A version of the following article appeared in my first book, Whispers from Heaven (Pacific Press). Since then, it has been adapted and published in a host of publications.
I post it today to honor good fathers everywhere.
When I was growing up, along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, I used to think how refreshing it would be to have a "normal" father. A carpenter, a plumber, even a used car salesman would have been nice. But it fell my lot to be the daughter of an old-fashioned preacher, and it didn't take long for me to realize that my father—with all due respect— was nowhere near "normal" on the scale of fatherhood.
At the seasoned age of eight, my twin sister and I had our first male caller. Danny, a harmless third-grade classmate, lived a few blocks away. One sunny Saturday he trotted into our yard on the back of a speckled pony.
Hardly had we said hello when the screen door squeaked and there stood Daddy, his tall frame filling the doorway. Like a sheriff on a mission, he ambled down the steps and over to our knight on the pony. “Young man,” he said, “I don't want you coming to visit my daughters again. They’re not allowed to play with boys.”
Mortified is an understatement. As Danny and the pony clopped down Hill Street, my sister and I contemplated stoning our father.
As I grew older, I discovered other abnormalities about my dad. Unlike many of my friends' fathers, Daddy never played golf or went fishing on Sundays. He never swore or drank or cursed. And he always said, “Thank you for the good meal,” to my mother after dinner, before bending down to kiss her soft cheek.
Yes, Daddy’s habits were of a different kind. One in particular was a humdinger.
From the time I entered high school, I was awakened every morning by the sound of my father praying. Many were the days I piled pillows on my head for relief. Some mornings I bolted out of bed and shut my bedroom door with such force I hoped he got the message that he was disturbing the peace.
Not a chance. If anything, Daddy prayed louder. During his morning ritual, I heard him praying for friends, families, church members and neighbors. But most of all, I heard him praying for me. And every time he called my name, I experienced remorse over some unkind word or deed in bygone days. I wondered if any of my classmates had to wake up under such alarming conditions.
During the years following high school, I longed for Daddy to share his feelings and thoughts with me. I pictured us sitting together on the front porch while he discussed his hopes and dreams for my tomorrows. I guess that wasn't Daddy's way.
One crisp morning just before my 18th birthday, I waited with my parents in a small room at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Hospital. Weeks earlier, my dentist had discovered an unusual knot inside my jaw. A biopsy had been taken, and the results proved troubling. We were sent to the experts for further evaluation.
The final diagnosis was not good. I had a malignant tumor that would require surgery and radiation. Nothing more would be known until the extent of the tumor was revealed.
As the days unfolded, Daddy prayed with more fervency than ever. “God, if it be your will, please heal my daughter,” I heard him implore over and over. I was prayed over by ministers from all over the country, but none meant more to me than the prayers of my father.
The morning of surgery found my family gathered in a solemn circle around me as I was being wheeled into the operating room.
“Why don’t we pray one more time,” Daddy said, his voice soft and steady. I offered no resistance but let Daddy’s prayer seep into my soul, melting away my worries and fears. The love I felt for my father in that brief moment—a love I scarcely knew was there most of the time—filled me through and through.
After hours of surgery, the surgeon appeared and triumphantly declared me healthy. I wouldn’t need radiation after all! In his words, it appeared the roots of my tumor had “shriveled up.”
Upon hearing that, our faces glowed and I have no doubt that Daddy’s prayers played a big part in that miraculous shriveling-up process.
As I grew older, I realized that, although we may have not had that chat on the front porch, through his continual prayers for my well-being, my father—in his own way—was sharing his thoughts with me. Those things he never said to my face, I heard him saying on his knees. He prayed that I would grow up to be moral, responsible, compassionate and truthful, with an unshakable faith in God. Such were Daddy's hopes and dreams for his daughter.
And in retrospect, Daddy's way was just fine. Like powerful magnets, his prayers drew me closer and closer to him, locking our hearts together with an unbreakable force.
And so it is with good fathers everywhere. Somehow they make their own path to their children—in ways that only hearts can hear and understand. Such is the mystery and power of fatherhood.