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.
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