This morning as the girls were getting ready for school I looked over at Abbi and simply told her I loved her. “I know but I still really miss my daddy,” she said. It seemed random but apparently she had been thinking about him again.
“Yeah, honey, I miss him too. And I can’t be your daddy for you. I can love you and be your mommy, but I can never be your daddy.”
“I’m still just feeling sad and I want a new daddy,” she said. She was sitting a couple seats away from me at the table.
“You can come get a hug,” I offered. She came to sit in my lap. She faced me and we talked.
“Do you remember Mr. Robbie from Nana’s church?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she answered. “And he’s kind of silly to me.”
I agreed, smiling at her description. She was not wrong. “When daddy was a teenager,” I told her, “his daddy lived far away. But Mr. Robbie went to church with Daddy and was with him a lot. So he did things for Daddy that a dad would do, because he was able to be there. He got to see him every week. And that helped.” I looked at my daughter.
“God might bring me a new husband who will be your new daddy. And would be wonderful.” Her face lit up like a Christmas tree. Here came the hard part of the conversation. “But even if he doesn’t, he puts men in your life to love you kind of like a dad, to help take care of you. Does that make sense?”
“Who are some men in your life that love you and help take care of you?”
She glowed as she spoke. “Well, I have lots of Papas.”
“Yes, you do,” I agreed. “And who else? Is there anyone else?” I asked, thinking of her uncles.
“Mike!” she said, referring to my brother.
“That’s right,” I said. “And you know what?” I continued. “When my dad died, it was really hard for me so God sent Dr. Pappa to be like a dad to me. Dr. Pappa loved me like a dad because I needed him, even though I was already an adult. God takes care of our needs.” I felt it important that she see my vulnerable need for a father, too—but also how the Lord had graciously met that need in a nontraditional way.
Parenting kids who deal with grief is not easy. There are many difficult conversations and they rarely come when I’m expecting them. Yet in my experience over the last few years I’ve found that if I keep just meeting them with honesty, love, and Biblical truth, we continue to make it through.
I close with this: I’m eternally grateful for men who show up to parent or mentor children that don’t biologically belong to them. I’m grateful for the uncles, the grandfathers, the stepdads, teachers, the foster parents, the adoptive parents, and the friends who just choose to make a loving impact. They don’t have to do it—but they did and they do. Your love makes a difference. Thank you for standing in the gap.