Sometimes It Requires Some Heartbreak

Growing up with idols like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, you get the image that a man is rough and tough and does not show weakness. And that worked great for me for years. But when I turned 30, my wife delivered a beautiful little girl. Little did I know that night as I held that small shrieking little bundle of flesh, that this little girl would completely change my heart and my overall disposition.

One night she was sitting in her high chair and her mother was feeding her when she became choked and stopped breathing. To this day, I cannot tell you how I got past her mom to get her out of the high chair. But before I knew what had happened, I had her across my knee and was applying the infant airway maneuver that I had been taught in EMT school. She coughed, her airway cleared, and she began to cry. I held her in a delicate hug and cried like a school child.

Soon she was walking, then running. I cherished the time each evening when the backdoor of our farm house would swing open. And I would hear, "DADDY!" followed by little small tennis shoes running across the linoleum floor in our kitchen as she ran to my office to fling herself in my arms. Several times over the last 10 years, I pull out an old VHS tape to see her smacking a small palm on the glass doors saying, "Dah Dah" as she saw me walking across the backyard.

And then one of the hardest days of my life came. Her mom announced she could not live with me anymore because I was treated her like she was stupid and was too demanding. My little daughter was too young to understand what was happening that night. All she new was that she and her mom was packing a suite case to go to Pop and NeeNee's house. she asked me several times if I wanted to go with them. I told her I did, but her mom did not want me to go. It broke my heart, and I could not help her understand. I stood in the driveway and watched my daughter being driven out of my life. I stood there for almost an hour after they were gone, crying like I had never cried before in my life. Not really mourning the loss of a broken marriage, but the loss of my daughter being in my life daily.
I prayed intently that God would build a hedge of protection around my precious little girl and protect her. I had to trust Him to protect her since I was not around to be able to be her protector.

After the separation and divorce, my precious little girl called me every night before she went to bed. Most of the phone calls began with, "I cried for you tonight Daddy." It would just kill me. And who could I blame but myself for driving her mom away. She would come to spend the weekend with me every other weekend, and I always tried to make it fun. I would see to it that her Barbie Jeep was plugged into the charger before going to bed on Friday nights.

I did my best to make all of her school events no matter what had to be pushed aside. Even after her and her mom moved two hours away, I tried to be there for as much as possible and keep up the weekend visits. I always looked forward to the Summer when she would spend 6 weeks with me. I always wished the Summer would never end. I always loved the beach and the water, and we grew to share that love. I taught her to swim, and after I moved to an apartment in Atlanta she spent several Summers swimming in the pool everyday.

She was my biggest fan when I was racing short track. She would stand on the top of the racecar trailer and walk circles when I was on the track with her eyes glued on me. It killed me that I was never able to win a race for her, because I knew she wanted that so badly. When I finally retired from racing, she did not take the news well. She told me so quite clearly.

When I bought my first Harley. She was so excited and made it clear she wanted to ride it with me. And ride it she did. She listened carefully to what I told her she needed to do as a motorcycle passenger, and fell in love with it. It was a wonderful thing to take her out on the bike. It was our time. The rest of the world could melt away as time stood still and all seemed perfect.

First the nightly phone calls began to stop. They became once a week. Then occasional. Then the every other weekend visits began to be replaced by weekend with friends and concerts she wanted to attend. Then the Summers became a week visit instead of six. Then they stopped. It was not anything personal, she was becoming a teenager and there were more exciting things to do. And I understood.

The tears never did stop. I would see a movie or TV story about a father and daughter and I would be melted into a sobbing mess. I missed my little girl and nothing could change that no matter how hard I tried.

Memorial Day she came over to our house with her boyfriend of to years who was home fresh out of Army boot camp. He sat down to talk with me while my daughter and my wife sorted through the things that remained in the room of our house that has been her for the last 7 years. Despite her infrequent visits of the last couple of years, we had kept it and her belongings just in case she ever decided to spend a weekend. Her boyfriend began a speech he had carefully prepared in his head requesting my permission to marry my daughter and detailing how he would take care of her. I knew it was coming. My wife and I had discussed it for months, but it still did not seem real. He is a fine young man, and I am sure he will do his best to provid and protect her.

My daughter has lived with her mom and step dad and hour away for the last 10 years. But now she will be marrying this young man and moving 11 hours away. I again have to trust God to be her protector because I will be even further out of her life.

I have walked around numb for the last several days. As I have tried to identify what I was feeling, I have realized that it felt and tasted very familiar. And then I realized what that feeling was. I closed my eyes. I could see myself 16 years ago standing at the edge of a brick farm house on a gravel driveway watching the taillights of a suburban fading into the distance with the words of a small precious little girl strapped in her car seat ringing in my ears, "Daddy, don't you want to go with us?"

God blessed me with a precious, sweet, kind hearted, soft spoken little girl to break my heart and make me a kinder and gentler man. I sincerely regret it took this kind of heartache to make me more into His image.

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