In the afternoons, his daughters run to him.
They hear his keys jingle in the lock, and nothing matters except that he’s home. Words hang in the air between us. Pencils roll off the table where they’ve been carelessly tossed down. I lift my hands out of the dishwater and dry them on a towel.
He opens the door, and they stand waiting, his beautiful ones, the ones he calls princess–the title preceeding their names, especially when he’s teaching them something difficult.
But no one gets a hug before I do.
“Let me hug your mom first,” he sometimes says as they reach for him. He walks to where I stand with his daughters following, and his eyes speak only to me, his arms reserving space all mine.
And they stand watching, absorbing love and husband. The moments they witness teach, drawing full-color signposts on the years they’ll walk through.
He puts down his things and sweeps me up in an embrace, sometimes slipping back just to offer me a smile, sweet with deep love, spreading all the way into his eyes.
“Welcome home,” I say, returning the Love, telling him I’ve missed him. And I have. His is a presence that builds.
“Thanks,” he says, speaking so much more just in the looking. Thanks for the work you do here. Thanks for teaching, for loving, for serving, for raising. Thanks for supper, and a home made—it smells good, feels good in here, and all your trying–I see your trying. Thanks for tired feet and wading through weary and still being mine.
And then Zoe clears her throat and says, “Um, hello you guys,” and I realize Riley’s hand sits on his arm, waiting patiently.
And I know that they have seen, that this has worked its way deep: that he loves me still; that he’s loved me through things so hard and in every shape and the best and worst of me; through impatience and tired and confused and sad; in good rest and with none; through pregnancy and babies and diapers and spit up and potty training and hair hanging in my face. He’s loved me on my knees scrubbing floors and with kid prints all over my shirt, and he’s been right by my side, doing it all with me, sometimes instead of me. So many years so much fuller than we could’ve imagined, and he loves me still, with passion that hangs in the air around us. And his loving me well says things words cannot, precious truth that roots itself in little girl hearts and wraps itself right around their bones:
You were made to be loved like this.
And this is love. And it commits. And it perseveres. And it serves. And it’s soul-deep and body strong.
And it remains when all else fails.
Only fathers loving mothers, and fathers making sons open doors for their sisters, and fathers serving and honoring and letting them see can plant these precious seeds. These are the truths that will save our daughters from insecurity and explotation and so many deep, cavernous, empty places. God uses fathers living love to save our daughters from too little too soon, from giving their bodies away when it’s not really love because they don’t know the face of the love they seek.
My husband smiles at me, and then turns to each of his girls, opening up his arms, listening to their chatter. They always have so much to tell him. I always have so much to tell him. And somehow, he makes us all feel that it matters to him to hear, even tired and poured out and weary from a day away, a day working.
“Dad, I made a good grade on my project,” Riley says, unfolding a piece of paper I haven’t even seen, a story she’s written for Social Studies. I realize that she has saved this just for him, for his approval. He stops to admire her work, pointing out details in the way that only he can, the way that makes her laugh with eyes that sparkle just for him.
He makes me laugh too, at least once a day, sometimes so hard I can’t quite catch my breath.
“Dad, guess what I heard today?” Zoe cuts in, excitement making her dance around him in circles.
So, he starts guessing the most ridiculous things, until she giggles and puts her hand on his arm.
“Dad, Dad, Dad, stop guessing. It’s something good. Well, you won’t like it, but I think it’s good.”
And then she tells him about a crush she has at school. Someone told her that he likes her likes her. ”But I haven’t said that to him. Well, not yet.”
“Well. Sounds like it’s getting serious,” Kevin says, turning to shoot me a grin she can’t see. He doesn’t laugh at what she says. He knows this bruises her, makes her wall up her heart. I move about the kitchen, listening to them, thinking about how wonderful it is that he has communicated his protectiveness so well without making her afraid to confess the things she feels. He teaches her so gently that sometimes she doesn’t even see it as training. ”Dad doesn’t really give me advice,” she told me once. ”He just listens.” And so she places her heart in his hands, wide open, and trusts him to keep it safe, and with those gentle hands still unashamed to reach for mine, he shapes a daughter’s heart.
God wrote it solid so long ago: Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25). Husbands, love your wives as your own bodies (Ephesians 5:28). Because your daughters and sons are watching, and what they see wraps deep.