As mom and I sorted through hundreds of pictures this week in an attempt to summarize 65 years of life, I came upon one taken in 1968, just months after my birth. In the picture, a very young, very skinny Ken Phoenix holds me in one hand, my body held upright because my pudgy baby’s feet are clasped so firmly by his fingers. There isn’t the slightest hint of fear on my face. My daddy holds me. I am safe.
My relationship with my father wasn’t always so simple. Those of you who know him well have seen his flaws, no deeper than the rest of ours but perhaps better hidden by his enormous zest for life and people. He was a man who exuded energy and enthusiasm. They often veiled the very real insecurities, doubts, and pain of this outrageously jovial and entirely human man. He was a constantly changing kaleidoscope of traits: loving, witty, impatient, uplifting, choleric, sympathetic, tender, impetuous, disheartened, hopeful, and generous. And when his baby girl grew into a complex and needy child, he didn’t quite know what to do with her…
But life moves on, as I am reminded today. And I am so grateful for the years my dad and I have had to acknowledge shortcomings, outlive their pain, and build a relationship that was as unique as it was profound. My father, who I lovingly called “Ner” (that’s N-E-R, without a D!) in latter years became my champion, my hero, and my friend. The man who had once been my greatest challenge became my dearest fan, my most steadfast supporter, my companion in humor and my “buddy” to the end. God’s greatest gift to me was in healing us both.
The picture of that baby girl, as priceless as it is, today has been replaced. In its place is a more precious sight. My father’s face, serene as death approached. My hand against his heart, feeling its last, sweet, gentle beats. The wordless song of praise bursting through my tears and from my soul-—gratitude for time, gratitude for healing, gratitude for love that will not die.
Fathers, love your daughters now.
Daughters, forgive them while you can.
Jesus, thank you for giving this family the gift of “Ner” and for taking him so gently home.
Because many of you who read my blog knew him, I thought I’d post this video commemorating my dad on this ninth anniversary of his passing into glory. The eulogy I wrote for his memorial service in 2005 is below. I miss him every day.