I first met my Daddy in a gas station parking lot when I was nine years old. My first thought was, "Is this really my father? I don't look like him at all."
The next time Daddy visited, I was 11, and though I sat on his lap and laughed at his jokes, the fact that I was his daughter still seemed surreal to me. Here was a man who felt and looked like a stranger and yet was also one of my parents. It was a reality I couldn't quite grasp, and it would take me 20 more years before I ever truly saw my Daddy.
When I was 26, Daddy called to tell me he had cancer, another surreal tidbit of information, and as the years wore on, the disease wasted his once-large frame. The Daddy I'd always known had a round face, framed by thick, black curls. His curls were the first to go. Then the roundness of his face. And finally, the gleam behind his eyes.
In a haze, I drove the 900 miles to his home in Arizona. While Daddy was alive, I never knew what to do or say around him. Ironically, the minute I walked into his room at the funeral home, the ease that should have been there all along finally kicked in and all I wanted was to be alone with my father. And there, in a small funeral home in Mesa, Arizona, I saw my Daddy for the first time.
For 31 years of my life, I'd just assumed that the majority of my facial features came from my Momma. But as I gazed into Daddy's face now slimmed by disease, I saw the giver of my forehead, my lips, the sharp curve in my temples. I saw me in him and him in me.
Suddenly, a window in my heart flew open, the same window that should have opened back when I was 9 years old. Suddenly, I saw how I was connected to the stranger I had first met at the gas station, the stranger who was so happy to meet me. I was finally ready to learn all about this stranger, ready to be his daughter.
But I was too late.
I'll never know what he liked on his hamburger, what his favorite time of year was, what his favorite childhood memory was, his fears, his hopes, how he looked like when he brushed his teeth.
Daily, human things. Deep spiritual things. Both I will not get to share with my Daddy. Thankfully, he gave me little reminders of himself when I look in the mirror each morning.
Years and conversations are not ours to share, but at least we can share a jawline.