There are two kinds of disappointments in life. The first are real disappointments: the soul-wrenching, heart-breaking, life-shattering kind that forever change a relationship. The rest are inconsequential let-downs that all come as part of being human.
There are two men in existence who have never let me down. The first is my grandfather, who is a real snuggle-bug. (I use the word “snuggle-bug” for any person you encounter in life that you absolutely adore and want to cuddle up to.) During the duration of my dad’s illness, I would find my grandfather and lay my head on his shoulder, which always resulted in a bear-hug…both therapeutic and absolutely needed. The second person was my father.
There are quite possibly many times I disappointed my father, though never intentionally. And even if I did let him down, he never let me know it.
Until my senior year of high school I didn’t have a curfew. That all changed the night I came home at 5 o’clock one Sunday morning. Later, as I was slept very soundly—and late—I felt the weight of someone sit on the bed next to me. I looked over my shoulder to see my father looking at me. Oh no.
“Hi, daddy.” I said in my best ‘I-am-a-great-daughter-who-can-do-know-wrong-remember?’ voice.
“Good morning, Chrissy. Late night huh?” All my tip-toeing through the house had been for nothing.
“Yes, I’m sorry. My ride home disappeared and didn’t show up until much later.”
“Did you like the guy?” he asked.
I nodded my head vigorously with a big smile on my face. “You will really like him. He is so nice,” I told him.
“I’m glad you had fun. I’d like to see you at church this morning.”
“Ok, yes, I will be there.”
He paused before he headed back down the stairs of my room. “Oh, and you’ll be home by midnight from now on ok?”
“Ok, yes. Midnight. No problem.”
Now that I’m 29 and have lived long enough to look back over time and see where I made decisions that have impacted my life (and to develop feelings like regret over some of them), I spend more time thinking about the many ways I have let myself down.
I remember one evening, sometime during my junior year of college, I had really messed up, and I was sitting on our swing in the back yard crying. He must have spotted me from a window. Soon he was sitting beside me, one arm around me. “What’s the matter, Chrissy?”
Out of my own sheer guilt, I confessed what I’d done to him. He hugged me closer to him and told me that he understood why I’d done what I had done. And then he told me he loved me all the same. Hearing him reassure me of his love for me seemed to melt the burden I’d been carrying away.
When someone you love is very sick, you dwell on the many ways you may have wronged them or disappointed them. I couldn’t bear the thought of my dad leaving me on this earth and being disappointed in who I was or who I was becoming. At the same time, I feared to know the truth.
Finally one night, as we talked on the phone, I asked him if I had let him down.
“You have never disappointed me. I am so proud of you…I tell everyone about you all the time.”
Everything I can comprehend about unconditional love, I have learned from my father. There are so many mistakes, wrong-doings, and flaws I could point to in myself. I do not—not for a second—believe these flaws were lost on my father. Even the flaws I tried to hide, he saw through and through. He had a bachelors degree, masters degree, and doctoral degree. He was a smart man. And still, at the end of the day, he chose to love me for me—and to see past all of my shortcomings.
Now in my father’s absence, I find myself terrified of disappointing him in absentia. Some nights I lay in my bed thinking about the decisions I have made that have brought me to this point, and the decisions I have yet to make that will determine my future. I wish I could call him on the phone and hear his words of reassurance: “I love you. I am always so proud of you.” But I cannot. The only remnants of his voice are the voice mails I have saved, and all I can do is stare at the ceiling and whisper, “Do I disappoint you?” I mull these thoughts over in my mind, wipe a few tears from my eyes, and roll over on my side to sleep, determined to ‘grow up’ and be my father’s daughter…with a little forgiveness, a lot of mercy, and even more Grace.