Girl Dad – The Long Drive Home

Lola MagazineGreg Hicks, Lola Shreveport

December 1, 1993. I’ll never forget that day for as long as I live. I was 15 years old and so was she. That afternoon I heard the house phone ring while I was in my room playing video games. A few minutes later I heard my stepmother crying. “What if it’s true? How awful will it be?” she said through tears while talking to my dad. I had no idea what was going on then but later that night what we all feared was confirmed.

She was one of my best friends and on that day, Misty Shirey went home to be with the Lord after a car accident. Even as young as I was, I knew this would affect me for the rest of my life, as well as the lives of the Farmerville High School class of 1997 and even more people in our community. She was our friend, and her family was like our family.

When my girl dad life started, I never knew how hard it would be for me emotionally, until I experienced our very first Mother’s Day church service at my mother’s church. I sat there in the congregation and watched Misty’s mother singing in the choir, head up like it was just another Mother’s Day. And I absolutely fell apart. I cried so hard that I couldn’t stop. No one knew why I was upset except for me. My mother thought I’d gotten filled with the Holy Spirit and was praising God for my moment of clarity on Mother’s Day.  But that wasn’t what caused me to weep uncontrollably.  I felt so much sorrow for Mrs. Kay in that moment that I just could not hold back my tears. My mind raced and thought “Could I be that strong? How would you handle losing your daughter?”  Here she was 15 years later singing in the choir with a smile on her face. The strength that Earl & Kay Shirey have is still an inspiration to me. But even knowing that, their story still affects me.

Our oldest daughter is now 16 and just started driving. If you’ve never experienced the fear of turning your baby loose on the highway in a half ton missile, trust me when I tell you that it’ll test everything in you. Her first trip from her mother’s house to mine found me so nervous that I couldn’t sit still. It’s a 45-minute drive but in the rain, it’s longer and guess what; it was raining.

Her mother called me to give an update on her trek because she’d seen her on the road. I, however, was busy wiping down my kitchen cabinets, doing anything I could to keep my mind occupied. When the headlights of her jeep crossed the house, I was standing outside waiting. It was the longest drive of my life, and I wasn’t even in the car.

Fast forward a few weeks and again, it’s raining. My main concern has been about her handling unexpected driving conditions. I feel like as a father I failed her in preparing her for the unexpected when driving. She’s never been in anything that was out of control. She’s never wrecked a four-wheeler or go cart. She’s never wrecked anything. As parents, small wrecks scare us to death, but they can actually prepare someone for when it happens in a vehicle. But one night that all changed.

She walked in from visiting with her boyfriend and his grandparents (that’s a whole other girl dad story, let me tell you) and she was upset. She told me about her day and then about something I wasn’t expecting. “Daddy, I hydroplaned today. And it wasn’t a little. It was bad. Like, I had no control of my Jeep. And daddy it scared me so much!!” Her tears told me she was telling the truth. She also told me that after that, her friends wanted to go to the movies but with the weather so bad, she didn’t want to go. She was still shaken by the uncontrolled experience of a car skating over water.

She finally got to see firsthand what I’ve always told her. It can happen so fast that you’ll never even know it until you’re half way through it.   

This has been a huge step for us as parents. As hard as it is to let them go and let them grow up, I’m learning that we all must do it. Even though it’s scary, they have to experience life in order to live it.

Today she and her sister left my house just before a bad storm hit and I watched Life360 the entire time they were going to their mothers. If you’re unfamiliar with that app, at the top it says, “Protect This Drive” and it made me wish I could protect them on every drive. At one point I cried for their safety and watched the weather radar like it was an enemy invasion. Thats all I could do. Watch that little bubble move along the road. But as long as they were moving, they were safe. The relief I felt when they made it to their destination was unreal.

I told Mrs. Kay that I’d written this, and I asked for a picture of her and Misty.  What I got in return was something that I never dreamed I’d ever get and it’s something I believe that someone out there may find peace in.  She messaged back, “She and I had such a great morning that day. She was excited that I was letting her go. Do I have regrets, yes! But I look back so many times and, in my mind, I see that smile. When she left that morning, she had left her purse, and they drove back up the driveway as I stood under the carport. She jumped out and ran to me and hugged my neck and said, ‘Mama thank you for letting me go, I love you’. Those words gave me comfort, because it took me a long time to realize God gave me that assurance with those words.  It wasn’t bye, it was, ‘Now let me go’. I’m so grateful that the following summer she gave her life to Christ.  It was that assurance that Jesus has filled me to know, one day soon I’ll see her again.  Until then I’ll win others to take with me.”

In 1991, Suzy  Bogguss released the song called  “Letting Go”.  In it, she sings about a mother whose daughter is moving out of the house and on to her next chapter. One line that hits home for me goes, “She’s had 18 years to get ready for this day. She should be past the tears; she cries some anyway.”

As a parent, it’s ok to cry the tears of letting go. The fact that we can let them go means we’re doing our job. The tears simply show that we put our entire life into that job, and we take it very seriously.