Photo Credit: Derek Thomson on Unsplash
Last year in November, I participated in a gratitude challenge. On Day 3 the prompt was:
Who has had the biggest influence in your life? Write them a thank you note.
I had to think a lot about this one. I turned half a century old that year.
I have been privileged enough to have a lot of different very positive influences throughout my life and very few negative ones.
There are many people that have influenced my life that I could thank.
But I think for me the biggest influence on my life would have to be my dad.
He and I at various times didn’t always see eye to eye.
As a teenager and as a young adult, I thought he was distant, pretty conservative, and really strict in a lot of ways.
We didn’t speak much for years. But I came to the conclusion that without his influence, both positive and negative, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
This was an emotional letter for me to write.
So here goes:
This letter is so long overdue. I wish you were still on this earth to read it.
You’ve been gone now eight years. But I will send it out into the world and trust that others who need to read it will find it.
Like most children, I simply didn’t realize the extent of what you did for me.
You made it easy for me to be pretty much worry-free. I don’t ever remember worrying about whether or not I was safe or whether there would be food on the table.
When I look back at my childhood, it seemed carefree and easy compared to what my own children have been up against.
You taught me all I needed to know even when I didn’t want to learn it and especially when I hated you for teaching it.
I and others of my generation often lament about how much the world has changed.
We want that carefree world we used to live in back. We want that worry-free life for our children and grandchildren.
But I’m not so sure it’s the world that has changed.
I think it’s our reaction to the world that has changed. I think it’s our perspective of the world, our access to the world that has changed.
We think we are shielding our kids from harm but they have access to more stress and worry than we ever did.
Now that I’m a parent of four and grandparent of ten, I can clearly see that there were things happening in the world in my childhood that you shielded me from.
As a teenager I thought you distant and strict and longed to be closer to you.
But as an adult looking back, I can see that your love for me shone through in just about every single choice you made, starting when I was less than six months old.
You chose to be my dad.
You didn’t have to.
And I didn’t know that for the longest time.
And you committed to that role even though you had no biological obligation to me.
I have no knowledge that you ever once wavered from that choice.
Even though your own parents and siblings did their best to subtly insert a separation by using language such as “Go ask Richard” instead of “Go ask your dad”.
And yet, I never questioned my relation to you but rather questioned their inconsistency at referring to you as Richard when speaking to me but “your dad” when speaking to my younger sister.
Maybe I was naive. Or I just didn’t want to see.
For me, you were my dad, plain and simple.
Even when my younger sister, who apparently found out the secret long before I did, taunted me and said you weren’t my dad, only hers, you never wavered.
You reassured me that I was your daughter through and through.
And you treated me as such. Any discrepancy in treatment between myself and my sister I chalked up to her being the baby.
When you and mom divorced when I was 13 and she moved out, you could have sent me with her.
You could have chosen then to dismiss your obligation and send me with my biological mother.
But you were better equipped financially to raise two girls alone and so you chose again.
To continue being my dad full-time.
In fact, your commitment to being my dad was so thorough that when I did discover at 17 that we were indeed not biologically related, I felt so betrayed.
My teenage world shattered and my identity, or at least half of it, was stripped away. I lost part of myself for several years.
But even when I turned away from you in hurt and anger, you chose to be my dad.
It took me years to forgive you for what I saw as a betrayal. It was a secret that every single person in my life maintained for 17 years at your instruction.
I was angry at you and at them for lying to me every day of my life.
But as an adult, I now need to thank you for that herculean effort.
You chose to be my dad, in every sense of the word, and you didn’t allow anyone in my life to make me feel less than your daughter, even though some family clearly felt that I was.
They never expressed it while you were alive.
You and I certainly had our disagreements.
And as an adult and a parent of four, I now can see that you were struggling so much when my beliefs and behaviors conflicted with how you were raised.
But I had to be me even when it didn’t align with your expectations.
You don’t know how much I wish now that I could have understood more about your struggles.
I thought you just didn’t approve and thus didn’t care.
But the two plus weeks I spent at your side until you left his earth are memories I cherish.
Just you and I, hour after hour, sharing stories and reliving memories like:
The monster truck rally on Valentines’ day and the musical lockets that you gave each of us.
The stilts you made from wood so I could walk around the yard and be 10 foot tall.
And the towel and duct tape padding you added because I was rubbing my armpits raw but refused to stop stilt walking till I mastered it.
The time you sandblasted the concrete circular tank behind your shop and filled it with water so we could swim in the summer heat.
That big old flat bed truck all decorated with you behind the wheel so we could have our girl scout float in the parade.
That huge chicken wire egg you made so I could pop out of it as Eggbert the Easter Egg in the school play.
The go-cart you built for us and taught us to drive even though we were too scared to powder puff race like you wanted.
The way you ran the entire length of the property to get to me when I ended up upside down in the ditch.
And how you laughed once you realized I wasn’t hurt.
The trip to Disneyworld the year mom left, when it was so cold there we had to wear winter jackets on the rides.
I saw you during those two weeks, not just as my dad, but as a good man who did the best he could for his daughters.
So thanks dad.
Thank you for making a choice you didn’t have to make.
Thank you for being my dad so completely that I don’t even really feel a need other than maybe curiosity about my biological father.
Dads and their daughters don’t always see eye to eye and we sure had our differences.
But I didn’t grow up without a dad. And I owe that to you.
You chose to be there. To step up where someone else had stepped out.
And you did a fine job.
I’m truly glad that you have found peace and are free of pain. It’s a well deserved reward.