First of all, in order to fully understand this post, you need to know mine and my family’s story. If you do not know what that is, then you can read more about it here.
From the time that Ashley agreed to marry me about 6 and a half years ago, I have thought about what my kids would call me. There is a part of me who has always dreamed of being called “daddy” throughout my life. I always thought that being a dad was so cool. I still think that too. Only special people get this title. Being a father doesn’t make you a daddy. Your children have to adorn you with this title. Being a father is a part of most men’s lives but being a daddy is only for the best of fathers.
When Ashley and I were dating, Audrey and Addison who were only 10 and 5 years old respectively at the time simply called me Casey. I was ok with that. My two older girls are all about their routine and they work very hard to never break their routine. Since calling me Casey became a routine for them when we were dating, they never broke it when their mother and me got engaged and later married.
At first, this was hard for me. I had always wanted to be a daddy and now that I was becoming the girls’ dad, I thought that I should get that title. Audrey told me very early on that she was not going to call me that. I understood it for her. She watched her dad die when she was only 7. Michael was her daddy and to call me that was a betrayal to him. Audrey has always been loyal to a fault and still is to this day. Addison dabbled in it here and there. She didn’t remember much of anything when her daddy died so early on in her life (she was only 2). She would occasionally call me daddy, usually when Audrey wasn’t paying attention. I would encourage her to call me daddy because this was something that I wanted and felt called to.
I still remember loading the girls up in the car one day when we were leaving Michael’s parents house and getting ready to move to Huntsville to start our new life together. I was talking to Michael’s mother when Addy asked me to help her get buckled up. “Hey daddy, will you help me?”
Before I could respond I looked over at her grandmother. She held it in as best as she could, but I could tell that hearing Addy say that cut deep. It wasn’t that she didn’t want me to be the girls’ daddy. It was that she wanted her to son to still be here and be the daddy. Hearing addy say this was just another gut wrenching reminder that her son was gone. All I could do was help Addy get in her seat and act like it wasn’t anything but I know it had to have been so difficult hearing her grandchild say that to someone besides her son.
As Ashley and I drove away, I told her that from then on, while I wanted the girls to call me daddy, they could call me whatever they wanted. I hadn’t earned the “daddy” title, at least not yet. Marrying their mom didn’t make me a daddy, it made me a father for the time being.
Ashley knew that this title was something that I was aspiring to so whenever she was talking about me to the girls, she would call me daddy to them. This became confusing to them early on because Michael was also daddy and he had rightfully earned that title. One time when the four of us were at dinner, Audrey brought up how it was confusing to her and Addy that they had 2 daddy’s and that she was sometimes wondering which daddy her mother was referring to.
In order to keep the peace with everyone including the girls, me, and the in-laws, Ashley began referring to Michael as “daddy in heaven”. This name has stuck ever since. Michael is still referred to in our house as daddy in heaven. I am still Casey unless the girls are talking about me to someone else, in which case I am their dad (I know, it’s like they’re wanting to taunt me).
When my son, Gatlin, was born, I began to rightfully and proudly wear the title of “daddy.” That’s the only name he has known for me his entire life. He’s four now and he only realized about 6 months ago that my name is Casey. Millie has been the same. When she copies off her sisters when they say Casey, she still doesn’t really know who she’s referring to. I am simply daddy to both of them.
What’s weird is that not only do I correct the little ones when they call me by my actual name, but Addy does too even though Addy doesn’t call me daddy. She wants them to do this though and I think it’s because she sees how much I love it. Addy is secretly an incredible kid and the best big sister ever but she doesn’t want anyone to actually know that.
This name thing became a bit of a conundrum to me a couple of years ago when Gatlin became a pretty good talker. The girls would make the occasional reference to Michael or their “daddy in heaven” and Gatlin wouldn’t really notice but I figured that it would only be a matter of time before he and Millie began wondering about who Michael was. This would be a kind of tricky conversation for a variety of reasons.
I want to shift now for a moment and talk about my faith for a minute. Since going through seminary, I have been so blessed to be shaped and formed by God through so many kind and loving men who know more about God and the Bible than I could ever hope to. Through this, I was able to engage some parts of my soul that I had either avoided or that I had never knew existed but were aching to cry out to God for revelation and change. I experienced joy and laughter and pain and tears and hurt and love and grace. I am better for it and I’m so grateful that I was able to do it and I’m even considering doing more of it somewhere down the road.
Something that I learned in one of the courses was the admiration for saints. I grew up being told that we shouldn’t worship saints and that we are never commanded to do so and other churches that do this are wrong. However, what I have since learned was that while we do not worship the saints, we do honor them. Some of the most formative spiritual experiences of my life happened as a result of me remembering the saints. Saints are different for me though. While the saints of the Bible and the heroes who kept the faith since are ones whom I hold in high regard, I believe that the saints whom I hold in the highest regard are the ones who have reached me on my deepest levels. People who lived 2000 years ago have trouble doing this with me, because, well, I never actually talked with them, walked with them, ate with them, argued with them, or even met them at all. There has never really been much intimacy between the apostle Peter and me. I’m sure we would get along because I stick my foot in my mouth regularly just like he did with Jesus. However I can’t know for sure because we never really got to talk about it.
The saints whom I hold in the highest regard are the ones whom I have had some sort of intimate relationship with. They are people who set a high bar in keeping the faith. They are people whom I still aspire to be like to this day. I think about people like George Vaughn, Edith Randle, Ray Clyde and my aunt Rita. These people all set an example for me in a variety of ways.
What has also struck me have been the saints whom I never actually met but have had a direct personal impact on me anyway. I think about Vera, my mom’s mother, BC Goodpasture, Bob Onstead and David Lipscomb. After thinking for a long time about this, I realized that there is someone whom I never met but have been impacted more by this person spiritually than any of the others listed above and even some of the saints in my life who are still alive: Michael Bonine.
Though I never met Michael, I have been connected to him for sometime now and I always will be. There have been times when I felt intimidated by him and his legacy. There have been times when I felt like we would have been friends. There have been times that I have wanted to talk to him when I struggled to find the words to share with Ashley or the girls around the time of year when he passed. When Michael died, he left his faith instilled in his wife and children. Without that instilled faith, I don’t know if I ever even meet Ashley and Audrey and Addy. When I think about it, that’s part of why Gatlin and Millie are even here right now. I have come to realize that Michael has greatly influenced my spiritual formation and continues to do so.
When I take the communion each week in church with my church family, I have begun making it a point to take a moment to remember the hope in the resurrection that I have with saints who have impacted my life and have already gone on to the next life. I have thought about my aunt Rita a lot on Sundays since she went to be with God this past May. Because of this hope, I can look forward to the biggest reunion party of all time, so can everyone else who calls Jesus their Savior. I look forward to that reunion with these saints and in the case of Michael, I look forward to meeting him face to face for the very first time.
The more I have prayed and meditated on this, the more that I have realized that I want to commune with Michael. Ever since I married Ashley, I had dreaded the encounter I would have with Michael in the next life. I felt it would be this awkward encounter of me meeting the man whose family I claimed after he died. In a way I felt like I had almost stolen his life. Based on things that Ashley told me about how he was, I wondered if he would punch me in the face for claiming his life or at least give me an atomic wedgie or something like that. (I’m still not sure about what the heavenly brawling rules entail…)
Things are different now though. I see this from an entirely new perspective thanks to how I view my communion time with God. I believe in the communion with Christ and I believe in the the hope of the resurrection along with the saints who have gone on before me, including Michael.
I realize now that I commune with Michael each week and I now look forward to meeting him for the first time in heaven. I envision entering heaven with Ashley and we see Michael as we enter. I envision my wife running into his arms. They cry as they embrace while I stand and smile and then they both look back at me, smile, and each open up an arm and invite me into their embrace. I join and all three of us hold one another in tears because through each of our own hurts and struggles, we were found to be worthy of our calling through the Spirit of God. I envision the three of us one day welcoming all of our children into our arms, Audrey, Addy, Gatlin, and Millie. We won’t care who’s kid is actually who’s or who Ashley is truly married to because it won’t matter. We’ll be standing before the throne of the Almighty. We’ll be too busy celebrating Jesus triumphing over death on all of our behalf. We’ll be too busy embracing one another because we were called worthy by our Creator. We’ll all be family then so why not start thinking and celebrating this here and now.
So when Ashley asked me what I thought we should tell Gatlin and Millie who Michael was, the answer for me was very easy: he’s their daddy in heaven too. There’s no doubt in my mind that if our positions were changed that he would do the exact same for me. He’s not just watching down over Ashley and Audrey and Addison. He’s watching over me and Gatlin and Millie too. This is the kind of man he was and this is the kind of spirit that he has even to this day. After all, this is my brother we’re talking about and my children’s daddy in heaven.