The Faith of My Father

Jun 26, 2012 by

The Faith of My Father

Yesterday was a hard day.  It just was.  In addition to worrying over Grandma and the health and cognition slowing ebbing from her 93-year-old body and mind, my heart quaked on behalf of my parents and the health challenges they are facing head on.  My father, diabetic and with a wound that is not healing, went in for a standard procedure to create blood flow to his legs that are as dry as a desert.  As he was prepped for the surgery, his doctor determined his veins were too far collapsed and that he needed another, more involved surgery instead to have a chance at creating a healthy circulation in his lower limbs.  I learned all of this over the phone and through the tearful confession from my mom, my sweet Billie Jean.

I sat in our swanky Seattle condo looking out of our glass walls at the life bustling on the streets below me, alone.  Just me, and my sorrowful thoughts, with tears streaming down my face mourning for my father, once so healthy and strong, and my mother who used to protect me so fiercely but who I now felt so powerless to protect from her unspoken fears.  Our unspoken fears.

The day was awful.

Several hours later, after dad was discharged from the hospital and I imagined him asleep in bed, I called my mom for a good night, I love you chat.  To my surprise, my father answered the phone.

“Hey Baby Gal!”

“Hey!  I didn’t expect you to answer!”


“I thought you’d be asleep.”

“Naaaw, but your mother is back there blowing some zzzzzzz’s.”


“Well, what are you doing?”

“Just sitting here preparing my lesson.”


“Yeah.  We have our Bible study tomorrow and I was going to have another brother lead it but since I didn’t have my surgery, I decided to go on and teach it myself.”

My dad.  Business as usual.  Life continues.  Steady on.

My father, Reverend Conard, or “Brother Bob” as Marc calls him, is nothing if not Christian.  I believe that, in all honesty, my dad loves God more than anything . . . and anyone.  Having grown up under his wing, that is both an incredibly admirable thing to have witnessed, and also deeply wounding to have experienced.  There were moments as a child that the love my father had for God, for Jesus, was the bravest thing I’d ever seen.  It meant that there was a certain amount of fearlessness to my father’s life, so sure he was of God’s presence, absoluteness, and sovereignty that fear was impotent and mistakes impossible.

Other times, in the seasons of my deep desire to express my own individuality, dreams, questions and beliefs, his resolve in the one-way-ness of his understanding of faith meant butting up against an unmoving brick wall of Biblical rules and regulations and fighting for a crack in the mortar; pleading to star in my high school musical about rock and roll and not Gospel, begging to go to school dances where secular music was played, or hiding behind the shame of my grown up affection and the natural burning between my legs for the freckled-face boy who would eventually become my husband because I just knew that any conversation about love or sex outside of marriage was over before it could even begin.

My father loved God more than me, and was more concerned with what thus saith the Lord than anything I had to say.   That’s still true.  And, that’s okay.

In the memoir I began but chickened out of about my own spiritual journey, I wrote, “when Jesus came into our home he both violently overturned tables and beautifully redecorated with new ones.”  It was true.  Jesus came in and wrecked $@#&.  Our house was a lively one with card parties in the garage, James Brown on makeshift speakers, and shake, shake, shaking our booties in the living room.  When my dad found Jesus, or Jesus found my dad, that all came to a screeching halt.  Yes, Jesus wrecked $@#&.  He built some $@#& too though.  Suddenly, we had family time.  My father held our hands in prayer.  There was less fighting between my parents.  A feeling of safety moved in that I didn’t even know had been absent. 

Still, I didn’t always see my father’s faith as something I wanted for myself, as something winsome and wooing.   His faith, though well intentioned, felt rigid to a free spirit like me.  It felt a little black and white and I’m such a rainbow kind of girl.  I saw it as brown hymnals when what I craved was some Gospel version of Prince.   No, I didn’t always see my father’s faith as attractive.  Not always.  But I have always seen it as something impressive, true, and full of integrity.  And, yes, that is something I’ve aspired to, even in my impressive, true and full of integrity questioning of it.

It’s because of the faith of my father that when I got pregnant at 16 abortion wasn’t an authentic choice for me.  Sure.  I could’ve had one, but no, I didn’t want one.  My father had shown me the preciousness of life, and he demonstrated it in how he helped the single mom with three kids up the street or tirelessly counseled the troubled teenager across it.  When Marc and I were separated, it was my father’s prayers for our reconciliation that I held on to because mine were too convoluted with my own doubts, pride and more doubts.  When we almost lost Ryan during his freshman year of college, my dad was the first person I called.  There was something about the confidence in his voice that, no matter the outcome, God is God and He is good that I just needed to hear.  And when our family mourned the loss of our Audrey and I saw Cole, younger brother and grieving uncle, speak at her funeral – so bold, heartfelt, and compassionate – I recognized my father’s fingerprint on his grandson, having witnessed his Papa so many Sundays preaching from a pulpit.

These past few years have found my dad and I in a tricky spiritual place.  My faith meltdown of India rocked the very foundation upon which our family was built, my dad’s hands pouring the cement.  There have been moments, sharp prickly things, of painful disagreements, terrible isolation and fearful retreating as I try to be me – this new, questioning, WTF happened to me “me” – and he remains him – spiritually sure, sure and more sure.

It’s been painful, and I’ve spent a lot of hours in bed, balled in a fetal position wishing for things as they used to be before I boarded that damn, doomed plane.  But, I didn’t stay there too long, my father taught me different than to stay knocked on my ass by life.  I am my father’s daughter, and I know better.  I know how to stand, especially from bended knees.

While these past few years have been painful, they’ve also been incredibly rich between my daddy and me.  We’ve had some hard conversations, but they’ve been the most honest we’ve ever shared.  I see him, more clearly.  I believe he sees me better too, and we’re both so beautiful out in the open and transparent.

What I saw last night at the end of a frightful, disappointing day that had as its sole purpose to remind me of how fleeting life is and how much compassion we need for ourselves and others as we live it, was my father, continuing.  Steady on.

He can’t walk without a walker, so he sits in his wheelchair and pulls the weeds from his grass.  He can’t do anything very quickly, so he wakes hours in advance to dress for church early Sunday mornings.  He can’t carry the trash out, so he’s concocted a drag and pull method with his cane that works just fine.  He can’t kneel anymore, but I know for a fact that he still prays without ceasing.

Steady.  On.  This is the journey.  This is the lesson.  This is the beauty.  Keep living.  Keep feeding your soul.  Keep pressing your way.  For as long as you can, while you can.  Because, life is short and days turn into nights when you’re surprised but grateful to hear your father on the other end of the phone.  Steady on.

Peace and Blessings,

Nicole Walters

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  1. Tia Collier

    Wow, baby. Just, WOW. This is why you inspire to write about my own, difficult, love-filled relationship with my own mother. Damn! I love you! Love who you were, who you are and who you will become because of those wonderful parents of yours and your stumbling, beautiful dance you do as God moves you towards your life’s lessons. I wish I could sit with you everyday and talk about art, writing and what it means to be free. But until that next precious moment when we sit and break bread together in Denver, I’ll just tell you how proud I am to call you a friend.

  2. Oh, Tia. I love you so. I’m so thankful for your presence in my journey and mine in yours. Do write. Do express. We all need to hear it. I know I do.

  3. So much to say. I’ll just say…this is truth and beauty. I see it and hear it and know it to be true. We have some similar currents running through our lives and I long for the transparency you have with your dad between me and my own. Thank you for sharing!

  4. #realtalk! I love reading your words! My prayers are always with you, Marc and your sons. Now I got Brother Bob and your momma in my prayers too!

  5. Supporting you as you and your father journey deeper into love with each other.

  6. Thank you, Dan. They are some good folks who deserve every amount of blessings.

  7. Bernisha

    Thank you for sharing your family with us.your writing is always a good read,i get so excited when I get an email showing you have written.please do keep writing.

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