By most measures, my father was a failure. He married far too young and had too many children. He never made enough money to support his family. For much of his life, he didn’t work at all. He collected diseases and disorders (real and imagined) in almost as great numbers as his ubiquitous action figures. And then, without fanfare, he up and died. At 55. Not much to write home about.
But, oh, my Daddy loved me. He loved me and my mother and my siblings so well and so hard that in so many ways his love almost defines us. He didn’t just tell us we were wonderful–he honestly believed, with everything he was, that we were the five most incredible people ever to walk the face of the planet. He bought my mother skimpy outfits in the hopes she’d wear them around town because he knew she was super hot and–apparently–wanted everyone else to know, too. He told my awkward preteen older brother that every girl he ever saw had the hots for him. He wrote me email after email just telling me (for no particular reason) that he loved me and was so proud of me. He thought my sister was the most talented singer, the most talented soccer player, the most amusing young woman there had ever been–with the exception of me and my mother, with whom she was tied. And just try to convince him that my little brother wasn’t the best-looking kid at his confirmation (to which he wore my father’s brown tweed bell-bottom wedding suit). He would have none of it.
He saw what was good in us and, whatever his flaws, he loved us so desperately that we began to believe him. Any time I talk to women about beauty, I tell them how deeply my father loved me. Any time I talk to men about being protectors, I tell them to be like my daddy. Because even at my worst, even when I was absolutely convinced that I was fat and ugly and completely unlovable, I knew that my daddy loved me. And I knew that if he loved me, maybe somebody else could. Even when everything in me and everything around me was telling me that I was worthless, I couldn’t quite believe it. My daddy, after all, was completely enamored of me. Here’s part of a poem he wrote me for my 24th birthday:
you have always
in the radiant
that is you
It took years for me to begin to believe that maybe he was right–that maybe there was something special about me. It took Christ, really. But when I began to read how deeply Christ loved me, I accepted it, because I’d felt that love before. When I fell at my knees at the foot of the cross, confessing my sins against one who’d loved me so deeply, his forgiveness felt familiar. My daddy forgave me the same way–completely and gladly, as though my sin had been entirely washed away.
When I heard about a Father who loved me, I accepted it without question. Of course my Father loved me–that’s what fathers do. It was years before I realized what a gift that was, years before I understood that so many people struggle their whole lives to accept the love of the Father because of the wounds they hold from their earthly fathers. My father wasn’t perfect, but he never failed in the one thing that mattered most: love.
Eighteen years ago, my father got sick. Mentally, emotionally, physically. He withdrew from almost everything. He stopped doing anything around the house. He stopped even leaving the house. He missed almost every concert and play I had in high school. He made life really hard for us and I was so angry at him. But even then, even when he couldn’t always act like he loved me, I never once questioned his love. Because it was so obvious in everything he did. Because the only thing that pulled him out of himself was us. Because when I search for “Figglety” (his inscrutable nickname for me) in my email, I find dozens of random emails in which he just tells me–unprompted by any discernible cause–that he loves me and is proud of me. Whatever his flaws, he loved me.
My daddy taught me that I was worthy of love. He taught me how to accept love. And he gave me a model of how to love. If I love one person half as well as he loved us, I’ll count it a life well lived.
The last thing my mother said about my father on Facebook was this: “You [kids] think your daddy and I are boring. You are completely uninspired by our proposal that wasn’t, not really. You used to think we were dumb because “our song” is Mozart’s 41st. But how can a man be boring when he promises his life to you? No, Jonathan, you’re never boring—except when you are, and we’re both happy about that!” After 34 years of marriage–a hard marriage that many would have said she had every right to get out of–he was still completely hers, as madly in love with her as on the day they married.
He was a difficult man to live with but until the day I die I will be grateful for the daddy he was. By many accounts, he was a failure. But if we forget the “accomplishments” of his life and look at the meaning of his life–a wife and four children who walked every day of their lives in the knowledge that they were deeply and unconditionally loved–it’s hard not to stand in wonder at a broken man who never wanted to be anything more than Daddy.
Of course, I’m a little heartbroken. Death hurts. But it hurts because it’s wrong, not because it’s bad. We weren’t made to die. We weren’t made to be separated. And I miss my Daddy. But I’d been missing him, in a sense, for 18 years. And now–finally–he’s the man he used to be again, free from everything that hurt and twisted him. He’s whole and healed and joyful. And really, I’m just so thankful for God’s timing in this. He’d just recently returned to the Sacraments and I keep finding myself on my knees before the Blessed Sacrament saying over and over again, “I’m so grateful, I’m so grateful.” I’m so, so thankful that he went now and not six months ago. To die in a state of grace: what more could you ask?
My father loved the Lord so much. He was hungry for heaven and had been for years. He was living a Sacramental life–and oh, thank God for that–and I’m not afraid for him. Really, I’m so glad for him. He had been in so much pain for so long and now he’s free and home or heading there. The last email I sent him was terse and rather patronizing and I tried to feel guilty about it but then I remembered–in the communion of saints, we are still together. So I told him I was sorry and reminded him how much I love him and he heard and now all that’s left is joy in who he was and joy in who he’s becoming and hope for when we meet again.
Would y’all take a minute to pray for my father (Jonathan Hunter-Kilmer) and for my family? If you want to get to know him a little better, my sister wrote a beautiful tribute here and his sister (one of many) tells some great stories about his childhood here. The funeral will be Saturday, December 7, at 2pm at St. Mark Catholic Church in Vienna, VA.
O Lord, support us all the day long of this troublous life,
until the shadows lengthen,
and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed,
the fever of life is over,
and our work done.
Then, Lord, in your mercy,
grant us safe lodging,
a holy rest,
and peace at the last;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
-Bl. John Henry Newman