When Daddies say, “I’m Sorry”

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I was 28 years old when I heard the words my heart didn’t know it needed so desperately.
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Human beings are good at adapting, especially as kids. When you’re going through that awkward middle school stage and you don’t feel beautiful, you become the “smart one” or the class clown. If things aren’t perfect at home, you find a bandaid to cover the hurt, and bandaids come in all shapes and sizes.

Some do little more than conceal a wound with cartoon hearts and smiley faces, while others release a medicine that actually starts the healing process. It took me years to realize that ambition and all of the trophies it earns cannot fill the vacancy intended for a father. I tried so hard to sing or pole-vault my way into a place of affection and approval, but the euphoria of success doesn’t last long before the bandage is ripped off again.

I am so thankful for the “healing bandaids” in my life–an uncle, a pastor, a track coach, a principal–that helped to protect my heart, dosing my self-esteem with words of affirmation and a steady, reassuring presence.

I am also grateful for the father who finally came around, allowing me to see that he had never really left.

My dad is the man who held the whole of my 3-pound, premature body in one hand on the day that I was born. He is the one who has never failed since that day–from pulpits and at home–to proclaim over my life the truth that Jesus is really all that matters.

My dad threw me into the pool at family reunions and baptized me in my Sunday-best at church. I stood alongside my preacher father, high soprano voice adding harmonies to a deeper baritone, while his calloused fingers picked the melody to another familiar gospel chorus. He came to track meets to watch me fling myself over a bar from the top of a 12-foot pole; he even drove the bus that got me there!

And dad was gone sometimes.

Other times he was there, but it felt like he was invisible. Or that I was.

At times I thought there was nothing I would ever be able to do or be that could possibly eclipse the consuming giant that is the work of the ministry.  

Divorce happened.

But then something else happened too. I became a mother, and dad was there to hold my little 5-pound baby girl, not quite in one hand, but almost. From hundreds of miles away, the phone calls came. He wanted to know how we were doing and about my life.

I found myself once again standing alongside, my soprano voice adding harmonies to dad’s baritone, while his fingers picked the melody to a familiar gospel chorus. I sat in the front pew while he preached, and my mind wandered to another time and place. I was a little girl, and he was a younger man with just a little less gray.

Dad prayed for people in the comfortable way I’d grown accustomed to long ago. Then he startled me out of my seat,  calling me to the front of a room filled with people who might’ve judged. My dad stood humbly in front of me, and them, and spoke the words that opened the floodgates of my heart:

“I’m sorry.”

My dad said “I’m sorry,” and I saw him young–playing guitar and singing, finding his own bandaids to cover the scars left by negative and damaging words. I also saw the times he had tried to reach out to me in His own way and how gaurdedly, I’d kept him at arms length.

Then my dad opened his arms to me, and I ran into my Father’s arms too. A moment of forgiveness and acceptance on earth unlocked for me the truth of the unconditional acceptance that has always been offered by my heavenly Father. His love is no bandaid. It’s brand new skin.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are … “–I John 3:1 (ESV)

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Happy Father’s Day Dad! I love you and am so grateful that you are the kind of man who is not afraid to say, ‘I’m sorry.” You’ll never know how much that meant to me and also how thankful I am to have been raised to know and love God.

Thank you also, for allowing me to post this. I have such respect for anyone who shows the great humility and transparency that it takes to offer your own story for the benefit of others. No father or daughter is perfect, but I pray that grace and redemption will shine through our imperfections to illuminate the God who is flawlessly faithful. I hope other fathers and daughters might relate and be pointed toward the ultimate Father. Regardless, I want them to see you as I do:  a man who loves both God and his daughter enough to do whatever it takes. May we all learn from that example.

4 thoughts on “When Daddies say, “I’m Sorry”

  1. Thank you Holly. I was 50 when my dad said “I love you” for the first time. I understand your story. I love your writing and appreciate that you share it.

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    • We are all imperfect daughters, mothers, sons and fathers, aren’t we? And we each have a story to tell. I am grateful that God’s grace is sufficient and that He is with us in our brokeness, carrying us through to strength when we let Him.

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  2. Holly I was not the perfect daughter. My dad told others he loved them , he never would say those 3 words to me, even though I was the only child that would go kiss him on the head and say good night I LOVE YOU, his reply was always yea. I cried millions of tears over this. Then one Memorial Day weekend I called dad to tell him I couldn’t make it as I had to work. But said I will be there next weekend for your and mom’ anniversary. He said ok Chenie ( my nickname) see you next weekend. I LOVE YOU. I started to cry and said I love you too Daddy. Well I did come the next weekend. But not for my parents anniversary. It was for my Dad’s funeral. He died the wee hours of the morning right after telling me he loved me. (Sitting hear bawling ). See God knew I needed to hear those 3 words just one time from my dad in order for mr to forgive him for all the times he told others but never me.
    I never understood why because my Dad was a kind sweet man, I guess I was just a disappoint in his life. I don’t know. Thank you God for letting me hear those 3 words from my Daddy

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    • Wow, that’s an amazing story! God is so faithful to give us what you need. I can’t imagine you being a dissapointment to anyone! Maybe your dad wasn’t able to express his love for you well, but I’m sure he did love you. I know God does, and I do too!

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