• Tiye Naeemah Cort

Long-Distance Daddy's Girl

A few weeks ago, while I was driving from Memphis to Austin on my trek back to the south, my father was rushed to the hospital. My first notification was through a text message that I got from my church, and all that came to mind was how I received notification of my grandmother's death the same way last summer. Last time, I was on a plane to Essence Fest, and this time I was driving and not looking at my phone to see the missed calls and texts from my mother and brother. Seeing my father's name in that message made it clear that something serious was happening, and I was, once again, not there. 

I felt guilty. I flashed back to last summer. The day after I arrived home for the summer, I took my first ride in an ambulance, rushing my grandmother to the hospital. The whole ride to the hospital, between small talk with the paramedics and an awkward silence following my grandmother's calm admission to them that she had stage 4 cancer, I was worried about missing a call from school to confirm the arrangements for my acceptance into a new doctoral program. I had horrible phone reception in the emergency room, and although I sat next to her hospital bed, making sure that she was as comfortable as possible- and talking about everything but cancer- I was awaiting a phone call from my new advisor. My grandmother was dying, and I was thinking about school. Once again, I found myself in a similar predicament. I was on the road, driving back to Texas to return to school, and this time it was my father who was in the hospital.

As calmly as I could, I showed my sister the text and told her to call my mother. And in that moment, all I could think about was what is really important in life. At that moment, I was not thinking about all of the meetings and orientations I had to attend in the coming days. I was not thinking about the Massachusetts state tax levy that would soon ravage my bank account, leaving me beyond broke and hoping to dear GOD that I would have money by the time my rent was due. I was not thinking about the fact that I had not yet ordered my books for school. I was not thinking about how I needed to find a part-time job in order to survive this school year. Having learned my lesson last summer about the preciousness of time with loved ones and making the conscious decision to prioritize family over everything else, I thought of my family and how, once again, I was not there when I felt that I should have been.

All that flashed through my mind was the thought of losing my father. Selfishly, I remembered how the last time I had to pick him up from the hospital and help him walk up the front stairs of our house was during a sciatica flare up. I jokingly told him that he had to get better so that he could someday walk me down the aisle. He said that he would be there. I thought about the fact that my father is getting older, and if something serious was happening now, he would never be able to fulfill that promise he made to me. Who else could possibly take his place?

I thought about how my father's age is starting to show. This summer, he fell asleep at a red light while driving me to a Soulcycle class, and though it was was funny at the time, it was a reminder that my dad is no longer the 50, 60, or even 70-year-old young man that he once was. I immediately regretted the many times I turned down invitations to wake up before the sun to drive to Gloucester for deep sea fishing trips. I thought about how angry I was the first time I let him borrow my car to go fishing, and how my car smelled like fish for a month afterward- forcing me to apologize on his behalf to every passenger who dared ride in my "fishy car" with the windows up. I thought about the evenings when I dashed out of the house in short dresses and high heels to spend the night hanging out with friends instead of sitting on the porch with my dad, sharing a beer, and talking about life.

I thought about how every day he asked me "Did you call your sister?", never knowing to which of the three he would be referring, and I could clearly imagine the look of disappointment he would give whenever I said "no". I thought about how he gets when he's sick or not feeling well- irritable and quiet, but always makes requests in the most polite way. I thought about how I somehow managed to avoid finally giving him that PowerPoint tutorial he had been asking me for all summer. I thought about how almost every day this summer, daddy woke up at 5:30 am to drive me to work, picked me up at 10:30 am to drive me to my second job, and returned to pick me up again at 4:00 pm. By mid-July, he would show up with a coconut donut waiting for me in the passenger's seat as if he didn't know that I had been going to Dunkin' Donuts every morning when he dropped me off.

When I called the hospital to check in on him, he spoke quietly because it was late and visiting hours were over. I asked how he was feeling and he said "I'll be okay, baby." The last time he called me "baby" was when he told me "it's going to be okay" as I cried in his arms after returning home last summer and seeing my grandmother and her deteriorating condition. And I knew that he could sense my worry once again because those are the only times when my father ever calls me "baby" or "sweetheart". When my father uses "baby," he knows I feel helpless and on the brink of tears, so there's never any need for explanation once it's said.

And he was right; he was okay. After surgery, he spent a few more days in the hospital, and then returned home. I flew home to visit a couple of weeks ago, and it was just good to see him again. He was almost back to normal, and seeing all of the love and support he had from my mother, sisters, and aunt reassured me that I don't need to be home right now. It let me know that even though I may be gone for months at a time to pursue my education, I don't need to worry about missing anything.

I'm so thankful for my father- beyond words. I'm thankful for the love that he has for me and for all of his children. I'm thankful that I have an attachment to him that makes me sad when I disappoint him, happy when I make him proud, and angry when he's taken for granted. I'm thankful that he blesses the lives of so many around him- that people feel comfortable coming to him in times of trouble- and that he is comfortable telling them the truth in love. I'm thankful for his sacrifice and simultaneous ability to prioritize God and family. I'm thankful for his longsightedness- allowing for temporary emotions to be felt, but constantly working toward the bigger picture and the permanence of longevity.

My father is my hugest influence, and every time we talk, he encourages me to continue to pursue my education and my other dreams. He reminds me that it's okay for me to be so far from home and that being a phone call away is not that far away at all. Every phone call shows me that my father continues to be so much of a rock for me through his words alone, and I'm not ready to even consider the idea of losing that rock anytime soon. I hope that every woman who can call herself a "daddy's girl" understands the invaluable connection that a loving father should have with his daughter. And every time your father calls you "baby", know that it's his way of letting you know that everything will be okay.


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