This week marked the 13th 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 an abridged version of the letter I sent him the next 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…
n Searched through the sand until you found my lost birthstone ring.
n Waved from the sidelines as I marched in a school parade.
n Taught me about negotiation by making me bargain with the grocery store manager for bulk pricing on all those lap desks I used to paint.
n Bounced and flopped me around in your lap in that old La-Z-Boy recliner (I can still see the room spinning upside down in my mind).
n Pulled pennies out from behind my ears.
n Made my hair ribbons disappear in your fist.
n Removed splinters from my fingers and toes.
n Spent hours making and checking addition drills for me on that terrific yellow legal pad (I still love legal pads).
n Gave me logic problems to do in my head on long trips.
n Tested my night vision on far-off road signs.
n Surprised 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).
n Fed us ice cream cones for breakfast (unbeknownst to Mom), insisting it was the same basic thing as cereal with milk.
n Fitted a crib mattress into the back seat of the Plymouth for occasional drive-in movies.
n Made me the coolest art box (with the ingenious paint palette and built-in easel) when I decided I wanted to be an artist.
n Accompanied the family to church every Sunday and didn’t leave it to mother to take us like the fathers of so many of our friends did.
n Noticed during services one week that my makeup was caked on too thick and later threatened to pull me out of the choir loft and personally scrub it off my face if I ever wore it so heavy again (and I knew you meant it, so used a much lighter hand in applying it thereafter!).
n 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.
n 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).
n Discussed 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.
n Bragged 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?).
n Winked at Mother whenever you teased me, your blue eyes sparkling brightly.
n 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).
n Had homemade ice cream ready and waiting for a party (be a celebration or consolation) after cheerleading tryouts in sixth grade.
n Spurred me in every endeavor and taught me not to be afraid to attempt new things and convinced me I could do anything I set my mind to.
n Rescued me whenever my car broke down or ran out of gas.
n Beat the bushes for me whenever I was late for curfew (which I’m sure was much more difficult before the advent of cellphones).
n 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 an inexhaustible supply of 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 also the simplest ones. My father didn’t need to buy expensive gifts or take our family on grand vacations to make my childhood wonderful. It was the little things, the everyday 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 could neither recognize nor 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?
Jennifer Flanders is grateful to have married a man who is every bit as wonderful a father as the one she grew up with. To read some of his wisdom, visit alltruthisgodstruth.com.