My dad’s birthday was Sunday and since this is the year of me failing to send a card for any birthday/holiday/anniversary in our family, I’m turning, once again, to what I can do: write a post for everyone to read!
Birthdays aren’t a big deal to my dad. At least, that’s what he says. But I loved the look on his face when Isabelle started singing “Happy birthday” to him during our Skype call on Sunday.
It’s not always easy for me to talk about my relationship with my dad. Not that it’s bad but we don’t have one of those daddy-daughter date night kind of relationships. During my childhood, we bonded while watching Cubs games on TV or Bears football or while riding bikes as a family or taking amazing road trip vacations every summer. I think my dad gets credit for my love of travel, though maybe even he was surprised that I wanted to spend a semester in England during college. I don’t know. I’ve never asked him.
A couple of summers ago, Dad and I talked about our relationship. I didn’t understand when I was younger why he missed softball games or came late or why he worked long hours, but time and a family of my own have given me a different perspective. Those long hours were acts of love. A way of providing so our family didn’t end up on the street, or having to move, or struggling to feed ourselves, like his childhood experience.
As I’ve gotten older, my dad has been the one I want to talk to in a time of crisis. My mom is emotional, like me, so if the two of us tried to talk out a difficult situation, we might convince ourselves the world was ending, then we’d be in uncontrollable tears for the rest of the conversation. (No offense, Mom.) My dad, however, is more rational and logical. He takes his time thinking through things before giving an answer, which sometimes makes me crazy. Because when I want answers, I want them NOW! But, I’ve learned that thinking things through often helps me arrive at a better answer than I would have had if I knee-jerk responded.
My dad was there when I sobbed my way down the stairs of my apartment building after college graduation, offering me a hug and no words. And when I couldn’t drive myself home later that day as we caravaned through half of Indiana and Illinois. He’s always been my “voice of reason” confirming whether this car was a good purchase or my finances seemed a mess. I’m not always confident in my decision-making, but any good decisions I’ve made, I give my dad credit for instilling that in me.
I remember my dad having this thing about him with kids. Kids have always loved my dad, and I’ve seen that especially with my kids. Watching my dad be Papa to my two has opened my memory bank from when I was a kid. With them, I see my dad differently, and I glimpse how he might have been with me and my brother.
The same summer I opened the dad-daughter conversation, I learned something new. There’s a picture of me as a baby, maybe a toddler, sitting near the tulip beds at the house where I grew up (which is not the house where my parents live now). It’s a familiar picture, one I remember seeing in the photo albums. I always thought my mom took the picture because she tends to be the picture taker in our family. She told me that summer that my dad took the picture, and it was the first time she had left me at home with him. She was out for a few hours and she wondered what he’d do while she was gone. When she came back, he’d taken these pictures of me out by the flowers.
That story tells me more about a father’s love than any book or sermon. I wish I could show you the picture, but I don’t think I have a copy. And even if I did, I wouldn’t know where to find it right now. (Ah, the joys of moving!)
If you’re a daughter doubting her father’s love, can I offer you a word of encouragement?
Dads sometimes show their love differently. And it’s not always obvious. I’ll bet if you examine your life and your dad’s actions, you’ll find ways he has shown his love. (And if your dad isn’t around, I don’t know what to say. That’s a conversation for another day, I guess.)
And if you’re a dad and you happen to be reading this, and you have daughters, can I offer you a word as well?
Try. Even if you don’t know how to show love to your daughter, try. You don’t have to speak a lot of words or write a flowery card. Sometimes you just have to be there. But if you can, say it every once in a while. “I love you.” “I’m proud of you.” “I’m glad you’re my daughter.” And maybe tell her something you appreciate about her, something unique about her.
It’s a wordy way to say “Happy birthday” to my dad, I know. But the older I get, the more sentimental I become.
And, I’m learning, you can seldom overdo it in the love department.
I love you, Dad.