“One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever gotten came from GOD. I call him DADDY.” UNKNOWN
For the past 2 years, my mother, my sister and I served as caregivers for my father. Sadly, our role as caregivers ended on February 7th, 2020 at 5:02 pm, when the man we call daddy, Mr. Johnny Lee Lathern took his last breath.
My parents were married for 64 years and as their child, I learned some invaluable lessons as I watched them evolve individually and in their partnership. While growing up, typically we’d attend church with my mother while daddy stayed home watching football games. But, when I was 7 or 8, that all changed. I vividly recall my dad’s transformation into a man of GOD. On Sundays, instead of watching football games, we began attending church as a family. He chose to become the man that GOD created him to be. He didn’t just attend church, he lived it –in his heart, through his actions, and in his words. I watched as he and my mother studied their bibles and prayed for our family every morning. Eventually, he became very active in church and sat on various boards and committees. He served as a deacon, head of the deacon board and faithfully taught high noon bible study until his health started failing. He truly LOVED the LORD and loved talking about GOD’s goodness and mercy to anyone willing AND unwilling to listen.
The man we call daddy was a man of integrity. Daddy was a man who ALWAYS had advice. He was the daddy who you could talk to about anything and he’d provide honest solutions. He would tell you like it was whether you wanted to hear it or not. He was principled and really was NOT interested in changing his views to meet the changing times. He let it be known that he was our father and NOT our friend. He was a protector. He didn’t like any of our boyfriends (probably why I’m still single…LOL). After we’d come home from a night of partying, the man we call daddy would walk through the house to make sure we were home and wouldn’t rest until he had that assurance. The man we call daddy was the type of father who said: “as long as you live in my house and party on Saturday nights, you’re waking up and going to church on Sunday too” and “as long as you live in this house, you are going to follow the rules.” The man we call daddy was compassionate. Before whipping us, he would say, “this is gonna hurt me more than you” and whipped us anyway. He was the daddy that we shared with cousins, and friends who had lost theirs. The man we call daddy was faith-filled. He touched lives by sharing his faith in GOD. Whenever someone departed, he would always say, “take the LORD with you everywhere you go, because you are going to need him.” He encouraged us to always TRUST GOD, stay in church, and to study HIS Word. The man we call daddy made sure his name had value and as a result, he was loved and well respected, especially by us.
On February 7th at 6:30 am, we received a call from the hospital letting us know that we needed to get there quickly. My mom, sister and I made that journey praying all the way. When we got to Daddy’s room, the crash cart and medical staff were in there and his vital signs were declining and he was struggling to breathe, but I was still trusting GOD. That’s what the man we call daddy had TAUGHT me to do. Selfishly, I wanted him here and was trusting GOD to perform a miracle. After all, HE could have. For the remainder of the day we played and sung his favorite gospel tunes, while he received visits from church members, pastors, deacons, and friends. It was as if they knew. But, how could they? Hell, even I hadn’t known. Or was it that I simply wasn’t ready to accept it? At 4:30 pm, his respiration rate was down to 9 and his heart rate was in the low 20’s, THEN I knew it was just a matter of time.
Daddy was a protector and a provider until the end and would have NEVER left us willingly. He needed to be reassured that my mom, my brother, my sister and I would be okay without his presence. I knew we needed to give him OUR permission to leave. So, we gathered around the man we call daddy and told him that we loved him and knew that he loved us. I apologized for wanting him to live a life filled with medical challenges when I knew it wasn’t what he wanted. At 4:50, we each reassured him that we would be fine and gave him our permission to go see GOD and to reunite with his family and friends that had gone before him.
At 5:02, on my sister’s birthday, we witnessed the most beautiful site. My 83-year-old father, the man we call daddy–Mr. Johnny Lee Lathern, took a long deep breath, closed his eyes, and traded his hospital gown for a robe, his cap for a crown and ascended to sit at the right hand of GOD. As he transitioned, he had a glow. He had the most peaceful look on his face, and I imagined that, at that very moment, he was hearing GOD say, “WELCOME MY GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT, REST NOW.”
Daddy, thanks so much for ALWAYS being there for us. I experienced your love from the day I was born until the day that GOD called you home. Despite the many disappointments that I may have caused, your love was never withheld or doubted. Whether I was in college or lived down the street, you ended every phone call by saying “I love you.” You constantly and consistently told us how much you loved us and you showed it even more. The man we call daddy was NOT perfect but he was perfect for OUR imperfect family and we are so grateful that GOD chose him to be the Patriarch of our family and are so very appreciative of the gifts of wisdom and insight that he so freely shared. So as we learn to live without the man we call daddy—the biggest link in our family chain, we will continue to love each other as you loved us, and will continue to add value to the Lathern name.
Deacon Daddy, you took the LORD, with you everywhere you went NOW rest in love knowing that you will FOREVER LIVE through the memories in our minds, and in EVERY beat of our hearts.
SHIP TALK: Do you have any memories of your dad?
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