Dear Dad

I have been blessed to have a lot of people shape my life. They’ve shaped my character, my thoughts, and my beliefs. They’ve shaped the path I take, and they’ve shaped the things that my soul looks for on a regular basis. But none have shaped me nearly as much as you.

I have sat down to write you this many times. In fact, if I’m honest, it’s about 30 years in the making. But I’m not sure until now I would have been able to piece the right words together, or have enough experience and growth to make this half as meaningful as it needs to be.

It’s difficult to even begin to crack the shell of our story. It’s been so colorful, so deep. I guess I’d like to start by thanking you.

For every time you taught me a tough lesson and I spewed attitude back, thank you for your patience. Thank you for knowing what was best for me, and for standing firm in your beliefs so I did not grow up to be a broke, entitled, wasteful member of society. Watching you work diligently and never lying to me about what it would take for me to be successful has been a true blessing.

Thank you for overcoming your own upbringing which lacked great love and encouragement to provide me with one as best you could. There were many oil changes and brake jobs (numerous – sorry Dad). There were many times you pushed me to be better. Actually, EVERY time you pushed me to be better. Thank God you did. I have grown into quite the woman thanks to your perseverance with me. There was a lot of sarcasm and jokes. But I always knew you loved me. And you tried hard to give me that which you were never given. An astronomically difficult task. And I thank you for taking it on for my sake.

For every time you kept your word, and I mean EVERY time, even when it was costly to you, I thank you. You taught me that keeping my word was not an option. You taught me that integrity and character come from doing what you said you’d do, long after you no longer felt like doing it.

The concept of half-assing anything was never part of your being. I thank you for passing it on. It has been my greatest asset and my toughest challenge. To this day I always finish what I start, and I rarely dip my toes in the water – I jump in, just like you Dad.

I never understood how much you did, faced, sacrificed or feared until I had a child of my own in my care. I cannot begin to explain the sleepless nights, the worry, the internal struggle, the countless dollars spent, the time given up, or the sense of pride that pours out of my heart by being a parent. But I don’t have to explain it, because you already know all of what I’m referring to. I can’t thank you enough for being, and enduring that for me.

The road was not always easy, and you may be surprised to hear this, but I want to thank you for that too. I would not be half the person I am today without some struggles in my past that forced me to grow up, own up and search intensely inside myself. I want you to know I no longer view those painful pieces as scars, more like stitches that keep our hearts together.

Creating my own path to “sobriety” has been extremely difficult. I’ve been told for years how I am at risk of catching the disease of “genetic alcoholism”. It’s in my genes they tell me. But I tell them that’s not true. What’s in my genes is a strength they don’t know of. It’s a strength that overcomes such things. It’s a strength I’ve learned from you. I believe being sober is not just about substances. It’s about dysfunction and unhealthy life choices. Without this part of our story I would never have had the need to search for such sobriety. Nor would I have the satisfaction of actually living it. Dysfunction casts a wide deadly net. Every day I work to swim out from under it. To try not to pass it off to my child, to learn from history so it doesn’t repeat itself. But I want you to know that none of this is sad, and I hold no ill feelings about our story. If anything, it’s one of the most beautiful stories ever written.

I’ve never opened up much about our story. I think most people close to me are aware that I have a great respect for my father, but they don’t know how proud I am of you, what incredible life lessons came out of being your daughter, and the amount of forgiveness, patience and hope has existed between us, on both ends.

When you nearly lose your parent, far too soon, to say it has an impact is a monumental understatement. I have had many people I love in my life lose a parent long before they should have. Some of my best friends are these people. I am also married to one. The impact it holds in their heart is overwhelming. If you ask any of them, they would say if given the chance to save their parent, they would give up every last dime, minute and breath to do so. They would trade every one of their possessions and years off their own life to have their parent back even for a day.

I got the closest glimpse of that great emotion in 2004. I was attempting to come to grips with the fact that I didn’t know the exact day, but in the very near future I would have to say goodbye to you forever. I knew the drinking would kill you. I was watching your health deteriorate and each episode was getting more and more destructive. People say they don’t know what’s worse, having a loved one be taken quickly, or at least having some time to say your goodbyes, but having to watch it unfold in front of you.

I’d say neither. What’s worse is watching it happen by their own hand and knowing there is nothing you can do to stop it.

You couldn’t possibly remember much of this part of the story, so after many years passing and much reconciliation, I can tell you now.

In late 2004 I was sent to Denver on a business trip. I was there before my boss and had some time to kill so I asked the hotel front desk person to please call me a cab and I decided to venture to an outdoor mall in the area. When the cab showed up, it was a minivan with so much shit on the dashboard I can still remember it clearly. It was covered in stickers; bible verses. He was a kind man, softspoken and genuine. It was a fairly short ride over to the mall, and we didn’t say much.

After some brief conversation about why I was traveling, a quick rundown of his family and mine he said, “You have worry in your eyes and you don’t have to. Give it to God. Pray on it.”

I was taken aback. Who is this creeper? I thought.

“Pray? I can’t imagine that will help at this point, but thank you.”

“What is it that has you troubled?”

At that moment something snapped. I had been holding in so much emotion and fear that it showered this random cab driver. I was surprised at how quickly I had opened up to a stranger like this but I said, “My father is struggling with alcoholism. I don’t think I can help him anymore and he doesn’t want to fix this. So we are all just sort of watching.”

He smiled, “Well God is bigger than alcoholism. He helped me get sober”, he replied, with more confidence and peace than I can describe.

I said that was nice but I wasn’t sure my father believed in God and that throwing the Bible at him wasn’t even an option.

He said, “He will. God woke me up, He can do it for your father too.” Then he pointed at one of his stickers.

 

Hebrews 12:11 :

‘No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.’

As we reached the mall I turned back again to tell him I appreciated the ride and that I hadn’t meant to be rude, just was in a rough place.

He smiled and said, “If you ended up in my cab, it was no accident”.

I felt like the wind was knocked out of me. Crying and trying to catch my breath I called mom. “I don’t know what just happened, I think it was like an angel! He said dad would be okay and to pray on it and I don’t even know what to do with that!”

I have a romantic and whimsical spirit, but I don’t believe in fairy tales. Perhaps that man said all the right things at the right time. Perhaps it was just some wildly blabbering crazy Christian. But something inside of me was stirring.

I now know and identify that feeling as hope.

Months passed and things got worse before they got better. Isn’t life funny like that? Just when you start to think things are going okay, they turn and you had better be ready.

It was at that point that I had accepted the fact that you’d be dying. There was nothing anyone could do to stop it. So one night alone in the dark, I just started talking to God.

Dear God, you talk an awfully big game. If you are as you say you are, you will fix this.  You will come in and clean this mess up and you will save him. You have one hell of a soldier down here and I’m completely convinced that the story does not end like this. He is a phenomenal man, just hurting and misguided. You say you are there for people like that. You’re holding the pen, please write something else.

I begged and pleaded. I didn’t realize at the time that God is not a cosmic vending machine and He won’t just give you what you ask for simply because you want it. But I believed then, and now more than ever, that He wasn’t finished with you in 2004. It was His will that you had a story to tell and more life to live. He uses His strongest soldiers to fight the biggest battles and He was, and is still, using you.

Not long after that was the day I will never forget. When I went to check on you, and couldn’t find your pulse my heart sank. Frantically calling for mom and getting 911 on the phone, my mind was racing.

No way God. Not like this. You promised. You told me he wasn’t done yet, not like this.

When the paramedics finished their work, and brought  you back to me I looked at you desperately fighting back tears and said, “Are you done now? Can we please be done now?”

You were sick and scared and God had humbled you pretty hard that night. I can’t imagine you remember it. It was then  that my unstoppable fierce father had to see that he was human too and that seeking help wasn’t a weakness, but the highest form of strength. You may not remember, but you responded with, “Yes I’m done now”. And this time, I knew you were telling the truth.

The following months were torture for you and I knew they were, but that’s when I started really praying hard. It’s been said, “If God brings you to it, He will get you through it”. And He did, because He wasn’t done with you yet.

What He created out of those ashes is what I now refer to as a walking miracle. And that walking miracle is you.

That was nearly 10 years ago. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of watching you love on your children, your grandchildren, your wife, and most of all, yourself. So much has changed since then. The amount of work you’ve done is absolutely incredible. And thank God I got to watch it, because it turns out I needed a hell of a lot of work too. And had I not had such a beautiful example to follow, I don’t know where I’d be.

People laugh at my Christianity sometimes. They see my sarcastic spirit, they watch what they believe to be my story from the outside and they judge. They laugh at what they view as my lack of intelligence. At how absurd it is to believe in something I can’t see. But some things surpass intelligence and what we can wrap our minds around. As the most intelligent man I know, you of all people would understand the silliness I speak of here. The idea of that craziness in the bible. That craziness nearly makes your scientific mind burst, yet your soul is covered in the spirit. One day you had superhuman strength and I don’t believe it was an accident. And watching that was all the proof I’d ever need to believe in God. It took proof to believe in God, Dad; that I will admit.

But I always believed in you.

I’ve never showed you my library. But it’s glittered with literature that helps me understand your heart, where it was then, where it is now, and how to take what you’ve overcome and write it into my own story, my own future, and the many generations to come in this family.

I read constantly to grow, to learn and to be more. But what’s most crucial to me right now, today, is not to dwell in past hurts, but to tell you how grateful I am for every single day with you. Because you are a walking lesson to so many, whether you know it or not.

Thank you for teaching me one of the most valuable lessons of all; that change starts within, and if you are strong enough to face the mirror, you are strong enough to overcome any adversity that comes your way. It’s a personal discipline that you must submit yourself too. I had long forgotten about Hebrews 12:11 and that part of the story until recently when I saw it again.

Personal discipline. The only way to bear good fruit. And you showed me that in every season of my life so far.

Thank you for teaching me that grace is about having a relationship with someone’s heart instead of their behavior. That forgiveness can be extended even in the worst of circumstances. And when you truly believe in another person and know their heart, it changes everything.

Thank you for giving me a fighter’s spirit. For showing me that I don’t have to believe everything I’m told, that I have a very powerful brain and will of my own and I can determine my fate. Thank you, every day for continuing to fight your own demons, who once tried hard to take you down. You always were much stronger than them.

Thank you for teaching me that struggles can make for a powerful story of redemption. I am proud of that past and to be just like you:

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Thank you for teaching me to stop running from myself. To slow down, to live for today:

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People say a parent often simply wants more or better for their children. Somewhere deep inside they want to protect, direct and be an example. I want you to know, there was no better example than you.I cherish every piece of you, good, bad, humble, bold, and strong:

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I am forever grateful for a father like you.

All my love.

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One thought on “Dear Dad

  1. You are an amazing writer and an even more amazing woman. I need to reread this letter over and over and over. My heart is in the right place with my stepson but the way I show it, is not. Your spirit, in the way you loved your Dad, faults and all is what I need to be showing my stepson and my husband. I have only criticism’s, which don’t help our relationships. It only makes father defensive for his child and child more rude and disrespectful. Both of which I am trying to stop. Thank you for putting your words out there, to help those of us less able to say the correct thing!

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