Tomorrow marks the seventh anniversary of my father’s passing.
I remember dreaming that Daddy died several years before he actually did. The dream came long before the cancer diagnosis, before his health began to deteriorate, back when he was still in the prime of life, while he was still here.
But the dream shook me up. In my dream, my father died suddenly. I woke up crying, missing him terribly, stricken by grief, and filled with remorse over all the unspoken things I should have said, would have said, if only I had another chance.
How relieved I was to realize it was only a dream and there was still time to say what was in my heart.
So I crawled out of bed in the wee hours of the morning, bleary-eyed but grateful that my dad was still in the land of the living, and scrambled around for a pen and some stationery to write a few words of gratitude to my father while I still had opportunity to do so.
This is the letter I sent him the following day:
So many things that I’ve taken for granted for so long come crashing through my consciousness sometimes when I talk to someone whose past experiences have been so different from my own. That was definitely the case when I asked a friend this week whether he had any fond memories of his father, and he faltered with “we used to wrestle, which was fun.” We sat in silence as he searched his mind for anything else, and all the while my mind was absolutely flooded by all my precious memories of you.
How grateful I am for every one of them!
I was reminded of how you searched through the sand until you found my lost birthstone ring; how you waved from the sidelines as I marched in a school parade; how you taught me about negotiation (even with retail stores) when you bargained with the manager for a better price on all those lap desks I used to paint; how you’d bounce and flop me around in your lap in that old Lazy Boy recliner (I can still see the room spinning upside down in my mind) and pull pennies out from behind my ears or make my hair ribbons disappear in your fist or remove splinters from my fingers and toes; how you’d spend what seemed like hours making and checking addition drills for me on that terrific yellow legal pad (I still love legal pads) and would give me logic problems to do in my head on long trips or would test my night vision on far-off roadsigns; how you and Mother would let me swing between your arms on the walk home from open house at my grade school; how you’d surprise us with chocolate milk and donuts from the shop on the corner or surprise Mother with a dozen Tyler roses you bought off a street vendor for a quarter (one of my favorite memories, as she always seemed so pleased); how you’d feed us ice cream cones for breakfast (unbeknownst to Mom) and claim it was the same basic thing as cereal with milk; how you’d fit a crib mattress into the backseat of the Plymouth for trips to Oklahoma or an occasional drive-in movie; how you made me the coolest art box (with the ingenious paint palette and built-in easel) when I decided I wanted to be an artist like Aunt Loura; how you accompanied us to church every Sunday and didn’t leave it to mother to take us like the fathers of so many of our friends did; how you even noticed that my makeup was caked on too thick and threatened to pull me out of the choir loft and personally scrub it off my face if I ever wore it so heavy again; how you went to bat for me with my eighth grade English teacher when she counted off for my spelling the plural of chimney as requested, rather than the singular as was in the spelling book; how you let us clean that dirty iron scrollwork on a house you were painting (and though it was hard work, and I may have grumbled at the time – did I? – it was a wonderful feeling to be able to help you); how you’d discuss with me – I thought you talked to me just like an adult rather than a child – such awe-inspiring topics as the universe, eternity, astronomy, theology and philosophy; how you would brag on me to the family on Mema’s front porch when you thought I was out of earshot and wouldn’t hear (or did you realize I was eavesdropping from the front room?); how your blue eyes would twinkle and you’d wink at mother whenever you teased me; how you walked past the dollar-bill-on-a-string a dozen times on April Fools’ Day without ever stopping to pick it up (which annoyed me at the time, but strikes me as funny now); how you and Mother would host the church youth at our house long before Kimberly and I were old enough for youth group (as well as during and after) and how you also had homemade ice cream ready and waiting for a party (be a celebration or consolation) after cheerleading tryouts in six grade; how you always encouraged me in every endeavor and taught me not to be afraid to attempt new things and told me I could do anything I set my mind to; how you’d rescue me whenever my car broke down or ran out of gas, and would beat the bushes for me if I were ever late for curfew (which I’m sure was much more difficult before the advent of cell phones);how you loved me, and taught me, and led me, and encouraged me, and built me up from the day I was born, even until now.
I just hope and pray that my own children will have as much good and as little bad to remember about me when they are grown and gone, and will have as inexhaustible supply a fond childhood memories as I do! I don’t tell you often enough, but I love you with all my heart –
Your appreciative daughter,
As I read back over this letter, I’m struck by the fact that my sweetest memories are often the simplest ones. My father didn’t need to buy expensive gifts or take me on grand vacations to make my childhood wonderful. It was the little things, the every day kindnesses, that spoke loudest to my heart and assured me of his love.
My daddy wasn’t perfect. No daddy is. He seemed pretty par at the time, although the intervening years have convinced me he was extraordinary in ways my child-brain couldn’t appreciate.
Not everybody is fortunate enough to have a father like mine. If you are one of the favored few, thank God. And if you’re father’s still alive, then by all means thank him, too.
But even if you weren’t blessed with my kind of father, you can bless your own children with my father’s brand of parenting.
You can do it by pouring yourself into them. Give them generous helpings of your time, your attention, your patience, and your love.
Sure, you’ll make mistakes. None of us are perfect. But it’s the little things — the approving smiles, the candid discussions, the interest you take in what interests them, the time you spend together — that make all the difference.
What are you doing today that your child will remember fondly tomorrow?
Mary Robbins says
Absolutely beautiful, Jennifer! This truly honors his memory. I remember him so very fondly…a loving husband, deeply proud father, unashamedly doting grandfather.
Jennifer Flanders says
Thank you, Mary. Dad loved all children. I still have some precious pictures of his doting on your little ones, too.
Jennifer Helm says
The timing of this post is divine. I am in the middle of a tiff with my own dad, and mostly because I haven’t been thoughtful and let him know how much I appreciate him. I have some letter writing to do. Thanks for the inspiration.
Your letter is moving. I saw my husband as such a father who could one day receive a letter as precious as this. My dad and I have a broken relationship, but I love him. Always will. We can’t change our parents, but like you suggested we can change our parenting going forward. Thank you for such a glimpse into your heart.