Growing up, my dad would leave post-it notes stuck to the bathroom mirror that my sister and I shared. I would read them as I got ready for school, smiling at my dad’s “I love you!” or “Have a great day!” or “I’m so proud of you!” scrawled in his backward-leaning left-handed print.
When I was in grade school, the notes were in my lunch box. In high school, they were stuck to the inside of my car. Now, all grown and married and half a country away, the notes arrive via text message.
My dad has always been an incredibly affectionate father, although he is not, by nature, an outwardly affectionate person. I’ve always known that he loved me. But years ago, he said something to me that irrevocably changed my understanding of what love is, and how much of it my father was willing to give to me.
I was fourteen. Fourteen was my worst year. I was into “goth” then, spending the summers hanging out with parentless kids outside of Six Flags, sneaking black clothes and fishnet tights into backpacks and changing when I got to the park. I was deep in the throes of teenage rebellion and deeply angry at my parents for their lame rules that were ruining all my fun.
One night, furious with my dad, I said the unimaginable. I looked him straight in the eye and said “I hate you.”
I could see that he was hurt, but the words did not have the devastating effect I had intended. Instead, he shook his head sadly and said grimly, “if your hate is the price I have to pay to get you to do the right thing, I’ll pay it. Even if you hate me forever, I will never stop pushing you to be good.”
Those words were the most powerful ones my father ever said to me. He loved me so much that my loving him back was not the most important thing. He loved me so much that he wanted what was best for me, not what would make me happy, not what would make me love him more. He loved me unselfishly…not for the love it brought to him. Not because I was such a joy to be around. Not because I was obedient, or dutiful, or even tolerable at that age. He loved me because I was his daughter, and nothing I could do would ever change that.
Sienna made the Ogre a father’s day card. It was her teacher’s idea, and I know she meant well, but I flinched when I saw the words. “My Dad is my Best Buddy.”
The Ogre will talk with her later about how much he loves her, but how he is not her buddy, or her pal, or her friend, He is something more important, less fun, and much more wonderful than those things. He is her father.
My husband is as different from my father as it’s possible for two men to be, but they have this thing in common: they know that love is more than just happiness, hugs, and kisses. They know that love demands sacrifice and strength, that it will be painful, that it will sometimes break their hearts. They also know that their children need that kind of love more than any other. The love of their father will shape my children’s understanding of the love of their Eternal Father, and I am so grateful that I have a husband who understands what that love should look like, just as my father understood.