Letters to my Dad

Recently in a box of old journals, I found a draft of a letter I wrote to my Dad. After I made a few spelling and handwriting mistakes I had written out a polished copy to give to him, and apparently I saved the original. It’s a letter I wrote for Father’s day 6 years ago, the month before I got married. I was about to turn 20. It’s painful to read in some ways, because it was written when I was still trying so hard to be the daughter they wanted me to be.

It’s like reading something from another world. I address him as “Daddy”, and tell him what a strong leader he has been in my life, and express concern that it may be hard for me to “switch loyalties” to my husband because I am so used to having my life guided by my father. Then I assure him that he will “not be losing me as a daughter. Even though you will no longer be the head of my life, no one could ever fill your place in my heart, I will always need your love, and I will love you forever.” I tell him that he is not going to lose everything that he has worked so hard for, and thank him for being so firm with me and for not giving up on moulding me into the woman he always knew I could become. Then I add that I hope he can see a glimmer of the future woman I would be. I thank him for teaching me that a woman’s place is in the home, and for never hesitating or wavering on his decision to not let me go to college. I sum up by thanking him for teaching me how to live, and express my hope that he will continue to instruct me. I end by saying that he is everything I could have ever wished for in a father.

Some of it actually makes me feel nauseous to read it now. The “leading” “moulding” and “teaching” that I talk about throughout the letter, were more like commanding, controlling and brainwashing. I believed everything he told me, and I tried so hard to measure up to his standards. I tried and tried to achieve the status of adult equal, but never could. Now I realize that our theology made that impossible. He is not everything I could have wished for in a father. I wish that my dad hadn’t hit me or belittled me. I wish that he hadn’t used shame and manipulation to control me. I wish that he had accepted me as the person I am, and encouraged me to achieve my goals, instead of telling me who I had to be and making my dreams feel impossible to achieve.

However, despite the failings of my old letter, some things are still true. I am still thankful for my Dad. I love my Dad, and I will continue to love him. When I wrote that old letter, I think I was still trying to convince myself that sacrificing my personality and dreams to be the daughter they wanted was worth it. I really wanted it all to make sense. Now, 6 years later, I have the eyes to see what I actually enjoyed about my Dad. So I wrote a new letter.

 Dear Dad,

I have a lot of memories of you as my Dad, and as I am now a parent myself I realize more than ever just how tired you were then. I remember you working long hours and then coming home late in the evening and lying on the floor while we climbed all over you, or falling asleep on the couch in the middle of a conversation. Despite different times where you were working to start your own business or remodel a house, you somehow found time to talk with me as I was growing up, sometimes late into the evening, or while you worked in your office. I’ll always be grateful for that time.



I don’t really remember you saying you loved me, I understand that you had problems with it. But I do remember your big hugs, I loved them. I remember one time waking up just as you were tucking me back into bed as I had fallen asleep partially hanging off of my bed, I snuggled into your arms and then you tucked me into my blankets again. For days afterwards I tried to fall asleep in awkward positions so I could re-create that moment.


Thank you for passing on your love of music. I still greatly appreciate all the Classical and Instrumental CDs that you bought, and I will probably always enjoy songs that have a distinct tune and understandable lyrics. You filled my childhood home with pretty music, and I still enjoy it today.


Thanks for the family movie nights where all of us spread blankets on the floor and ate hot buttered popcorn. I’ll always remember how you were willing to pause the movie and answer any questions we had. Thanks for cleaning up puke. I remember those long nights where we all had the flu, and mom was busy with the baby, and you would pace from room to room, rinsing buckets and changing sheets, and reminding us all to drink water.


I remember eating snacks with you. You love grapes and Ritz crackers with spreadable cheese, oreos with milk, and clausen (only clausen!) pickles. Those pickles are still my favourite. I loved how you would buy us ice cream from the ice cream truck out of the blue every once in a while. The best was when it was the end of the season and you would buy a couple boxes of left-over boxes of ice cream bars while they were on clearance. Those were so yummy.


Thank you for being gentle with my mom. I have good memories of you and mom together. You kissing mom in the hall, you waiting in the car until mom was ready to go, you buying flowers for mom after the birth of each baby and sometimes for no reason at all. The only time I ever saw you come close to crying was when your eyes got moist as you spoke of a dream where mom had died. Despite some of the crippling theology that our family adhered to at times, your love for your wife showed.


Thank you for working so hard. I remember that many mornings you were already up and working when I woke up. You have very high standards for your work, and yourself. I know that you’ve often felt depressed that you did not reach those standards. Don’t be. It’s OK if you are not perfect, none of us are. Thank you for telling recently that you have always loved me, even when you weren’t that good at showing it. That means a lot to me. I will always think of you as a very strong person, someone who struggles to communicate emotion, but at the same time lives your feelings on your sleeve.


I love you so much,


Your Daughter Melissa

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08863579550620358675 Jill

    Very powerful. Thanks for being able to see the good in the midst of the less than perfect. Thanks for sharing so personally with us.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13783085707283000645 Maria

    Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.

  • http://www.liberatedfamily.com Rebekah

    Beautiful :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18185954714426587340 Cara Coffey

    Thank you, this is beautiful.
    ~Cara

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18185954714426587340 Cara Coffey

    Also, though, on second thought after having read around on your blog some, this post would be even lovelier if you could tell us your dad has repented toward his children.

    Yes, that would be lovelier.

    But, it is loveliest that you can love him with no return if he has not repented toward his children.

    This is what frustrates me. We parents mess up. That's a fact of life. But to pretend we didn't is causing many issues in this country, for Christians. It is not the example which Jesus left men.

    And women are taught to be something (within some parts of Christianity) which we are not by the standards of Jesus Christ. Ministries need to repent for this.

    I didn't want you to misunderstand why I admired your post. :)

    ~Cara

  • http://articles.earthlingshandbook.org ‘Becca

    That's so nice! I think it's crucial that, in the process of working through all the damage done by your parents, you don't fall into a black-and-white belief that they are all bad. As a reader who doesn't know your parents, I really appreciate hearing the good side, too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09779444962182438901 Enigma

    My dad texted me the other day out of the blue. I never really hear from his so i was pretty shocked. He said:

    "I just wanted to tell you that i love you. I am sorry i wasnt a better father. :( I think about it all the time. Just recognizing room for improvement and regretting that i didnt see it sooner"

    Your post made me cry. Thanks so much for reminding me of the good things. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04738076740941616678 Rebecca

    This is amazing. Your capacity to see the good is truly beautiful.

  • Anonymous

    "For days afterwards I tried to fall asleep in awkward positions so I could re-create that moment."

    Wow, that is eerily similar to something I did at about age 4 – one night I somehow ended up sleeping on the floor and I remember my mom coming in and so gently putting me back to bed. For some reason I liked that and kept trying to see if I could make it happen again, just like you did!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08135229596877003069 Michelle

    Oh my goodness, that was beautiful. What a gift for your father. And for you. I find myself feeling happy that you are able to write that letter and that it's not something you have to feel nauseous about and that it expresses how you feel about your father…how you really feel and you don't have to be something you're not to write it.

    Beautiful. :)

  • Elizabeth

    "Some of it actually makes me feel nauseous to read it now. The “leading” “moulding” and “teaching” that I talk about throughout the letter, were more like commanding, controlling and brainwashing. I believed everything he told me, and I tried so hard to measure up to his standards. I tried and tried to achieve the status of adult equal, but never could. Now I realize that our theology made that impossible. He is not everything I could have wished for in a father. I wish that my dad hadn’t hit me or belittled me. I wish that he hadn’t used shame and manipulation to control me. I wish that he had accepted me as the person I am, and encouraged me to achieve my goals, instead of telling me who I had to be and making my dreams feel impossible to achieve."

    I felt a wave of pain while reading this, because I can so sympathize with you. Only in my case, all of the above is true for my husband, not my father. You, at least, escaped the home of your childhood and married a person with whom change was possible. I, on the other hand, don't know what to do. I have little children and divorce is too scary to contemplate. I have no job, no money, a family who will make my life a living hell if I come back. I have nowhere to go and I know that my husband will never love, nor respect, nor esteem me, and it is futile to pretend otherwise.

    Sorry to lay this all out. It's just that what you wrote spoke right to me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Elizabeth- Your comment made me hurt for you, being trapped in that life would be so incredibly hard. I am so thankful that my husband has been the refuge I needed. Please know that you are worth more than that, you and your children deserve better than that. I know that when I was living in my family's home, I felt there was no way out, no one to help. I've been surprised to discover the half-way houses and shelters designed to help women in these situations make cosmic change in their life, and get the education and jobs they need. I hope that you are able to find the support and help you need to get out.

  • Anonymous

    Do you know what I see when I read your letter to your dad? I see a woman who has/is making peace with her past and her present. Nice.

  • Anonymous

    It's so beautiful to see the grace you're extending in your letter — not forgetting the past, but remembering it fully, in all its complexity. For my dad's 60th birthday, I wrote out 60 good memories. At first, it was hard to get past 10 or 12. But as I revisited our family's life through the lens of forgiveness and grace, I got to 60. It didn't erase his alcoholism or anger and infrequent abuse, but it was definitely a fuller picture of the man.
    Nancy

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you for replying. It meant a lot to me. You know what, I'm not hoping we'll ever have a loving relationship, or even a truly respectful one. But I do wonder whether it would not still be better for my children if we manage to stick under the same roof and be civil to each other.

  • Caravelle

    @Melissa : That post was beautiful and affecting. I saw you post elsewhere that your family were having a meltdown. I hope things aren't too difficult for you right now, but send you best wishes in case…

    @Elizabeth : First things first : you should leave your husband. As Melissa says there are probably support systems out there for women like you, please try and look them up.

    That said if leaving your husband is off the table, have you heard of Joel and Kathy Davisson ? They're an evangelical christian couple who have written a book (The Man of Her Dreams, The Woman of His) and counsel to christian couples in your situation. Joel Davisson was an abusive husband but he learned to respect his wife and be loving to her through counselling, and their aim is to teach abusive husbands to no longer be abusive.

    I'm a bit leery about recommending them; they've got some gender essentialism going on and their emphasis on reuniting couples might not always be the best… But I've never seen anyone address the problem of abusive husbands by calling the husbands out and teaching them to stop abusing the way they do. So maybe you could look them up.

    And as for the children, it isn't clear whether it's better or worse for them if you stay with your husband. For one thing if your husband is abusive towards you he might act the same way towards your children (especially as they grow up and become more independent).

    But more importantly, is it that good for them for their model of an adult loving relationship to be an abusive one ? What would you want your daughters to do if they were in an abusive relatioinship ? What kind of husbandly behavior do you want your sons to learn is acceptable ?

    So it isn't necessarily clear-cut whether leaving or staying is better for the children.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05598890631695015818 Pippi

    That's priceless.


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