We had just gotten Dad home after seven days at Hannibal Regional Hospital. Now only hours later, we sat in the waiting room of the ER with Mom.

As the week unfolded, and the doctors came in and out of her room, we began to understand what we were facing.

Mom had advanced lung cancer. Dad was at home with advanced pancreatic cancer.

And for the first time, Shawn grabbed my hand and didn't let it go.

When we were in our early 20s and decided to finally date after six years of friendship, he gave me three rules.

"I don't kiss in public. I don't hold hands. And don't call me honey."

I took the deal, because I already knew what kind of man he was, and instead of "honey" — I called him "my dork."

He was kind to others but unapologetically himself. He was afraid of change, but went with two feet once he finally jumped.

He was rock solid — his strength and commitment to hard work always amazed me — and he puts that same elbow grease into our family.

He comes home from work dusty from cement dust at the plant and then wakes up on his day off ready to do whatever it is we are doing at the time. Most of his days off right now are spent working at renovating our house in the country. Today, he’s with the kids building a 10-foot volcano out of expanding foam for vacation Bible school at church.

Our life has never been perfect but it’s been a constant walking together in God’s plan. Even when it doesn’t seem to make any sense.

We walked through our early marriage trying to learn how to actually be married, because you really don’t walk down that aisle into some kind of dream marriage. Or at least we didn’t. There were days we weren’t sure we would make it.

But we held onto each other. Except we never held hands, and that was fine with me because I didn't need it.

Until I did need it.

It was 17 years after he gave me those rules, and we sat together trying to wrap our minds around taking care of two parents with cancer with two boys at home who still needed us.

We wanted to do our best for everyone but our shoulders were breaking.

That's when he grabbed my hand.

"We've got this," he said.

We alternated nights on my parents couch. He would leave there with puffy eyes and head to work at 5 a.m.

He spent his days off taking Dad to chemo/doctor appointments and serving my mom her baked potato for lunch (with a tub of sour cream).

He fathered our children every moment he wasn't on duty with my parents or working to provide for our family.

And in the quiet moments when the grief would wash over me, he'd take my hand and pray with me.

Something that was once awkward is now a lifeline for me.

Shawn held me together then, and he holds me together now.

We worried that our parenting would compromise while caring for my parents, but now I see the example set for my boys.

Because Dad is strong enough to roll his eyes and move the couch around the room when I ask him to, yet gentle enough to help Mama to the bathroom.

Because Dad never cried (except for the day he discovered Lowe's was coming to town), but spoke through tears when he told them Papa wasn't going to make it.

Because Dad's hands are calloused from long days of hard work, yet soft enough to caress mine as grief overcame me.

"I don't hold hands. I don't kiss in public. And don't call me honey."

He thought he was so cool.

Now he's broken his own rules, and since then he regularly grasps my hand as we walk together in this new phase of life.

And my boys saw it all. They saw a man. I saw a man. A man of God.

He will even lay one on me for a picture now and then. But I still don't call him "honey."

Happy Father's Day, Dork.

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