between the front seats of his white van, we would blast rock music and sing loudly with the windows open. Most of the time, he would just make up the words to the songs he did not know. His versions always seemed to be a little less poetic but way funnier than the original lyrics.
The kids in my neighborhood also loved my Dad. He would play “shark” in the neighborhood swimming pool with them. I would hear “Beached Whale!” being yelled out and knew to take cover because of Dad’s antics with the diving board. He taught me how to swim at a fairly young age during our many weekends boating, fishing, and swimming at the lake.
Being able to swim was always very important for him as his father drown when I was only nine months old. When I was pretty young, Dad threw me over the boat into the lake, yelled “kick, kick, kick”, and then scooped me out of the water to the relief of my anxious, and angry, mother. His lack of fear spilled over to me, making me bold enough to try just about anything he came up with.
My dad is not perfect. He can be stubborn and quick to give his opinion. I’m sure like most of us; he has said a few things that he regrets. However, I’ve witnessed how incredibly loyal he really is. Even if his heart is broken over situations, he does not stop caring for his family.
When I was sick in the hospital, he fretted over my situation. He worried like any father would about his daughter’s fight for life. He was ever-present for the three plus weeks I laid there struggling to live. He watched and waited for me to start showing signs of recovery. The entire time he would whisper to me “You’re a little trooper Caroline” as if to encourage me to continue fighting the war that was taking place within me.
Perhaps, he saw a bit of himself in my fight for survival. While in Vietnam, he survived two close brushes with death. The first time, during a monsoon, Dad contracted dysentery. The deathly high body temperature that accompanies dysentery took the life of one of his good buddies while they waited for rescue. There he was, 19 years old, with his whole life ahead of him, slowing wasting away due to high fever, and all he could do was lay there and wait…wait…to be rescued and for any sign that things were going to be okay.
The second time during the TET offensive, an armory of weapons near Dad’s bunker exploded. He was rendered unconscious and had shrapnel buried deep within his knee. Because of all the chaos that ensued while quickly trying to pull the living out of the jungle, Dad was actually considered MIA for several weeks until being identified in a military hospital during his recovery.
One of dad’s memories from the war is that of spending Thanksgiving in a “hole”. Barrels of strawberries were dropped onto the muddy ground around him. Even though he and about ten other soldiers were being shot at, Dad bravely belly-crawled to the berries, scooped some in his hands, and then crawled back to the hole that had become his safe harbor from the gritty, life-taking atrocities surrounding him. I wish now that I could have whispered in his ear “You’re a trooper Dad” while he huddled in a hole in the jungle of a war-ravaged foreign land far away from the love and safety of his home and family.
Dad has always been a little outwardly stoic about my surgery and even his time in war. But, I’m sure he has cried more than I will ever know about his own battle and the illness that I battled during my youth. He watched his baby girl go from being a healthy muscular dancer to skin and bones. On top of that, he was put in the position of raising a daughter who would never have biological children. Throughout my growing years, his support never wavered. He was quick to give his opinion if he disagreed with my choices, but after-all, that is what dads are supposed to do. He made sure I had the opportunities to explore my talents, interests, and goals in life.
Okay…now flash forward many years to the year 2006. Dad rushed to my home as quickly as he could to see for the first time the precious baby boy placed in our home as a foster placement. I remember telling Dad “We are just fostering him. We may not be able to adopt him” multiple times so that it would sink in. I think Dad nearly fell in love the minute he looked at him.
Throughout our time fostering my son, Dad grew closer and closer to him. My son kindly referred to him as “Papa”. The two quickly became best buddies. The entire time my Dad knew that he may not be able to hold his “grandson” for life so he wanted to make the time he had with him special. Fostering was difficult on us but at least we understood what was going on with the legal case. Dad did not and could not know due to confidentiality. I am sure he worried about losing the grandson that he had fallen in love with. When the case moved to adoption, Dad was elated. His future fishing buddy would not be going anywhere and he would be able to finally officially introduce him as his grandson.
Dad was also very eager to hold our daughter when she was placed in our home. Her foster care case quickly turned into an adoption, but still Dad had to wait for her to “officially” become his granddaughter. She too loves her Papa. She gets so excited when he arrives at our house, runs to him yelling “Papa!”, and jumps in his arms.
I’ve said it before, but it is worth saying over and over. I love the fact that my children were predestined to be in our family. My Dad was predestined to be their Papa. He loves them, encourages them, and is a big kid when they are around. Dad may be a little heavier than he was in his early years. His sparse hair is grayer than it used to be. He doesn’t get up as quickly as he did before. He still may be a little stubborn at times, but, one thing that hasn’t changed is his heart and his love.
He continues to be the Dad I remember growing up who softly held my hand during times of illness. He is the fun-loving, giggle-making, and toy-buying Papa to my kids that they so deserve to have. He is fiercely protective of them and whole-heartedly in love with them. My Dad’s heart is reflective of a Papa’s love.
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”