My dad was never a really demonstrative kind of guy. He told us he loved us often; said he was proud of us frequently; asked how he could help us occasionally. However, like most men raised in the 1930's and 40's, he wasn't terribly generous with physical affection. One unexpected look of merry amusement or heartbreaking pride in his beautiful, blue, knowing eyes along with a hug, then, could bring you to your knees.
As in matters of affection, the same held true for gift giving. Mama usually took care of us kids in that department. But every now and then, Daddy would surprise each of us girls with a small remembrance. One such time was a Valentines Day when I was about 11. Daddy came up to our rooms and gave us five girls a handwritten Valentine and a plastic, pink, puffy Ziggy Valentines pin. (Both Ziggy and Garfield always slayed my dad with their dry wit.) I'll never forget how excited I was about this unexpected treat, made so much more valuable by the rarity of it's predecessors. The card was signed, "love, love and love again....Daddy," in the gorgeous, messy, artistic scroll that was my fathers' handwriting. I was struck, even at 11 years old, by the repetition of the three "loves" in his signature. It was as if he was trying to express, since he didn't often physically, the depth of his feelings for us...triple what we might suspect. Oh, how I loved that card and gift.
This past Sunday, Daddy had a rough morning. He rallied beautifully for the first two days of my mothers trip. But the toll of the effort required in mentally processing without Mama, his touchstone, was exhausting. It broke my heart...his frail humanity, his wish to keep his dignity intact, his inability to recognize me as his daughter rather than "this nice young lady." (Though my dark humor kicks in here and is grateful he wasn't calling me "this old hag" or "this terrible taskmaster.")
Thankfully we made it to church, another source of comfort for him, and the tide turned. Suddenly it was Communion and Daddy's throaty Irish brogue swelled with the music: "Here I am, Lord. Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord if You lead me. I will hold your people in my heart." He and I sang with abandon, side by side, just like old times. I felt I had been given a gift.
Little did I know that the true gift would come moments later as we exited the church, walking to the car. I asked, "May I take your arm?" then impulsively leaned my head on his shoulder and whispered, "My Daddy." He squeezed my arm, leaned his head on my head and said, "My little girl." And for that brief moment, his memory jogged by our voices raised together in song, he remembered who I was. Like the Ziggy pin, it was an unexpected gift I will forever cherish.
So on this Valentine's Day, as people all over the country are celebrating their love for one another, I celebrate the beautiful gift of grace given with "love, love and love again" from my father here on earth and my Father in Heaven.