I heard Toni Morrison say to Oprah on her show, “Your face should light up when your child walks in the room.” My daddy’s always did and his smile lit the whole room. He died 21 years ago and I have been thinking about him a lot lately. He was generous with his words, his money, and his love. One time in particular he changed his usual behavior just for me.
When my first husband left me, I called Daddy at six in the morning crying. He said, “I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’ll do something. Can you go to school?”
“I can’t stay here by myself. It’s a teacher workday so I don’t have to be in front of students.”
When I got to school, I called my mother who was already at her teaching job at James Monroe High School in Fredericksburg, VA. She said, “Your daddy is on his way. He should be there in about ten hours if he doesn’t hit heavy traffic.”
When I got home from school, I alternated between pacing and staring at the sliding glass door. At 10:00 pm the empty frame of the door was finally filled with the sight of him. I jumped up, hugged him, cried, and began the long sordid story. He did not interrupt while I talked till midnight. I couldn’t sleep so about 2:00 am I crawled in the guest bed beside him and finally slept with my back to his back.
The next day he continued to listen. Before that Daddy always talked and told you what to do. I told the tale until my tears dried up.
Then he took me out to eat. I said, “I can’t eat.” He said, “Take a little bite, chew, take a sip of water, then swallow….OK, keep doing that until you have finished half of the grilled cheese.”
As soon as I was fed and watered, I began to cry again. After two days, I said, “I feel like every decision I’ve made for five years is wrong. I’m going to make another one that might be wrong. I’m going home.” I was in my third week of a new teaching job in Nashville, TN. I come from a family of do-right teachers--you don’t miss school and you certainly don’t quit. I did anyway.
Daddy went to the phone, called my mother and said, “Get out here. I need some help. She’s coming home.” His not giving advice and listening for two days while I cried was a lifetime gift of grace that nourishes me still.