Keep The Faith: Father’s Day Has Been Bittersweet Ever Since I Lost My Daddy Unexpectedly


Shaka pays tribute to her father, Ronnie Phillips, during her wedding day.
Author Shaka pays tribute to her father, Ronnie Phillips, during her wedding day.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1
When I look back, it seems like everything about how my day started May 16, 2007 was preparing me for the news I was to receive later that evening. I’d awoke around 8 a.m. and immediately remembered that it was the same day that my dad was to have outpatient surgery to have a hernia removed. He had mentioned it to me three days earlier during Mother’s Day dinner at my grandmas. He’d read the concerned look on my face and assured me that he’d be “fine” in time for my graduation from Clark Atlanta University less than a week away. I was a little worried, but I knew that daddy wouldn’t miss my special day for anything.
It also happened to be my best friend Stephanie’s birthday and I’d made a mental note to call her later and stop by the mall for a gift to bring to her dinner party later on that night. I knew this would be an especially hard celebration. Just nine months earlier her dad had died in a tragic accident, days before his 50th birthday. I felt terrible about the fact that her dad would not be there for her birthday. I thought to myself how lucky I was to still have my daddy around and that I wouldn’t know what to do if anything ever happened to him.
Shaka with her father's 50th birthday party, just three months before his death.
Shaka with her father’s 50th birthday party, just three months before his death.

I turned on CNN to learn some bad news. It had been one month to the day of the deadly Virginia Tech rampage. Then I heard that Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, Yolanda King, had died unexpectedly. Yolanda King? No! Everybody loves the Kings. Hearing about her death felt like losing an aunt. My eyes welled up with tears and I was overcome with sadness. When I went to the mall for the gift, an eerie feeling flooded through me as I passed the sympathy section in the card store. My Uncle Howard, my dad’s younger brother, immediately popped into my mind. I remembered thinking about how sad my dad would be if something happened to him.
By then it was noon and I decided to check on my dad who should have been at home recovering by then. He answered on the third ring, but I could tell that he was still groggy so I kept it brief.
Me: Daddy?
Dad: Yeah.
Me: You home?
Me: You alright?
Dad: Yeah (weakly).
Me: Okay, I was just checking on you; I will call you later.
Dad: Okay.
Me: Bye.
I never imagined that such a simple conversation would one day mean so much to me. What I didn’t know was that he was in terrible pain during our talk. At exactly 4:59 p.m., as I was dressing for my night out, my Uncle Howard called my cell phone. I’d considered letting it roll over straight to voicemail, but thankfully decided against it. He told me that my dad was having complications and I needed to get to the hospital quick!
I continued dressing, but less than a minute later panic set in and I grabbed my keys and ran to my car. While maneuvering Atlanta streets I dialed my daddy’s number and his wife answered. She told me that she was riding in the ambulance with him and he wasn’t doing too well.
“Is my dad dead,” I asked. She paused before answering “no,” but emphasized that it didn’t look good. I don’t know how I made it to the hospital in the middle of Atlanta’s rush hour, but when I got there I double parked, left my emergency lights blinking and sprinted inside. Through the double doors I found the room where my aunt and stepmom were waiting.
“Where is my daddy,” I asked, terrified about the answer I’d get.
“He’s gone,” my aunt responded, her voice trailing off.
“Gone where,” I asked. Gone for X-rays, surgery, a soda what?
She didn’t answer, but her face said it all.
The last thing I remember was screaming, “No my daddy’s not dead; my daddy didn’t leave me, he’s never left me.”
Everything went in slow motion like a dream after that; my uncle picking me up, my flip flops falling off, my phone and keys falling to the floor, the man in the white jacket assisting my uncle, the lady sitting in the chair with tears rolling down her face as she repeated the words, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”
I don’t know how long time stood still, but when the clock started ticking again my hair was a mess, I was barefoot and I just wanted to see my daddy for myself. When I walked into the room his eyes were wide open, he still had a tube in his mouth and tubes stuck to his chest. He looked normal, I touched his face and it was still soft and warm. I kissed his cheeks and rubbed my fingers across his thick eyebrows as I held his hand.
The next morning felt like a dream (or perhaps a night mare is more accurate) when I awoke with his picture next to me. I instinctively picked up my cell and called my daddy; he didn’t answer. I left a message, hoping, no praying, that he would call back. He never did.
My dad’s been gone for nine years now and it’s been tough adjusting to life without him. Even though I know that in his death he is still very much with me, I’ll admit that it’s still a fight sometimes to keep feelings of betrayal, sadness, anger and fear from creeping in. What gives me solace is knowing that God gave me 27 years with an absolutely amazing, supportive and loving father. I thank the Lord for the fact that I’m not one of those girls – and I know many – whose dad walked out, leaving them to pick up the pieces of their lives.
Looking back now, I know that it was faith that got me through the death of my father and other challenging situations I’ve faced in life. “Keep the faith” were the words I kept hearing in my spirit during the countless nights I cried myself to sleep; the days I threw glasses in my kitchen and even considered picking up the shattered glass pieces and slicing my wrist. Faith helped me through the times I’d curl up on my couch in so much pain I could not move.
Shaka with her husband, Roderick Cobb, and daughter
Shaka with her husband, Roderick Cobb, and daughter

Today I am thriving in my career as a journalist. I’ve been married to Roderick, a great man who in many ways reminds me of my father, for almost five years. Day by day I’ve been embracing my new normal. I see now that when it felt like I had nothing, God was showing me that, in fact, he would continue to provide everything I need to enjoy a fulfilling life. It just took me some time to see it.
Roderick and I have a precious two-year-old daughter who is the joy of our lives. When I found out we were having a girl, it only made sense to name her Faith. Now every day that I look at her, and say her name for that matter, I understand fully the pure love that my daddy and I shared. I know in my heart that he is looking down from heaven, so proud of me and my little family! So this Father’s Day, though bittersweet, I celebrate the special relationship that I shared with my first love. I rejoice in the fact that now I know for sure that “Faith” truly is the substance of things hoped for!


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