A Letter to My Dad

If you’re reading this, you probably know my dad. I hope you do. And if you know my dad, you’re likely aware that he’s been fighting cancer for a few years now. A year ago, he was wasting away, all but bedridden, his personality  rendered nearly unrecognizable by the kind of pain meds it takes to survive that particular brand of agony.

Yesterday, he text me that he played 8 holes of disc golf with his friend. Without his cane, thankyouverymuch.The miraculous story between last year and this one is a long one, not without its ups and downs, but I’ll let him tell it to you.  Today’s story is about the lowest point of that journey. It was late last summer. He called me to say goodbye. He wasn’t doing well.

I don’t really remember very much of the conversation. I do remember that I was angry. “Why? Why you? You are nice to everyone. You take care of everyone. You eat spinach every day and ride your bike to work. You don’t smoke, drink, or cheat on mom. It’s not fair. I need more time. You’re too young. I’m not ready.” But he patiently reminded me that this was his death, not mine. And he didn’t feel like it was unfair. And he said he was ready. He said he’d checked everything off his bucket list and had lived the most amazing life. What more could he ask for? “Heather. I don’t feel cheated. I hope you will to try not to feel cheated.” After we got off the phone I started to make plans to drive to Oklahoma as soon as possible.

That evening dad had a heart attack. My cousin Melissa, who is an angel from heaven, bought me and my four kids plane tickets for 5am the following morning. Instead of sleeping or packing, I sat down and wrote my dad a letter. I never thought I’d see him alive again, so I poured out everything I had to say into this letter to ease the pain of never having said it to him.

We were told not to expect him to ever leave the ICU, so I read the letter to him in the hospital, which of course he does not remember. But Praise be to God, he did wake up, he did leave the ICU, has managed to fight the cancer, and now he has a copy of the letter. I am eternally grateful that I got to say what I wanted to say. I thought for Father’s Day, if I wanted to say the most heartfelt thing I could about my dad, I’d just share the letter I wrote in the wee hours of the morning the day I thought I’d lost my father.

Like everything I write, it’s obnoxiously long.



Yesterday, when I said that this isn’t fair, you told me that you don’t feel cheated. You told me to try not to feel cheated, either. So last night I stayed up all night thinking about that.

Do you remember when I was little you’d carry me around and you’d point to all the trees and say, “this is an oak, and that one’s a maple.” You’d point to all the birds and say “that’s mockingbird” or “that’s a scissortail.” Do you remember showing me how to paint with paint rocks? Do you remember the pond by our house where you taught me to skip rocks?

I remember that.

Do you remember how you’d take Nathan and me to the park all the time? You’d play tennis with him for a while then you and I took off our shoes and played in the creek. You let us take so many tadpoles and minnows home in that gross fish tank that we kept on the back porch. If it wasn’t the park, it was the lake, or the city pool, or maybe just McDonalds.

I remember that you were busy. You were so busy but you carved time out of thin air for us.

Remember when I wanted to learn to read, so every single night you got out all the Hooked on Phonics tapes and books and you practiced with me until I was good at it? Do you remember how, before I could type, I wanted to write stories, so you would sit and listen to me dictate ridiculous stories to you and you would transcribe every word for me? What kind of person has the sort of otherworldly patience it takes to listen to a 6 year old tell long winded stories, and type them up for her? I remember they were always about dogs and wolves because I was going through my Jack London phase.

I guess that’s why, shortly after, you made me take typing lessons on that ancient computer program. Every day, til I could type twice as fast as you.

Do you think I would have loved to read if you hadn’t taught me? Do you think I would have loved to write if you hadn’t encouraged me the way that you did?

I remember that you would take us to visit your grandmother and your aunt. I was so little but I remember that you made time for two lonely old ladies. And you gave me the gift of knowing them for a short time, and the gift of knowing that our elders deserve our love and respect.

Do you remember when we went to Turner Falls and you showed me how your mother used to lie under the little waterfalls and let the water run over her face? You told me I reminded you of her and it was the best compliment you could have given me.

Do you remember when you took us kayaking on the Mountain Fork river, and it was awful and I never wanted to do it again? I do want to do it again.
 Do you remember that time you woke us up at some ungodly hour to go fishing? What were you thinking? I don’t think we caught anything. But I remember that you took us.
Do you remember all the times we went camping at Beaver’s Bend? We went horseback riding and swam in the ice cold river. You always cooked real food for us on Papaw’s old camping stove.

How did you find the time? How did you have the patience to teach us to swim and ski? Remember how you practically carried me down the mountain the first time we went snow skiing? That must have been frustrating for you. But you never said so.

I also remember how almost every single night you and I would take long walks after dinner and just talk. I wish we could have a thousand more of those talks. And I remember that every Wednesday you signed me out of school to take me to lunch, and you’d just listen to me talk. You always saw us. You always heard us.

I remember that you taught me how to read my Bible. And how to pray. And how to love, and listen, and be a friend.

Do you remember all those music festivals you took us to? How you, more than once, drove us all the way to Illinois and slept in a tent with us for a week, while rock music blared 24/7 and the dirty hippies in the next tent over were on their honeymoon? You liked them. They liked you too. So it is with everyone you meet.

Remember when I graduated high school, and I wanted to go on a road trip with some of my girlfriends? Everyone backed out at the last minute, and I was so disappointed. So the next day you packed up our Dodge Durango and took me, mom, and Nathan to the Grand Canyon? And you love your schedules, but every time I had a whim to pull over you stopped. I found a brochure for Santa Fe at a rest stop and even though it was so far out of the way, we went, and it was so wonderful. We finally made it to the Grand Canyon and it was one of the best days of my life. I’ll never forget that trip.

Remember how you taught me my worth, and set the bar so high, so that I ended up married to a man that measures up to you?

Remember the day you walked into the bridal shop downtown while I was trying on a wedding dress, and when you saw me you burst into tears and said, “That’s the one.” I told you it was stupid expensive and I’d find something else, but you handed the lady your credit card. Remember how Papaw gave us dance lessons so we wouldn’t look ridiculous dancing at my wedding? I’m not sure he was very successful but it was fun, wasn’t it? I think of it every time I hear My Girl.

Remember when I lived in Germany, and you guys came to visit me twice? Do you remember how we got to travel Europe together? I remember giggling at the topless sunbathers in the royal gardens in Copenhagen. Sitting on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower eating Cheezits. Sweating to death in Rome. Freezing to death in Helsinki


Remember how you not only invested in the lives of your children, but also the lives of our friends?

Remember how you loved everybody, and you never forgot to give other people credit for all of your virtues? You never left anyone out of your testimony, and you never forgot the people who invested in your life.

I remember how, when I was engaged, I worried about you. I was worried that because you have so much love to give that you would not do well as an empty nester when I got married and moved away. And I remember how I asked you to come to the BCM with me, and hear Brandon speak, and hear Colby speak, and meet my new college friends. And you did, and it became your community, and over the course of the next ten years, you changed the lives of dozens of people on that college campus. And you were never short on people to teach, to love, to pray with, to have fun with, and invest in. And you’d always pretend it was for your benefit. You’d say “I had lunch with so and so today, he sure is a blessing.” but we all know that people needed you, and you were there for them.

One time, I wanted a recent photo of you so I searched Facebook for tagged pictures of you. And all these pictures came up of you with people I don’t even know. How many weddings were you a groomsman in over the last ten years? Who are all these people? Pictures of you at events and bachelor parties and weddings. Pictures of you holding people’s babies. And even though you didn’t get to hold my babies as much as I would have liked, I never felt anything but grateful for those people. And grateful for you. You made this world better than the way you found it. You left everyone you met better than you found them. I am so grateful for their part in the full life you’ve had, so that you don’t have to feel cheated. You won’t go before God empty handed, but with all the good that you have done and all the people you have helped. And all these people I don’t even know are going to pass on pieces of you to all the people that they love. Your wisdom and your love and your humor and your devotion to God and your fellow man. That will go on forever. Thank you for loving them. And for loving me. And so, for you,  I will try not to feel cheated, because if the game is having the best dad anyone could have ever asked for, I already won.

(Shared with Dad’s permission)


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