I waddled down the narrow hallway, huffing as I clutched my Justice League action figures in my left hand. Careening around the corner, I shouted, “Dad! Wonder Woman and Batman set up a date on their invisible jet! You gotta come, or you’re going to be late!”
He shooed my plea away with his hand in the air, asking for just five more minutes to finish his round of the game. I can’t remember which one he was playing at that time. He would always ask me to be his “copilot” for his video games. To be a copilot was to cheer him on throughout his game, to offer hints if he was stuck, and to make him laugh during the frustrating parts. I usually saw it as a privilege.
I pouted and started tapping my foot on the ground like I was a mother that caught her child stealing from a cookie jar before it was dinnertime. “But Dad! Superman is jealous, and we have to be ready to defend Wonder Woman and Batman if he strikes back!”
“Okay, okay,” my dad said, “let me finish this round, and I’ll come.” He was true to his word that time. About half an hour later, my dad set down his video game controller, dusted the surface to ensure ultimate cleanliness, and carefully set down his layer of tin foil atop the PlayStation to keep the console from overheating.
We walked into the next room, where I had all forty-two of my action figures lined up in order. My chubby hands clapped in delight; I knew my dad wasn’t ready to hear the plot I had cooked up for my beloved superheroes this week. Hesitantly smiling, my dad crouched down and asked which superheroes he should voice today. That’s one thing I’ve always admired about my dad; he has a good variety of random talents, like every dad should—and sub-par voice acting was one of his. But, to seven-year-old me, he sounded like a professional. Sometimes, Elmer Fudd would wake me up in the morning, or Barack Obama would tell me the headlines. Patiently, he waited as I ordered which person should play with which action figure.
I think that day my dad, even with his broken back, sat on the cheap beige carpet for hours while I demanded he play along with my storyline. Eventually he mentioned dinner was almost ready and that he had to go. Nodding, I gingerly placed my action figures back in their binned homes and walked downstairs. At that point already, I knew not to look behind me; Dad wasn’t coming to dinner. Dad would eat dinner in his study and continue his game. My mom and brother and I would be the only family members clinking cups at the table and telling stories from the day.
A bundle of emotions, I came downstairs and reported to my mom how the afternoon went. I excitedly slurred my speech as I told her how Dad set time aside for me. But there was so much more I wanted to do! I had planned a Twister match for us, a duel over Battleship, and possibly even a nail-biting game of Uno. My mom chuckled and patted my head, reassuring me that there would be more days for me to spend time with my dad. I rolled my eyes as I nearly perfectly mouthed the typical phrases she would tell me growing up to make me feel better.
“You know he’s busy. You know he tried. You know you have a lot of energy, and he doesn’t always. You know he loves you . . . right?”
I did know that, but I wasn’t always shown that. My love language at that age was playful intentionality. To have an invitation to a tea party declined by anyone was to have my joy ground to smithereens. Granted, I was dramatic.
The requests for tea parties and superhero dates shifted over the years to requests for Starbucks and football games with me at school. He said, in between game rounds, that Starbucks was overrated and that going to football games would only turn me into a shallow girl. I couldn’t help but feel as if there was a different reason for why my ears greeted the word “no” time after time. So, I marked my childhood in blocks of which video games were out. He played animated superhero games throughout my time at elementary school, and middle school was the reign of updated Call of Duty games. Dragon Age, The Witcher, and various Assassin’s Creed games marked my time at high school.
Soon, the end of high school approached. My friends couldn’t stop talking about how graduation made them so ecstatic and how their parents were planning on celebrating them with a cruise or a school-wide pool party. Meanwhile, my stomach churned—would my dad attend my graduation? Would he choose to stay home to advance to the next round, or would he watch his daughter advance to the next level of her life? And how to share such fear with people? It was unimaginable to me.
Eventually graduation came, and my dad made it. He put so much effort into his appearance that week; he shaved his beard and made my mom talk with him over the color schemes of the suits he thought about wearing to the event. He even asked if I wanted to trim his eyebrows! While my graduation night wasn’t the most peaceful night, it was one I was able to partake in with my dad. He smiled so much that night, and I couldn’t help but remember the warmth of his smile back when I was seven. The joy in his smile had only grown. I realized, although our relationship had drastically changed and grown over the years, he learned what it meant to be present for his family.
Even though he, as a broken human, let other broken humans down, he never stopped trying. More times than not, he would set down his controller to ask about my day and to hold me as I cried about the third boy I liked that month in middle school. He'd pray with me over my future and tell me he was proud of how I led my siblings. And gradually I learned, too, that I was not blameless in our relationship; I had much to learn. There was a severe need for grace on both his end and mine, and I learned my desperate need for Jesus and His stability in my life, as my father and I both supplicated for grace.
Now, during my breaks, I gladly come into my father’s study to copilot his newest game, and he eats dinner with my family almost three to four times a week. What a glorious blessing of the Lord to know I can grow in admiration and patience with my earthly father while drawing nearer and nearer to my Heavenly Father.