Big Daddy

When Zach and I first started dating he invited me to come to church with him to meet his family. I literally met pretty much his entire family at the same time on the same day. It was overwhelming and I was SO nervous. I remember going to “Learner” at the mall and spending so much money to find just the right outfit to wear.

We joke often about the first meeting. I had my nose pierced (gasp!) and the first thing Mr Rusty said when he met me was “what’s that in your nose” haha! Don’t worry he loves me now…but that didn’t help ease my anxiety much 😉

It was that same day that I met Big Daddy. As he likes to point out, when I was introduced to Zach’s family he was the one to love me first.

I’ve heard all the stories and jokes about Big Daddy in his younger days. He was strong and tough and stern back then but that’s not the Big Daddy I met or have ever known. He’s always been sweet, affectionate, and loving. And I love that about him. I love that he softened with age and time and it’s a reminder to me that we can always work to better ourselves and grow into versions of ourselves we’d rather be.

He has never tried to appear perfect in his faith and while he’s often joking about being the “good Bull” or being “a dog” in his youth or acting like he knows how to do everything he also shows vulnerability at times too. He will be shy or even insecure in moments and isn’t afraid to ask questions or to be a good listener (because “a good listener is a good learner” of course).

I loved Big Daddy right away too. Sometimes people just “get you” and make you feel seen and that’s how he’s always been with me.

Zach’s family is very close and while that’s a blessing in so many ways, it can be tough to enter into a really close-knit family unit. It was never tough when it came to Big Daddy. I was instantly “part of” in his eyes.

Every caption of the pictures I found on my Facebook simply said “MY Big Daddy.” Big Daddy doesn’t know a limit on his ability to love. So many non-family members consider him their Big Daddy. He can be your Big Daddy. And mine. And theirs. He makes everyone feel special. It’s his talent and gift.

Big Daddy is my person. Any event we both attend we find each other. It’s something I appreciated from the start but counted on more and more as the years went on.

And I’ve also come to value that bond more and more too. He didn’t have to love me. He didn’t need an “Emily” in his life. I’m his grandson’s wife. He has 6 grand children and 11 great-grandchildren. Yet he chose to love me and he made me feel chosen every single time I was with him.

I didn’t know I would need a Big Daddy. But God did. And I truly think Big Daddy knew too. He saw that need in my life before I even saw it.

Over the years many relationships in my life got harder and painful. Big Daddy wasn’t afraid to ask me questions that so often others shy away from asking. Even when it was hard for me to talk about, I knew he was asking out of that true, genuine love and concern for me.

As he got older and his health started to decline I also started on a personal healing journey that often opened wounds and caused me to feel a lot of raw pain at times (which is necessary to heal). In that process, I appreciated him in a whole new way and understood that his love for me is unconditional in a way I’ve not known before.

He constantly tells me that “You don’t need anybody because as long as I’m here you’ve got your Big Daddy.”

I cry a lot around Big Daddy. His love doesn’t just fill voids, it has helped me define what love is. It’s been such a blessing to feel the love he’s given me. It’s been such a gift.

And I know he knows that. He knows why I cry so easily when we’re together.

During a recent hospital stay, Zach and I went to visit with him and Zach was able to share his heart and thank Big Daddy and say all the things he wanted to make sure to say. When it was my turn I just cried and cried and couldn’t say anything other than “I love you. I just love you.”

I struggle to share emotional things out loud so I decided to write him a letter saying all the things I know he knows already. I didn’t need to write it to him. He didn’t need to read it. But don’t we all love to hear how special we are to others?

So I came home and typed up a letter and wanted to put part of it here to have for myself too.

Big Daddy,

I know you know this but I still want to say it to you and every time I try to, I just cry too much to get it out.

I want to thank you for loving me. You are the person who has shown me that unconditional love exists. You loved me from the start and have loved me just for being me. As a mom when my babies were born and I held them I loved them and that is the same way you love me. I have my Big Daddy and I know he loves me just as I am.

You see my true self and there have been so many times where you say just the right thing at the right moment. What I need to hear right when I need to hear it most.

I cry so much when I am around you because I am just always so thankful to have you in my life and know the kind of love you have given me. It is a true gift that means everything to me.

You are my favorite person forever and ever I am so blessed to have you as my Big Daddy. I love you so much, thank you for loving me.

Love, Emily

We visited him a few more times at the house and each time we did I noticed that my letter was sitting right beside him. The last time we went to visit him at the house was two weeks ago before we left for our trip to Charleston. He was sleeping when we came in and I will never forget the moment he heard Zach’s voice. His eyes lit up so bright and big.

Even as his body has declined, his eyes have stayed so sharp. So young. So much life in them.

Last week Zach went to help transport Big Daddy to a nursing home and it was really, really hard. Big Daddy wasn’t himself and wasn’t really present. That was the day Zach said his eyes just weren’t the same.

We weren’t sure the best move after that day. Zach and I had peace as we’ve both told Big Daddy exactly the things we wanted to make sure he knew.

The last time we visited him as a family Kye really hesitated when we left. He struggled about saying goodbye and when we got in the car he said he wanted to say something to Big Daddy but he didn’t know what to say or how to say it.

Big Daddy had a few better days over the weekend and Zach and I asked the kids if they needed/wanted to go see him. We knew Kye needed to. I also felt like I needed to go so on Saturday we went.

I feel bad that I wasn’t able to be strong for Kye in that moment. He and I just cried and cried. Big Daddy was asleep when we walked in but did wake up. He didn’t say anything and Kye wasn’t sure Big Daddy heard him as he read his letter through tears, but later Mrs. Charlotte told Big Daddy to tell Little Mama who came by to see him and he said “Kye” so we know he knew.

About two-ish years ago I was really deep into my healing journey and had a really hard moment and happened to see Big Daddy on a day where things were very raw for me emotionally. I hugged him and clung to him and begged him to never leave me. I have felt a lot of guilt about that because of course I NEVER want him to leave and selfishly I want him here forever but that wasn’t fair of me to ask something truly impossible out of him.

I felt like I needed to tell him I was sorry for that moment and that it was okay to go. Not that he needed my permission or was waiting on me to “allow him” to pass away. But I just didn’t want to harbor that guilt from that day. I love Big Daddy and while I selfishly want him here with me on earth, I truly do WANT him at home in Heaven. I want him to have that joy and that healing and that forever walk with God.

So Kye left and I had some time just with Big Daddy. Physical touch is important to him so I held his hand and fixed his hair and rubbed his face. I told him it was okay, I’d be okay. I told him I didn’t want to leave him and that I just love him so, so much and that he will always be my Big Daddy.

He opened his blue eyes and looked right at me and puckered his lips. I kissed him and he took my hand to his lips and kissed it and said “I love you.”

I stayed there just loving on him until he fell asleep.

On Sunday Big Daddy had a really good day so Monday morning Zach wanted to go by with him for a bit. The day of the transition into the nursing home was really tough for Zach to see Big Daddy not being himself and would be a tough “last memory” so since he was doing so good it was the perfect timing for Zach to go be with him.

Big Daddy said “hey Zachary!” to him and they had SUCH a wonderful visit. Zach felt SUCH peace.

Zach and his dad left together and before they made it to their destination for work they got the call that he had passed. It was shocking only because they had JUST seen him and he had been better than he’d been in a week. We all knew the time was coming but it just seemed like we’d have a bit more of it.

So thankful for God’s perfect timing. So thankful Zach had that wonderful moment with Big Daddy and especially thankful that Zach was able to be with Mr. Rusty in the moment of that news.

It has been really hard to see Big Daddy decline. It’s been hard to see him frustrated with his body and mind at times. It’s been a realization that we truly aren’t meant to live forever and maybe living to a super, super old age isn’t the greatest thing to experience.

But it’s also been such a gift to have him for so long. SUCH a gift that he was able to be home with Little Mama in the home they’ve shared for decades for as long as he was. Such a gift that he’s leaving behind children, grandchildren, and GREAT grandchildren who all love and adore him and who’ve been able to have such close bonds with him over the years and who’ve all been able to surround him in love during these final days.

So thankful for God’s timing in that the transition into the nursing home was this year and not last year. I cannot fathom Big Daddy having to be alone due to Covid rules and regulations. So grateful he was able to have so many visitors this last week. Big Daddy loves others but he also loves being loved too and we all know he has loved that attention and affection and he’ll be counting attendance at the services this week from Heaven 😉

There is SO much peace surrounding his passing. But it’s also just hard to feel ready to experience the world without him in it.

I’ve known the day would come where he’d go to Heaven. He’s 93! My tears are not ones of sadness for him, they are selfish tears. I’m so sad for Little Mama and for Mr. Rusty and for Uncle Steven and for Aunt Karen and for Zach and for the kids and for the rest of the family and for all of those who love him. But I’m also really sad for me. I’m just really, really sad.

I’m just not ready to think in the past tense when it comes to Big Daddy. I’m thankful to a sweet friend who sent me this video on Facebook about grief and how it’s okay to still speak in the present tense about the people we love who are no longer here. We speak in the present tense “not because we are in denial or because we are forgetful. It’s because the people we love, who we’ve lost, are still so present for us.”

I love that. Big Daddy still is. He still loves me. He is still my favorite person. He is, and always will be, my Big Daddy.

I want to share all the favorite photos I have in this post so in the future I can easily reference it and I love having them all together in one place to look back on.

Kye was at a friend’s house the morning we got the news of Big Daddy’s passing. I was in the middle of making lunch for the other three kids so I finished making it and let them eat before telling them.

I am a big believer in being the parent. Yes, I love Big Daddy so much and I am so sad but this is a big moment for the kids too. It’s important that I handle this situation in a way that helps them to have a positive outlook on death. We will all die. I don’t want them to have issues with the concept of death or fear it or think Heaven is less perfect or less desirable due to my reaction of it.

So I told them Big Daddy went to Heaven. Britt instantly tried to force tears and I stopped her. I told them there is no right way to feel or act. That they WILL see Mommy cry. The will most likely see Daddy cry. And Big Papa. And G-Mama. And Little Mama. We will ALL probably be crying. And that’s because we love Big Daddy and are sad that he’s not with us but truly we are HAPPY FOR him. And for all those who are already in Heaven who get to have Big Daddy with them and that we’ll get to be together with him again someday too!

We are all allowed to feel however we feel. If we cry it isn’t because we are being dramatic. If we don’t cry it doesn’t mean we don’t care. If we’re angry at times it doesn’t mean we don’t have faith. It’s okay to be upset now or be upset later or never be upset at all. I wanted to make sure they know that ANY feelings they have are normal, allowed, and healthy to express.

Tess said she’s not upset. She then listed everyone she could think of who will also die someday “Even Simon in my class who is so nice will someday die too.” Britt said she felt upset before but doesn’t right now.

Zach was home when Kye got home and he told Kye. I told Kye the same things and also told him that I didn’t want him to feel like he had to be strong for me. He said, “And if I want to try to be strong for you that’s okay too right?” My sweet boy.

We’ve talked about favorite memories with Big Daddy and Kye said his favorite memory was just this last weekend. That he went to see Big Daddy and that Big Daddy knew he came and mentioned him by name.

Britt said “The way he always tells me I could be Miss America someday.”

Tess said “How he tells me I have Mommy’s eyes”

Obviously we told Spear but didn’t expect him to really “get it” or understand. We went over to Little Mama and Big Daddy’s house last night for dinner and Spear went right over to Big Daddy’s chair and asked “Where is Big Daddy? He going to be here?”

I love the way Big Daddy loves our babies. I know Kye makes him so proud, especially being the first of his generation to carry on the Parker name. Big Daddy requested for Kye to come spend time with him by himself and they had a full morning together awhile back. Big Daddy told stories about working on the railroad and drew out pictures for Kye to explain things.

It is so special that Big Daddy was able to attend one of Kye’s archery tournaments. It was SUCH a precious memory that will always mean so much to Kye. Archery is a sport that Big Daddy knew nothing about but he wasn’t about to not take on the challenge to learn! He asked questions during the tournament and in the times after he always asked Kye about his archery.

Big Daddy wasn’t just about sports, he always brags on Kye’s intelligence and how smart and good looking he is too 😉

Big Daddy has a tradition of taking the little boys for their first hair cuts and went with Kye for his:

It is SO awesome that Kye is TWELVE and has such a great bond with his GREAT Grandparents. I mean who can say that, right?!? Such a gift and a blessing to have all of these memories.

Big Daddy is ALWAYS reminding us ladies to get our hair out of our eyes. He says “if you have a beautiful face don’t cover it up with hair” while taking his hand and swooping the hair out of our faces.

I’ve always said that Big Daddy belongs on a sitcom. He has these great one-liners that you can just picture becoming catch phrases and can hear a laugh track in the background when he says them.

It was so awesome at his 90th birthday party that everyone wrote down their favorite Big Daddy sayings and then he read them aloud. Such a special memory!

He loves his little sweetie Britt, the future Miss America 🙂 He loves hearing about her gymnastics and talks about her bubbly personality and how he can always tell how much she loves her big daddy! She’s “gorgeously beautiful” and makes him proud!

Big Daddy also adores Tessie. I love the pictures from the day she was born. Everyone is SO excited and Big Daddy is so serious haha.

Of course, Tess has been my mini-me from birth and that is not something that goes unnoticed with Big Daddy. He ALWAYS calls her “my Little Emily” and every single time he’s with her he tells her that she looks just like her mother.

And he means that as a compliment, naturally 😉

Tess is just like her mama too in how much she just kinda knows what Big Daddy needs – and that is attention. She will love on him and give him lots of affection. I think my funniest Tess and Big Daddy memory though is this last Christmas. She went over to love on him and she said, in her sweet little voice, “Hey Big Daddy! You are looking so old.” It was SO funny and thankfully I don’t think he had the hearing aids in. 😉

And then there’s Spear.

I was very nervous when it came to our decision to adopt and how Big Daddy may feel and how it could, potentially, impact our relationship. Big Daddy is from a generation where adoption wasn’t really a “thing.” Big Daddy is also very proud of the Parker name. Of his legacy. How would he feel about that name being carried on by non “Parker blood?”

Our adoption decision DID cause some ripples among some relationships. But not with Big Daddy. Not one bit.

I already loved him. I already adored him. He was already my favorite person. I didn’t think it was possible to love him more than I already did. But the way he responded about Spear? My heart could literally burst with the love and pride I have.

Big Daddy instantly “got it.” He instantly saw the blessing of bringing a child through adoption into the family. I will never forget soon after we told everyone our plans, Big Daddy was at our house for a family get together and he sat at the kitchen table with me for a LONG time. He asked so many questions. He wanted to learn. He wanted to know more. He wanted to understand.

Just as he instantly loved me. He instantly loved Spear’s birth mother. He’s never met her, but he loves her too. Once we were matched, he asked about her all the time. How she was. How we connected with her. He loved hearing about my bond with her and about her love for her unborn baby.

She knows how much he loves her too and would talk to me about that. She even has pictures of Big Daddy that we’ve sent to her to keep. She knows he’s rooting for her too.

I posted this on Instagram, along with a picture of Big Daddy holding Spear, on Spear’s first Christmas (we’d just brought him home from the ICPC stay like less than a week prior):

Every Christmas there is a moment that always sticks with you. That when you think about it throughout the year, you can’t help but smile. Maybe it’s the reaction to a gift, a silly unplanned moment of joy, a surprise you hadn’t expected.

This morning Big Daddy met me at his front doorstep and said I wasn’t allowed to cross the threshold until I handed over our new baby. He wanted to be the one to carry him in and show him to the extended family who hadn’t yet met him. 

Adoption is not easy. It’s messy and complicated and hard. And it can be a struggle for a lot of people to understand, especially those from earlier generations from a time when adoption wasn’t like it is today. 

Big Daddy loves big and he gives his love generously and genuinely. He wanted to hold Spear and hear about his birth story. He wanted to know every detail about our path and the way Spear entered this world and our family. 

He didn’t have to ask. Plenty of people haven’t. He didn’t have to cuddle our baby or say those sweet words. He wanted to. He told me how proud he is of us and how proud he is to have this great-grandson as part of his lineage. He shared his heart and it meant so much. 

I haven’t ugly cried the way I did today in a long time. This was the moment that made my Christmas special this year. ❤️

Spear may never fully grasp just how much his Big Daddy loves him or how much that love he has for him means to Zach and I (and Mama E!) but it’s a WHOLE LOT.

As Spear has gotten older Big Daddy has only continued to enjoy him. He is always bragging about how smart he is in the same way that Zach is (with figuring things out) and how quickly he takes to things and understands. He never loved Spear differently than any of the rest of us and he’s JUST as proud to have Spear continue on the Parker name and legacy to future generations as well.

I know Zach may want to come share his own favorite moments and memories with and about Big Daddy. I process a lot of my feelings through writing and this is a healing, helpful tool for me. I think Zach also values having things written down to be able to reflect back on so I told him if he’d like to he can always come in and edit this post and add his own words to it.

I hate to even try to speak on his behalf or for him regarding his relationship with Big Daddy. I think a lot of how I feel about the way Big Daddy instantly loved Spear is how Zach also feels about the way Big Daddy instantly loved me too.

I know Zach has always wanted to make his Big Daddy proud and has always admired him and has valued the relationship they share and especially has taken pride in the legacy Big Daddy has created. He’s the good bull for sure!

Something I was drawn to about Zach from early on in our relationship was that pride in his family legacy. I love that he looks up to his dad so much and to his dad’s dad too! It’s an awesome bond between them all and is really something so special to see firsthand. I know Zach strives to be the kind of man Big Daddy and Mr. Rusty are and to continue that legacy on with his own children and grandchildren.

I try to take a lot of generational pictures whenever possible. That’s gotten tougher over the years and I’m SO THANKFUL I have one generational picture with Spear in it too!

I don’t really have a favorite memory or single moment with Big Daddy that means the most to me. It’s always been that overall bond we share that means the world. The sum of all the little moments.

However, when I try to think of moments that stand out most four come to mind, one being the moment I shared about us sitting at the table talking about adoption.

Another was the day Kye was born. Big Daddy came into the room when we introduced Kye to the world. He waited patiently until everyone was talking and vsiting and then he came over to me. He didn’t ask about the baby. He just leaned down and whispered “I’m so proud of you” and also added “I’m so glad you are breastfeeding” which is really funny but he was always pretty hardcore about breastfeeding (SO IS ZACH isn’t that so random?!).

Another was at a party at Courtney’s house. Everyone was there. It was loud, as it always is with all of us together, and I was just having a bit of a moment. Nothing anyone else would notice. Sometimes family stuff can just be a little hard for me.

Big Daddy came over to me and leaned down and whispered “sometimes I feel alone even with all these people here.” We sat together. Just being together while both feeling alone. It was one of those exactly what I was feeling and needing kinda moments.

Another super special moment for me was at Big Daddy’s 90th birthday. Again, so many people together to celebrate his amazing life and the impact he’s made on us all. It meant so much to me that he wanted me to be sitting beside him. I love this picture so much because I loved getting to sit right there with him during such a special celebration.

Big Daddy has such a gift of making everyone feel so special and loved.

My forever favorite person. I love you Big Daddy!

I am very thankful to everyone who has sent sweet texts or left kind comments. It’s kinda weird to tell people that my husband’s 93 year old grandfather has passed away and that I’m needing time to grieve because I’m sure most people don’t “get that.” It means so much to me to read those comments from so many who reflect on the special bond we share. I don’t need validation but it still fills my heart to read that.

And I’ve often wondered myself when I leave a comment on people’s posts like these. Like does someone hurting really care that I comment and say I’m praying for them? Doesn’t it really offer any comfort? But truly, it does. It really, really does.

I’m also thankful for this experience to grieve. That may sound weird but I do think this is a rare type of grief. The kind where I feel no regret. No wishing things were different. No longing for more from a relationship. I am just filled with sadness and thankfulness and there is such beauty in the opportunity to feel these feelings.

It’s such a gift to love someone so fully that it’s never enough time and that losing them leaves so much hurt and leaves an impossible void to ever fill. I’m appreciative of this chance to grieve someone who I love so much and who has left such an impact on my life forever. I am so grateful to have that firm knowledge that he IS in Heaven. Such a gift to us all that he lived his life for the Lord and now walks with Him forever!

And just some more photos to keep…I swear yall TAKE ALL THE PICTURES. I take an annoying amount of pictures but in times like these, you just wish you had more. You’ll never regret having pictures. Of all big moments, of the little moments, of the everyday moments. Take the pictures.

If you’re local and are wanting info on arrangements, here is the link to the obituary


  1. Shay
    June 9, 2021 / 4:41 pm

    Oh Emily! I’m so so so sorry for your loss. Big Daddy has always been your biggest supporter and cheerleader in the Parker family. I remember reading one of your earliest posts where you mentioned him and already your bond was so strong. What a blessing that he got to know all the children and love on them for so many years! I have no doubt that he is watching over all of you- how could he not? Praying for Big Daddy and for the entire Parker family, and especially Little Mama. I know how dear he was to everyone. He feels like my Big Daddy too! Covering you all in lots of love.

    • June 9, 2021 / 4:56 pm

      Thank you so much Shay! Your sweet comment means the world 🙂

  2. Katie F
    June 10, 2021 / 9:26 am

    Emily, this was such a beautiful tribute. What an incredible man, leaving an incredible legacy in both family and love. I will be praying for you!

    • June 15, 2021 / 8:21 am

      Thank you so much Katie. It was incredible to see his GREAT grandbabies mourning for him. What an awesome legacy!!!

  3. Kelly
    June 14, 2021 / 7:48 pm

    Y’all have been on my mind and in my prayers since I heard about Big Daddy. While 93 is a long life, it’s never easy for loved ones to pass but I know the peace that comes with knowing he is in heaven and you will be reunited with him again. Sending love to all of your family,

    • June 15, 2021 / 8:21 am

      Thank you soooo much Kelly! It’s def just so hard to say goodbye and that’s the beautiful thing about loving someone, whenever the time comes it’s always too soon!

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