The elk were just out of shot range with the .270. Some may have tried, but we could not see the bull clear enough to be comfortable in taking the shot. We were hidden behind a fallen pine on the east side of a mountain just above Durango, Colorado. I was hunting with my daughter Taylor, at the time she was 15 and dearly wanted to kill an elk. Her only option was to belly crawl through the gully and try to get behind another deadfall closer to the elk.
The heart of a little girl has a plethora of dimensions. All women do and after raising her to where she is today at 21, I am sure I have just scratched the surface. There are few things that I have feared more over the years than failing as a husband and a father. I have the ability to turn off emotion and just push into scary things in most situations; I think lots of guys do this. Take for instance the dark. I can really get myself to thinking crazy things, hearing things, when I am in the woods, in the dark, alone. But you just turn it off and go. When it comes to raising kids, loving your wife and being afraid to do the hard things like talking to them about intimate subjects, turning yourself off doesn’t work. You have to participate; if not, you will surely be eaten alive and so will they.
I realized that Taylor was soon to be driving and that she was not going to be my captive little girl any longer. Yes, she would need me in some areas, but she was going to launch out into a bigger story. She would begin to enter into life without her mother and I being in the center. I wanted, no needed, to make a really big statement, create a memory, a journal entry, that would forever be there. So we planned the elk hunt. Skip school, just her and I driving, camping, hunting together. This would give me the marker I needed. It would help me prepare her for the battles of life, work and the dreaded male species.
I thought everyone had heard the stories about the dad who sat in his boxers in the living room cleaning his shotgun the evening his daughter’s first boyfriend came over. They sat there talking with the boy, checking the barrel and the trigger of the gun. He gives the boy ground rules for dating his daughter, no touching the merchandise, no staring, remember your manners and if you are late one second be ready for the gates of hell to open upon you. Dads everywhere laugh at these “dad” stories. Heck, I know guys who have actually done things like this, including me.
There was a young boy in our church, a cute boy from what seemed to be a good family. He liked Taylor and I got word of it. She was in junior high and I really wasn’t thinking this was a boy I needed to bury in a shallow grave at the ranch; it was pretty innocent.
One Sunday I was setting up a classroom at church for a meeting and by some strange chance, or God’s perfect providence, the young man wandered into the room. I started with small talk then flowed right into, “So I hear you like Taylor.” A mixture of fear and innocence had already occupied his eyes when he realized he walked in the wrong door to begin with. “Yes sir,” he answered sheepishly. And then I had this brilliant idea.
It began something like this, “So I love my daughter, I love her dearly and I want you to know she is far more important to me than anything I own. Not my truck, my guns, my knives, my house, none of it,” I poured it on. “You know I have been to prison and I am not afraid to go back. You need to know that. Be nice to Taylor.” He stuttered a “yes sir” and took his first chance to get out of that room.
A few days went by as I laughed and joked with myself and some of my closest friends about having used the old Daddy lines on a boy who liked my daughter; I was brilliant and funny. It was Wednesday morning about ten when my phone rang. Our pastor was calling and I answered in a joyful voice, we were pretty good buddies. “Hey TJ, I need to ask you about something,” his voice very concerned. Crap, what was wrong now. “I had a dad call me this week and told me you scared the heck out of his son and he is pretty angry. I need you to call him.” Oh my, this was not good. Turns out the dad, the boy’s step-dad, had actually never heard of that humorous daddy/daughter/boy joke. His wife was also from Canada and guns were not funny either. It was a huge train wreck. I patched it up the best I could, ugh.
As much as those stories are funny, they are serious in a dad’s mind too. I would take a bullet, bury a kid in a shallow grave and fight any fight for my daughter. As she has grown up, I have had to endure more of these boy situations. I have found the old tricks don’t work with her being away at college. I have had to really grow up here, ask for Jesus to talk to me, teach me, give me the words and the skills to be a good father to her. One of the things that has been on my heart is to writer her a letter. I want to say some things to her I have not or not sure I said clearly, things that are on my heart for her.
My dearest precious Taylor,
I love you. I love you dearly. I want you to know that over everything else. I want you to know that with all my flaws, missteps, screw-ups and harsh exterior when around you, above all, I love you, deeply, and will no matter what.
Over the years I have made a lot of mistakes and I may have hurt you in ways I don’t even know. I want to ask for your forgiveness. I have never wanted to hurt you or squash your heart or spirit ever. Please forgive me for the times I was not there, was distracted when you were talking to me or did not participate in those moments you needed me.
I am so proud of the young lady you are becoming. I am so excited to see your dreams coming true at school. I loved that I was there to walk on the campus at Texas A&M with you the first time. I loved being there when you ordered your ring for graduation. I love when you dig on other schools. All this is so exciting for mom and I.
As you move into this new time in your life, there are things I feel compelled to share with you as a dad and a man. Please bare with me for a minute if you have heard this before; I want to make sure I say it.
Remember who you are. You are Taylor Lee Greaney and you have done things many said you would not be able to do. That is because God is preparing you for mighty works, He brought you to this time and place. Without Him, it would never have happened. Keep Him closer than anyone or anything.
Chase your dreams and don’t settle. You have always been incredibly blessed with the gift of leadership, intelligence, creativity, beauty, kindness and keen instincts. These are powerful tools for life and they will take you far. The story of life is big, your life will be big; expect that, go there, be courageous. Settling for a small story where your heart is stifled will be very painful for you. Talk to Jesus about this. He has big plans that you may have never considered. He does it that way a lot.
The young man, the one who will ask me (then you) for your hand in marriage needs to know what the expectations are. You can have expectations and standards for the man you will marry. I do. This is one of the top decisions of your life and needs to be very carefully considered. There can be a lot of positive things in a young man you like but he might not be “the one.” Your heart may struggle here but Jesus answers when we talk with Him. This young man has had to have been trained to know Jesus and have a burning desire to know Him better.
This young man should always open your door, always. He must treat you like the princess you are. He must delight in you, laugh with you, adore and care for you. He needs to use the words, “beautiful, amazing, incredible, and enchanting.” You need to see in his eyes the love he has for you. Will you two disagree and maybe fight? Knowing you, yes. But that is not the end-all. It is human. You will learn to work through it and find the middle ground for both of you. I pray He leads with Jesus in all those moments.
He needs to be able to care for you and your children financially. He needs to understand financial responsibility; he can’t live life for material pleasures. Ultimately this falls on his shoulders. Many young men do not understand the gravity of this obligation as a man, husband, father. He must be mature here. The Dave Ramsey Financial Peace course would be recommended before you start your marriage.
He has to desire adventure, with you. You are not the kind of girl who does well sitting still long. “Life must be an adventure of mighty consequence.” You were raised with the blood of an explorer and the heart of a maiden. Here, you will create journal entries for you both and with your kids, our grandkids. They will be the memories that will be retold year after year and you will need those.
He needs to be able to take charge of the hard things marriage and life will bring forward. He needs to live in reality. Here is where a church family and good men will come into play. You must have a church you participate in. He needs to be a part of men’s groups and outings, volunteering to help, stepping up. He needs to be engaged with you in Bible study and fellowship with others from your church. I have had it both ways and I can tell you as your mom would as well, a church family is a foundational element of your life. When things get hard, you both need church friends to help counsel you. You need times with them where you can be you while experiencing the Holy Spirit in your heart and so does he. You can’t make him this kind of guy; he needs to be that kind of guy before you say “I do.”
You will always be connected to your mom closely. He needs to know getting in-between you two can be fatal, for him. You need to know his family history and he needs to know yours. There can be a lot of baggage that comes out later; you know this, again, pretty on the outside and a herd of cattle does not make for solid marriage materials.
Drinking too much is a deal breaker. Your family history does not read well here. If his need to drink ever gets in the way of even one second of your plans or needs, then it will your marriage. It would be a crash and burn. You have to see who he is now; it won’t be different after the vows. You may hope so, but it wont.
You need to know that since before you were born, your mother and I have been praying for the man you will marry. Our top prayer, the one that will solve most of the issues above, is his walk with Jesus. That he is a man passionate about his walk. He can’t be soft here. There is no amount of money, land, cattle, pretty words or big trucks that can trump this one. If he does not truly love Jesus, pursue Him in church, family, men’s groups and in your marriage, it won’t work. I can tell you right now without the slightest hesitation, this must be your top priority.
Proverbs 31:25-29, Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
You are so precious and important to me and I never want you to ever forget that. I love you, I am here for you, I will fight for you and most of all, I am praying for you.
Love you Fruity,
The elk herd moved across the saddle and toward the dark timber. Taylor crawled and then disappeared over the side of the embankment. I had to stay still and not bugger up her chance. The elk wandered into the timber and I waited for the bang of the .270, the all-clear whistle or her to pop-up over the side of the hill. Nothing. Eventually I got up and looked, she was gone. I walked and looked, whistled lightly as panic began to settle in. Did she chase the elk into the timber? If she did, she could get lost fast. This was not good. Breathing became harder and my heart was pounding. Then, out of the timber way up top, she came bouncing out down the mountain. She had chased the elk around the crest until they spooked and disappeared. Thank you Jesus she was not lost.
Girls need to know they are important. Girls without fathers struggle in so many ways. They are desperate for dad’s attention and if they do not get it at home when they are young, they will seek it from boys and men in other places beginning early. We have to make time for them, include them, share life with them. Train them to expect only the best. Open their doors, tell them they look pretty and watch them when they want to show you they can dance. Above all, feed their hearts.
Philippians 4:6-7, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Taylor never got her elk; we tried but it was not to be. We are talking now about another trip, another try at her elk. I am excited. I want her to kill that elk with me at her side. One day, there may be another guy there with her, a good man, one who loves to see her eyes clear, a slight shaking in her hands as she scopes out a big bull elk. He will be there because she knows God brought him to her. He will be there because he passed my test and knows that she is precious to me and I am not afraid to go back to prison.
Daughters. Lead them, love them, take them elk hunting.