Once Upon a Time

Note – Many southern women use the endearment “daddy” when referring to their fathers, and most use the term well into adulthood. My Aunt Virginia, now in her 89th year, is one example. Stories of her father, my grandfather, often begin with, “I remember the time Daddy . . . ” My own father will always be my daddy, regardless of the passage of time.

Confession – This week’s essay represents a personal risk. I don’t usually use this style as I find my attempts clumsy and awkward. Risk, however, is the only way I’ll improve so here I go. Devan assured me that it wasn’t “too hokey.” (He also tells me that certain pants do not make me look fat so I’m not sure I can trust his critique.)
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Me and My Daddy

Me and My Daddy

Once upon a time there was a flaxen-haired girl who lived in a kingdom governed by a handsome and benevolent ruler, a ruler affectionately known as “daddy.” She lived in a terrazzo-floored house built by the ruler’s own hand, a house which still stands, and the girl was protected. There were two mothers; one a raven-haired poet who loved the girl as best she could, but only for a moment; the second, a wide-eyed teacher from a country far north who loved the girl as if she were her own. Three older siblings coddled and spoiled and teased. There were also patriarchs and matriarchs – grandparents who worked the land and filled in the cracks and held gas-lamps aloft so the girl could see through the darkness, a darkness that too often seemed stronger than the light. The ruler, however, was the chief protector of all. At times he reigned with ruthlessness and at times with indifference, but he always ruled with love.

Periodically he took his family on journeys . . . camping trips to smoky mountains, road trips to northern valleys, short jaunts to nearby magic kingdoms, and afternoon drives to the wide Gulf. He taught the girl to watch and listen.

“Have you ever felt water so cold? It started its journey as frozen ice far up that mountain. Here, feel it.”

“Thomas Jefferson built quite the house, didn’t he?”

“Mexico? Why it’s right over there beyond the horizon. Can’t you see it? I bet you could swim there.”

Standing on her daddy’s shoulders while peering into vast seas, the little girl felt that she could do anything, be anything, even though at times the distance seemed too great. Her daddy coaxed her – “. . . you can do it . . . don’t be afraid . . . jump” – never imagining that one day his girl would jump so very far away.

In reality her initial jumps were really only small steps. The first time she was allowed to drive one of his beloved steeds (a ’72 Mach II Mustang, long and lean and golden), he chased her down the road while urging, “Keep the speed below the limit. Keep the music quiet. Keep the gas tank filled.” When later that day she returned the prized possession bearing a hideous scar, his silent disappointment spoke more loudly than shouting ever could.

Eventually those steps did evolve into jumps – college a few hours away at 19; teaching at a nearby school at 21; traversing Europe by foot, train, barge, and car at 23; working with displaced Haitians at 25; backpacking (alone) in Yellowstone at 27. Never did the girl stop to think how worried he must have been each and every time she stepped out of his field of vision and never did the girl fully appreciate the fact that in spite of his worry, he never stopped her from leaving.

Before too long her jumps became leaping bounds. Papua New Guinea, a country little-known until the girl announced it as her destination. Devan, a man little-known until the girl announced him as her partner. The ruler visited this faraway land and while he did not stay long, he tarried long enough to glimpse the life she’d chosen. He met the locals and ate their food and marveled at how their differences were in reality not very different at all. He reassured himself that his girl was safe.

Leap. Africa. Kenya. This time the girl not only followed her husband to faraway lands; she took the ruler’s grandson away as well. Did she realize what a huge chunk of her daddy’s heart she carried with her? She did not. Once again he visited her newest adventure, and this time he donned a floppy hat and dug in her garden and traded cheap watches for Masai blankets and peered at elephants through binoculars and tried not to worry that she lived in a place so foreign to him.

Throughout these years the ruler, a man of few words, often limited his conversation to the concrete, the tangible, the things he believed to be within his control. At times he found his daughter’s dreamy speech and head-in-the-clouds persona confusing, disturbing. Taking risks was not his way and at times he found it hard to relate to her, a girl who seemed to take risks with abandon; at times the girl found it hard to relate to the ruler’s unwavering commitment to the known. In spite of their different views, however, they talked, and while their talk often centered on what could be seen and touched; the weather and sports and inflation and progress; in quiet moments, they talked of more, of things not seen. They often talked of loss, for as life went on it was their mutual losses that drew them together even when miles kept them apart. And the years, like the conversations, passed far too quickly.

Hop. Jump. Leap. Pause. The ruler, now embracing his graying locks, and the girl, now denying her own, continue their separate-but-not journeys, the girl offering an arm as the ruler’s gait slows. Past and present bleed together and at times old memories appear even clearer than immediate moments. Who is now the protector and who the protected? Perhaps the roles have been synonymous from the start.

William Walter Roberts . . . Bill

William Walter Roberts . . . Bill

27 Comments

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27 Responses to Once Upon a Time

  1. Miriam

    Beautiful…I too, refer to my father as “Daddy”

  2. Miriam – all true southern women do. Smile. Thanks for reading.

  3. Susan

    Nothing compares to a daddy’s love for his daughter(s) and vice versa. Your daddy is PRECIOUS!

  4. Phil Barco

    Simply beautiful…well-written and heart-capturing! Thank you. Love you as always, cousin Sheila

  5. Lyla

    Phil said it best. “Simply beautiful” describes this perfectly.

  6. emily roberts

    sheila,
    this is so sweet and dear. my throat is full as i read and remember my own daddy, along with how precious yours is to you. i also called mine pa, pop and popsie 🙂 what a gift that y have had him for so long. 🙂 the style of writing is so perfect for this touching story. you did superbly!

  7. Kathy Linn

    There was nothing clumsy about that, Sheila. Beautifully written, as are all your essays!

  8. Susan Baker

    Beautiful Sheila! God has given you a true gift- love your writing. I read this with tears in my eyes thinking of my own ‘Daddy’. WE are both blessed to have been loved. Treasure your time you have with your dad. When we when to Kenya many years ago I never really thought about taking my parents grandchildren away. Now that I am a grandparent I know how hard that was for my parents. Keep on writing and dreaming! Susan.

  9. Donna

    Love reading the thoughts of your heart!

  10. Patty

    Tears welled up at the first photo and fell freely during the rest of the reading. It’s good to know that you cherish and have been cherished by your daddy. A gift indeed. Thank you for taking yet another leap on this essay.

  11. Julie Perez

    Sheila,
    Beautiful, just beautiful…you have captured the essence of that girl and her daddy relationship just perfectly. I lost my own daddy young, but well remember many of the same feelings that you describe so well.

  12. Tammy Bass

    Very well written I loved it. My mom just went to be with the Lord this past week. I wish I could have written such a trubute to her. I did write her a letter from my heart before she died (glad I did) but nothing so eloquent as yours.

  13. Stephanie

    I pray that my flaxen-haired girl remembers “mama” the way you do your daddy. More than a full throat for me – full eyes too! This is beautiful especially knowing of your recent “journey” with Daddy. Thank you for sharing so much of who you are, Ms. Sheila.

  14. This style of writing puts a distance between the writer and the subject, which makes it sound very much like a parable– or “any-man’s” story. This can make it easier to connect for some people (e.g., I had the same kind of experiences on vacations with my daddy!) and to find universal messages (e.g., treasure your daddy).

    On the other hand, I missed your voice.

  15. Deb Ethier

    Sheila,
    Loved it… made me think of my dad too! He is obviously a very special man!

  16. Tricia

    What a beautiful, beautiful story!

  17. Erin

    You have an amazing gift! Great story. Us New Yawkers call our fathers Daddy too! My father is in Heaven but he’ll always be my Daddy.

  18. Amanda

    Oh my Shelia, I read this morning… Sorry I hadn’t read before now, I should have. Your writing is simply amazing, thought provoking, beautifully crafted, and above all inspirational. I had moved away from my “daddy” for the last 13 years and it was always funny living in the midwest because they just looked at me funny when I referred to “daddy or “deady(as it sometimes slips out) or mama.” They would just smile, but I knew what they were thinking… Your daddy’s influence is something I wish so many of our children had today. Your writing not only reminds me of my daddy, but of my granddaddy too, who now sits beside our God in the kingdom of heaven, watching from far above the very story he started 60 years ago with my daddy:) You are truly a beautiful lady…

  19. Vicki Summers

    Sheila, as usual you touched my heart….I like your writing style no matter how you choose to tell your story. I also Love my “Daddy” or “Deddy” as my sisters and I call ours as we are true “Southern” women says I; Vicki Southern Summers. 🙂
    .

  20. Beth Upchurch

    Sheila, you are blessed to have had such a beautiful relationship with your daddy. I hope you continue to trust Devan. :0)

  21. Molly Channell

    Sheila, your posts are a special gift I savor and a blessing to me. I could not stop laughing at the boys’ you tube video and loved the whole kitchen/cooking post.
    This one makes me think of my daughter Alicia and my husband Jim. I missed out on having the joys of a wonderful father but I am so so thankful every day that my children do have this blessing. Alicia plans to head to Uganda for 3 months in the fall for mission work. So hard to let her go but after 3 short term trips to Haiti, we are used to giving her wings so she can fly. Anyway, thanks for including me in your stories– love to read what you have lived!

  22. Joann

    Be encouraged, precious one, that every word you write-past and future-are “hitting the mark” (Daddy-God has your back). Your spirit, your heart and your love of life bursts off the page impacting each reader right where it’s supposed to. In this wonderful/crazy/scary journey called “life” and it’s nice to find authors who let you into your own life, by showing you some of theirs. Exposing ones heart is never a mistake for the unafraid.

    • Joann – thank you, thank you. I’ve heard of your graciousness through Martha and others and am so blessed that you took the time to read. I love your words “Exposing ones heart is never a mistake for the unafraid.” Amen.

  23. Not hokey at all! Enchanting, actually. Keep taking chances. They are obviously working for you.

    • Peggy-bead-lady – I can only surmise that you found me through Patty. How wonderful. You’re the second person to tell me to take chances so I embrace it. Hope to stop by soon. I have need for your expertise.

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