It's been 21 years since my father passed away.
The day after my 12th birthday party.
We got home from a long drive. I immediately went for a bike ride. When I returned, neighbors and paramedics crowded my kitchen, gathered around my father lying on the floor. Dying. From his third heart attack.
One week later, after the wake and the funeral and family members came and went, I spent my first fatherless Father's Day.
The Father's Days that followed in my teen years, we would visit his grave. I would "talk" to my dad. We would "chat" about my life. Mostly, I would tell him I missed him. Not just on Father's Day, but all the time.
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Alone in my room. On the way to school. In the long lonely hours when my little body ached for his arms to wrap around me. Longed to cuddle up beside him on his recliner just one more time and watch another Turner Classic Movie, bathed in the sent of his aftershave, snacking on roasted peanuts.
Slowly, the scent faded. The longing and aching for him dulled a little each year.
I thought I was finally "over it." Over his passing. Looking back, it never really went away. A girl never stops wanting or needing a daddy. I just filled the slot with other stuff. With boys and food and television and staying up all night with friends. With distractions that made me forget for a while. With any form of attention that might resemble love.
It's been 21 years, and now I'm a woman of 33.
My son cuddles up beside me now, bathing in my scent as we watch Elmo together, drinking milk from his sippy cup. His twin sisters growing inside me, my belly swelling and swaying as they are knit together in my womb, under their brother's outstretched arms wrapped around my middle.
Even though I'm the grown up in the recliner, I'm also still that little girl. I long to crawl in my father's lap and rest in his arms. Bathe in his love and comfort, the scent of his acceptance and strength.
I don't know how I've spent so many Father's Days without him, how I've soldiered on each day with empty arms and empty heart. Fatherlessness is hard to explain. Even adults like me, having lost a parent 2 decades ago, need to know we belong somewhere, to someone. That we have people.
Without a dad, I have this overwhelming sense of singularity. Like everyone else arrived on earth as part of a tribe, in a group of kindred spirits, with history and depth and ties that bind. And then there's me. Just.me.
15 wonderful years have passed since I gave my life to Jesus. Since I took the hand of my Heavenly Father, crawled in His lap and began bathing in His presence.
I've celebrated more Father's Days with my Heavenly Father than with my earthly one. More years of this life as a Child of God than of Chris Hawkins.
As much as I loved my dad, his lap was never going to be big enough, strong enough, last long enough. My daddy was destined for dust. As am I.
I wish my father had weaned me from his lap. Taught me to seek comfort and love and peace and strength from my God first, rather than just my dad.
Old habits are hard to squelch. I still find myself longing for an earthly replacement for the father gone too soon.
I wish that I had learned, in my earthly father's arms, that both of us were really being cradled by One so much more powerful.
Now I'm the parent.
Each day at nap time, my toddler runs giggling into my arms. We call it "cozy." Our cuddle time before he falls asleep. We whisper, "Are you ready for 'cozy'?" And he runs, ecstatic, arms flapping, smile beaming.
I sing songs over him, stroke his hair, whisper his favorite words. I feel the arms of our Father wrap around we two, my son and I, both Children of the same God. Both basking in His love, His praise, His strength, His comfort.
As I whisper words of comfort to my child, I hear whispers in my own ear. Comfort from the Comforter. "Father to the fatherless. [Who] sets the lonely in families." Who gave this very lonely girl a family. Not just a biological one, created with my wonderful spouse, but a holy one, of brothers and sisters in Christ.
I hope my baby boy feels Jesus through my arms, that the unborn sweet sisters inside know His comfort and kindness in my care. I hope that none of my children see just me, long for only me and my limited, mortal love, but see through me... Him. (click to Tweet)
In times of trouble, I want my children to curl up with Christ before me, run to "cozy" with Abba, not just their mommy or daddy.
I want my relationship with each child to be more than just the two of us. I want God to be in the middle of it, wrapping around us, stitching us together, the source of our comfort and strength.
Every Father's Day, I remember my father. His love for cooking and baking. His talent for art and writing. His laugh. His smile. His arms.
I gratefully curl up with my God, so thankful that He is unchanging, ever-present, eternal, all-powerful.
The Almighty Father to this fatherless child.