Three seconds, and I was back in your arms.
Your face split into a wide smile. Hazel eyes with flecks of color so much like my own danced merrily. You asked me if I wanted to go again.
How is a 3 or 4-year-old supposed to make such a decision? Leave the safety of my father’s arms or rocket through the air higher and higher than my own two feet ever propel me.
What if you dropped me?
What if I didn’t come back down?
No. Even I on the cusp between toddler days and childhood knew it was better to remain with my arms around your shoulders and —
You threw me. Up once more toward the wild blue yonder, but all I could see were the heads of grown-ups, my own hands flailing and the green, green grass rushing ever closer. A sweet hug, and your laughter accompanied my unsure grin, wide hazel eyes flecked with color and claw-like fingers as my tiny body clung to yours.
It is so very fitting this is my first memory of you, Dad. Our relationship has been a continual cycle of protection, love, joy and the ever-present push to explore life, challenge the known and boldly face fears in spite of nerves, uncertainty and norms.
Is it any wonder it took me years to realize not every father-daughter relationship is like ours? You have been part of my constant two-man pep squad (Mum, of course, is your co-captain), a drill sergeant, the receiver of unfortunate, awkward questions during puberty and a fount of wisdom.
Remember when I was a senior in high school and I wanted to go jogging in the middle of a Virginia winter wearing nothing but short athletic shorts, long socks, a hoodie and a headband?
“Delaney,” you said. “You are going to need more clothes than that.”
My hackles rose. I looked down at my legs. They looked good in the shorts. My scowl met your exasperated expression.
“I want to wear this though,” I grumbled. “It’s not that bad outside.”
It was that bad.
It was so much worse than bad.
My ears started hurting even before the halfway mark on my run. Both legs went numb while I was chattering my teeth. The cold air froze my innards.
Tears pricked my eyes. My skin was mottled red.
I moaned and groaned as I entered the house, my ears clasped between chilled hands.
You gloated. Just a little bit though in comparison to the massively idiotic clothing choice I had made. What I remembered most was you chuckling as you used your significantly warmer hands to cover my aching ears. And then you hugged me, and, even though I was embarrassed, I cuddled closer. When have I ever been known to turn down a dad hug?
Countless hours of my life have been spent in conversation with you. We’ve discussed God, guys, books, beliefs, random people we see in the mall, world events. You assured my sophomore-year self there was no way North Korea could nuke us and my junior-year self that contracting the bird flu was highly unlikely. You taught me to stand strong against the power of guilt and work through the trappings of shame.
You, my dear dad, have been my champion.
Against fears. Against stressors. Against stupid decisions and the words of foolish people.
You have reminded me repeatedly of my worth, of my talents, of my triumphs and my future.
Every child reaches a point where they realize their dad can’t actually toss them over the house. They recognize when another dad could probably beat the living— well, you know— out of their own. It’s a part of growing older.
However, you stand tall in my eyes. Even when you did not know the words to say, you have always managed to make me feel better about whatever is going on in my life. You make the difficult times easier and the lovely times that much brighter.
It used to upset me when people said I looked so much like mom. Not because mom is anything short of a blonde beauty but because I wanted so much to embody something of you. I was already a female like mom, my young brain rationalized. Isn’t that enough?
Time has shown me I hold both of you in my physical attributes and mannerisms. Mother’s loud, boisterous laugh is becoming more and more prevalent, and everyone knows I am Sheryl’s daughter when I smile. I have your eyes, your lips and the shape of your face. Mom’s social butterfly tendencies shine through whether I am in line at the supermarket or in a room full of potential friends. Your mischievous streak and ridiculous humor pops into my head and out my mouth.
I am better for both the tangible evidence of my parentage and the intangible affects of your quirks on my personality.
Thank you for the love you have shown me. Thank you for the peace God has used you to bring me. Thank you for the laughter, the silly games, the joyous reunions and the ridiculous come-ons you have never stopped using on mom. They are still amusing. Thank you for showing me how a godly man should treat both his wife and children.
My greatest treasures have always been and will continue to be my family and friends. The thought of you, mum or my two “adorkable” brothers always fills my heart to the brim. Whether God adds anymore to the collection of friends and family resting in my heart or not, I am innumerably blessed already — especially since I get to call you, Bryan Walker, my dad.