The following words are from a writing challenge I participated in about 5 years ago. They came to mind again this morning as I was thinking about Father’s Day. I didn’t have the idyllic daddy/daughter relationship. It was far from perfect. It took my dad and I years to get better at it too. I am thankful my son, Sean, has an affectionate father in his life…my husband has no problem snuggling with his child and telling him and showing him every single day how much he is loved.
My dad had his life changing stroke 4 years ago, about a year after I wrote the words below. Since then, things have changed even more for my dad. He remembers very little nowadays. He is often confused. When we talk on the phone he has a hard time remembering where I live or when I came to visit him last. He thinks he will be going home “any day now.” However, the one thing he doesn’t forget is to tell me that he loves me. He must have told me three times during our phone conversation yesterday.
So, I share the words below, written in December 2011, to remind others who may not have had the “ideal” daddy/daughter relationship that…it’s okay. Sometimes, we don’t have the fairy tale memories. Sometimes, all we have is real and human. Sometimes, we come to realize how our flawed daddys did and still do the best they know how to do. These far from perfect relationships grow us, they teach us grace, and for that I am incredibly grateful.
Thank you for loving me, Dad.
The Gifts of the Father
(originally written December 2011)
My dad is not the best gift giver. For instance, for my birthday this year, I received a one gallon jug of organic household cleaner.
I love my dad and while it might not be obvious from the above example, I’ve watched him do some growing over the years, both in the gift giving department and other areas too. When the glue of our family, my mom, lost her battle with breast cancer, my dad was left to fill both the mom and the dad role in my life. Prior to my mom’s death, my dad was not very affectionate. As a child, I don’t remember him ever telling me he loved me…not with those words anyway.
Instead, he showed his love for me and my brothers by providing for us and being strict. His most effective disciplinary tactic was the “scary father look.” You know the look, don’t you? The look that says “if I have to tell you one more time, you will be incredibly sorry.” I never had a problem respecting this look. But, despite his lack of verbal expression of love, I knew my dad cared deeply for me, my brothers, and my mom.
Eventually, my dad did learn to say the words I love you to me. I do, however, recall a few failed attempts before he finally succeeded. His earlier attempts came out sounding like this…”Keep one in the chamber.”
One of the gifts my dad gave me as I journeyed off to college, after my mom died, was an old gun. And, whenever we spoke on the phone, these were the five words he would say to me at the end our conversation before hanging up, “keep one in the chamber.” Somehow, I knew those words were synonymous to these five words, “be careful, I love you.” And, I would always respond, “Okay, Dad.” This, of course, was code for these five words, “I love you too, Dad.”
I kept my dad’s “I love you” gift hidden in my closet. I never actually loaded it. The bullets never came out of the small cardboard box.
On the drive home from work last night, I thought about the first Christmas after my mom died. It was my dad’s first attempt at gift-giving without my mom’s guidance or tips. I was standing in the living room Christmas morning and I remember my dad coming into the room carrying a plastic Walmart shopping bag in one hand while hiding his other hand behind his back.
“Merry Christmas.” he says and hands me the bag. I open the bag. It’s an address book.
“You’re welcome. Can I have that bag back? I need to wrap your next gift.”
I hand him the bag, he turns and quickly takes another item from behind his back and places it into the bag. He turns, and hands me the bag again. I open it again. It’s another address book, but this one is a little bigger. “Uh…thanks, Dad.”
“Okay, I need the bag again,” he says.
I hand him the bag and the same scene unfolds.
This time when I reach in the bag, I lift out a giant leather-looking note pad. But, it isn’t just any note pad, no, this is a special note pad. When I opened it, there was this huge…and I mean huge, solar calculator built into the inside cover.
Over the years, my dad has learned the beauty of purchasing restaurant gift cards for his kids at Christmas time. Applebees and Outback are his cards of choice. He’s even learned to “wrap” the gift inside a Christmas card.
He’s come a long way. And yet, regardless of his gift giving skills, I love him.