When I was a little girl my dad would put me up on the table and say, “Dance, Sammy, dance!”
And the two of us would dance like maniacs.
Not too long ago I caught him doing the same thing with my youngest daughter Kolby. And she giggled and cracked up as she watched her Papa Ken dance like a big goof with all his heart.
If you ask little Kolby, “Who’s your best friend? She will say, with no hesitation, “Papa Ken!”
Because she knows whose got her back.
As a little girl, it was obvious to me that my dad was different than the other daddies. He got up earlier and he worked later. He was ambitious, the proverbial Type A personality who drilled into me the importance of the P words!—Perseverance, Persistence and PPMF (Piss Poor Planning Means Failure).
He was movie star handsome, charming and extremely loyal. He was a good provider and strong leader. He was also a bit of a brat (and that’s putting it nicely).
But in the last ten years—slowly at first and then rapidly—my dad changed dramatically. Oh, he still had all the great qualities that made him a successful doctor and man, but he added to that the inner qualities that set great men apart from the rest—humility, patience, kindness and gentleness.
If you asked him what the difference was, he would have said God changed his heart. Many people will say this but my dad lived it out.
Where there was once darkness now there was light.
I talked to my dad almost every day –although in the last six months because of his brain disease he would forget and say “I miss talking to you Sammy, and I would laugh because we’d talked for an hour that very morning.
And during our talks he would remind me of our special stories—which usually meant some form of torment for me.
One of his favorite tales was skiing at Park City Utah. I was six years old and my step-mom Fran was stranded back in the hotel room with a broken tail-bone—probably relieved to get a break from the slopes with my hard driving daddy.
We ascended to the toughest run on the mountain. It was a triple black diamond run with “ski at your own risk” signs and “possible death warnings.”
A group of about twenty men stood at the tip of the cornice and peered over the edge which dropped straight down. An arctic wind whipped up icy swirls taunting the timid.It was a 30 feet drop to hit the snow.
Some men were brave and gathered enough courage to jump, but most turned around and went back to the lift with their tail between their legs.
I was terrified and pleaded to return to the lift.
My dad looked at me and said very firmly, ‘You don’t have to ski down, but you will walk. And it’s a long way back to the hotel.”
I glared at him and a deep well of anger churned in my belly.
And indignation launched me right off the cliff.
The entire crowd started cheering for the little girl who took the mountain. My dad said that once he recovered from the shock, he then had to catch up with me—because I didn’t slow down to wait for him.
This same story out played over and over again throughout our lives. He dared, or teased, and I took the bait. It’s why I went to UCLA to spite his USC and it’s why I had a chip on my shoulder all those years to prove that a girl was just as good as a boy.
Maybe he knew exactly what he was doing, because it drove me to achieve, but in the end it didn’t matter–in the end I had nothing left to prove.
Once my dad changed, the chip on my shoulder turned to mush.
I knew without a doubt that he simply loved me for who I was, not for what I accomplished, or the things I accumulated, just unconditionally.
And his love was life changing to a grown up woman with a little girl’s heart still seeking the love and approval of a father.
Some people never realize what they have until it’s gone. Not my dad. In the last few years Ken not only recognized his many blessings but he became a huge blessing to those around him.
On Thanksgiving Day this year, my dad said at the dinner table he was most grateful for his relationship with God. I prayed for fifteen years to hear my dad say those words.
If I had been honest, which I wasn’t because I am protective of my tears and didn’t want to cry like a baby over the turkey, I would have said, “I am most grateful for finally having the relationship of my dreams with my dad.”
It might have taken 38 years—but the last few years made up for a lifetime.
On the night my daddy died, I sat and read to him. He squeezed my hand as I read this verse from Eccles. 3.
“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”
It was right at a time to dance that I got the squeeze. I jumped up and I kissed his forehead and he raised his eyebrow.
(Pretty good for being in a coma)
They say it’s not how you start a race that matters; it’s how you finish it.
I believe Jesus is now holding my dad’s hand and putting him in a place of honor. He is saying well done, my good and faithful servant.
And I can hear the sound of a million angels singing.
And my dad is dancing on the table like a big goof.