I was twenty-one, home on the summer break before starting law school and headed off to my job for the day. The top was down on my convertible, the tunes cranked up a bit too loud and it was the perfect morning to be carefree and young. I never saw the suburban come from behind and plow into my car.
The seatbelt only did a partial job. My left side hit the driver’s side door but I never lost consciousness. As cars along the two lane highway began to stop and get out, I only needed one thing: I had to call Dad.
While people buzzed on their cell phones to call the police and an ambulance, I kept yelling at someone to find my cellphone. The last thing my father needed was to make a trip to the grocery store and see his oldest child on the side of the road. He had done that already with his youngest son.
In the winter of 2002, my baby brother was riding with a friend, feeding cows not far from our house. My father was preaching a funeral of a family friend when he and my mother had gotten the call about the accident.
The driver had taken a country road too fast and lost control of the car. My brother was knocked unconscious instantly. His friend was able to crawl from the broken windshield and walk to a farmhouse. He could only recall two phone numbers to the woman who answered the door before he collapsed: his mother’s home number and my father’s cell.
My parents arrived before everyone but the paramedics. Though unconscious, my brother was fighting the medics. Trapped inside the seatbelt, they were afraid to cut the belt, for fear of harming my brother further. They asked Dad to speak to him. Perhaps his voice would calm my brother into allowing them to do their job and release him from the car.
Dad did one better and verbally walked my brother through the process and cut the belt himself. My brother would spend another 17 days in a coma before having to learn to walk, talk and feed himself again. I knew that if anyone else told my father I had been in a crash, he would have to relive that night with my brother trapped in the car.
I could not let that happen.
I found my cell phone, calling my house and calmly told Dad my car was hit, that I was not hurt but I was going to need a ride to work. Two minutes later, there he stood next to the car. He wore no shirt, no shoes and only had a pair of worn out cargo shorts on.
Over the years, my father perfected the art of showing up. In law school, I called to tell him I was leaving school early and going home to rest due to being sick. Without provocation, he arrived less than an hour later with four types of soups.
When I practiced law full time, he would arrive out of the blue with donuts for my staff and flowers for me. On hard parenting days with my own children, I would call to vent and he would appear at the door, either to take them for ice cream or offering to do bedtime. He came without words or suggestions of how to do it better. He simply entered a situation and opened his hands to help.
Dad has been gone three years this summer. As much as I am grateful for the lessons he taught, I still struggle with him being gone. Mostly, because I am so used to having him show up without being asked. The week after his funeral, I sat at my desk, staring at my phone and wondering when he would crank call my office and tell me the last week was just a mean joke.
And even yet, he shows up still. When “Brown Eyed-Girl” plays on the radio or when white roses are in bloom, they are reminders that his spirit is still here.
There are so many parenting books about how to be a good father and yet there is only one mark of parenting that we often forget: the art of showing up. Simply arriving with your hands and heart open to whatever your child needs. You do not always have to provide answers, just all of yourself.
I think such a lesson applies to being a good person, just as it does with fatherhood. Most of the time, people need nothing more than a pair of caring eyes and open ears. Being validated and heard can do wonders for lifting someone’s spirits. Showing up with ice cream is literally the cherry on top.
Lindsey Willis Andrews is an attorney and author, living in Oklahoma with her husband, two adopted children and is watched over by a falcon and a French Bulldog, Walter. She writes at lindseyandrewswriter.com and can be found either in her garden or Twitter. Her first children’s book is on Amazon and she is currently working on a book about fatherhood.