Daddies protect their baby girls. This is what they do. But I couldn’t protect mine. Long before she was even born, I had a mental list of all the things I would try to protect her from. Cuts, scrapes, and bruises from falling off her bike when she was young, to drugs, bad boys, and illicit sex when she got older. Later on, I would have added to the list things like bullies and online predators. But, in a small hospital in Northeastern PA, all these plans to protect came crashing down. All these “would be” teachings never came to pass. There was one thing I needed to protect her from that I couldn’t. I couldn’t protect her from her own strength. From her own lifeline to her mommy…….of all things. That is what she needed protection from. I didn’t do what daddies are supposed to do.
Thinking back to the very moment when I found out she was dead, I can almost recapture the same disturbing emotion……..if I concentrate hard enough. I can still hear the swooshing noises of the ultrasound machine. The deafening silence of the technician. And, even worse, the deafening silence of no heartbeat on the monitor. But my heart was probably pulsating into my shirt. And then……there was the look of fear on everyone’s face, including mine. A nightmarish feeling throughout my whole body. I wanted the technician to say something…….anything. And at the same time, I wanted her to just keep quiet. I wanted to delay what I thought would become a nervous breakdown. I was really scared. Yes, daddies get scared when their baby girl doesn’t move. It means he may never see her alive…….ever again. It means she got hurt really bad. It means he didn’t protect her.
I kept thinking “Are they going to tell me I am never taking her home?!” “Is this for real?!” “Are you telling me that I didn’t protect my baby from harm?! And how can I possibly ever protect her again, if she doesn’t come home with me?!” All of a sudden, nothing else in your life means anything to you. Money, stuff, sports, sex……….. nothing else means anything to you. Someone could tell you that you just won 10 million dollars, and you would feel dead inside. You’d push that green garbage out of your way. No desire at all for it. Money can’t buy back your baby. It cannot work a miracle. All I wanted was to protect her. But I didn’t. Simple as that. And it doesn’t matter how true it is that there is nothing I could have done. That doesn’t alleviate the agony of the whole thing. The agony has nothing to do with fault or neglect, or lack thereof. The agony is simply the fact that I never protected her. And protection is what daddies do for their little girls. And when they don’t protect, regardless of the circumstances, they live with unspeakable heartache. Their role goes unfulfilled.
I will never forget the feeling. But yet, I could never begin to accurately describe what it felt like. To be a daddy and lose your baby girl to stillbirth is a shock to your system. You don’t just “get over it”. Ever. I couldn’t make the darkness go away. I had to continually bear up under the awful reality. The reality that my baby girl is not coming home with me. I first felt the sting of this shock 15 years ago when I lost my precious Ariana. Seeing my baby girl just lying there motionless, it felt like every organ was wailing on my insides. A groaning lament that only I could hear. It wrecks your emotions something terrible. It is like someone sticking a knife in your head and ripping away the joy center of your brain, but leaving everything else intact. Something of this anguish will always be inside of me. Unfulfilled love. Unfulfilled joy. Unfulfilled expectations. And………unfulfilled obligation. And that is the obligation of protection. I wanted her to look at me with those baby eyes. I wanted her to look at me with the God-given instinct that she was safe in the arms of daddy. “I’m sorry that daddy didn’t protect you baby!” is what I would love to say to her now.
As a man, I am supposed to be the protector. And it ought to be a joy to take on such a God-given role. That is how our God designed things to be. But I couldn’t protect her in the womb. I couldn’t stop her from kicking so hard that she looped the umbilical cord around her ankle. Good daddies can, and will, warn their little girls of many things. Not that they will always listen and obey of course, but you still have the opportunity to warn them. Bad things might happen, but you can still at least try to wake them up to reality. You can still do everything under your power to step in and protect them.
And even if you can’t anticipate every possible thing that could happen to your daughter, you can still teach them about safety and common sense. You can be proactive. In fact, you should be. You can teach them how to use guns or pepper spray. You can teach them self-defense. You can teach them about unnecessary risks that they need not ever be taking. You can teach them how a teenage boy’s mind functions. You can teach about modesty in their clothing choices. You can teach them to scream at the top of their lungs “RAPE!!!!” when they are in danger. I would be teaching her all these things. Why? Because daddies are protectors of their baby girl. Even when she is 50!
Through the years, daddies can say lots of things to protect their daughters. These are some of the ways I anticipated protecting my baby……..
“Baby, you are too little for a real bike. You need training wheels for a while. I am buying you the one with training wheels.”
“No, honey, you are not allowed go to that party. End of discussion.”
“Princess, you are staying home tonight. The roads are too slick to drive on.”
“Sweetie, that skirt is too short. Go upstairs and change. Now.”
“Ariana, no Facebook for you today. And I’m taking your phone away for a few days.”
“I don’t care what Tina’s parents are letting her do. You are not going camping when boys are there!”
“I will not allow you to date that boy. He doesn’t love Jesus.”
And my personal favorite (the one I would have said most often)…………
“Repent and believe the gospel!” (If she believes this, it will protect her from hell)
Good daddies can anticipate and plan for all these things, then act accordingly. And although we can’t make her always choose properly, we can tell her why certain pathways are in her best interest to take. But one thing a daddy doesn’t say is……
“Baby, don’t kick so hard in mommy’s tummy! Stop! You don’t know your own strength! You are going to die if you keep doing that!”
I couldn’t give my baby a speech about the proper and safe way to kick while she is still inside mommy’s tummy. She didn’t know any better. She just kept kicking like crazy. Her own strength and perseverance killed her. Her lifeline to her mother was the very instrument of her death. What a handful she would have been had she made it out of the womb safely! A handful I would gladly receive any day.
The question for me isn’t “Jamie, how could you have possibly known she was going to kick like that? And even if you did, how could you have stopped her?” That’s not the issue. I didn’t keep her from harm. That is the issue. Her blood flow was cut off. I didn’t fix it. I didn’t fulfill my God-given role of being a daddy. It isn’t about fault or blame. It is about reality. It doesn’t always mean disobedience toward your role. Sometimes it just means unrealized. “It didn’t happen for you like it does everyone else” kind of thing. In other words, life can really suck sometimes! Move on. Go forward. Right? No, it doesn’t work that way. They don’t have a pain vaccine for parents who lose babies. One day, if we are in Christ, every tear will be wiped from our eyes. But now, pain hurts. A lot.
Every daddy can relate to this God-given “protection” instinct, regardless of whether your little girl is dead or alive. When she gets hurt (either emotionally of physically), you feel that protection instinct take over. And you would take any blame for her 1000 times over if you could. If she got busted for underage drinking, you’d go to jail for her if you could (and then lecture her, and ground her….forever…… after she hopefully bails you out!) You’d take a bullet for her, without even thinking. Trust me, you would. You’d give your only lifeboat to her as you drown. There are thousands of aching daddies who have little girls with cancer. And they can’t stop it from spreading! Some of these girls will never ride a bike, graduate from high school, or walk down the aisle. And I can tell you one thing for sure. If these daddies had the opportunity to take that cancer out of her body and put it into his body………………done. In the twinkle of an eye……………done.
I remember how tight I held Ariana after her stillbirth. I held her like a protective daddy. I had my chance to protect her from harm. But she knew nothing. I remember her body was flimsy. It felt like a rag doll. It was my last chance to hold her though, so I held on as long as I could. They give you time to do this at the hospital. I am thankful for that. They gave me a chance to be a daddy. Daddies are protective of their baby girl. I wanted her attention so bad. I wanted her to look just once. I wanted her to know that nothing bad was going to happen to her now, because I was holding her. I was protecting her dead body from further harm. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But that is what daddies do. Even when their baby girl no longer has breath or a beating heart. Then they came in to take her away. Her next stop was the funeral home. Then the cemetery. I couldn’t protect her from being lowered into the ground either. Yes, I know she was dead. But they were still lowering my baby girl into the ground. Do you now see what I mean?
I wanted to teach her to ride a bike. Even more important, I wanted to protect her from falling off the bike and hurting herself. I wanted to show her how strong daddy was, and how much he loved his little girl. That he would never let her fall down and hurt herself. Maybe a little boy could deal with the bumps and bruises. But not my Ariana. I would have done everything I could to keep her from a skinned knee. Right now, I picture what her smile would look like when I catch her before her bike hits the ground. Oh how I can see the look in her eyes! I write that in the present tense because I am acting it out as vividly as I can. Then, I would tell her that Daddy would never let her crash to the ground. I would say, “Daddy loves you and doesn’t want you to ever get hurt. When you hurt, I hurt.” How else would she ever know that I was a loving protector, unless I really did protect her from something? How else would she know why I saved her from the pain, unless I explained my motives afterwards?
But Ariana did get hurt. She never saw any of my protection. And this was long before she ever got to ride a bike. I will never share that moment with her. I can hear her cute little voice shouting, “Daddy, you saved me!!” That has such an irresistible ring to it. And I would have saved her too………every time. No hitting the asphalt and “learning her lessons the hard way” for my little princess. No free range parenting on that one for me. But we never made it to the bicycle stage. I couldn’t save her on the day of her birth. Why? Because I am not her savior. All earthly fathers have limited capabilities. I simply could not help my baby. Where do I turn?
God Almighty is the only One who could have truly protected my baby from harm. But in His perfect and infinite wisdom, He chose not to. Sure, I have questions. But I trust Him. Yes, it is difficult. But I trust Him. No, my trust isn’t perfect. But He is perfect and I trust Him. He is the only all-sufficient Protector.
Psalm 20:1 says, “May the LORD answer you in the day of distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.”
And in Isaiah 41:10 we read “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Ariana is now with her true Protector. Ultimately, I could never fulfill that role perfectly. But now she is with the One who never fails, not even for a moment. If I had been a Christian when she died, I would have certainly grieved. But I would have grieved very differently. There would have been a peace in the midst of the storm. A peace that comes from knowing that there is no event outside of God’s control, and that Ariana’s death did not catch Him off guard. And knowing that no harm can ever again come upon her, for God is her refuge and strength. And one day I will see Ariana under the mighty protection of Jesus Christ!
I do grieve that I can never play a part in her earthly protection. Daddies long to be fulfilled that way. But now, truly I can say, nothing bad will ever happen to her again. Ariana was released from my faulty and limited protection to God’s everlasting and perfect protection. She is far better off.
I had a vague notion of heaven around the time of my baby’s death, even though I myself was headed the other way. But I had no clear understanding of the character, power, and magnificence of God. But now that the Holy Spirit has taught me some amazing things through the Word of God, I have a certain expectation of great things to come. I will see the same King whom my baby now sees.
I will see my Savior. I will see my Lord. I will see my Protector. And all of my unfulfilled love, joy, and expectations will be eternally and infinitely fulfilled in Him!
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