A daughter can finally see just how important the decisions her father made in raising her really were.
Editor’s note: this is the third in a series of letters excerpted from Shoebox Letters – Daughters to Dads, a collection of over 30 letters from daughters to their dads about the role that their dad has played in their life. Heartfelt storytelling told through the unique letter format, the book provides readers a rare, personal glimpse into the life between the writer and the father.
In these last couple years, as I’ve started to consider myself an actual adult, I find myself thinking a lot about how I was brought up, your style as a father, and you as a person. Is all of it perfect? No. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Thank you for having the patience to comb out my long wet hair when I was too young to manage it and just couldn’t bare Mom’s, um, aggressive touch. I think she was the only one bothered by the fact that you never really got the tangles underneath.
Thanks for teaching me how to bait a hook. I don’t remember the last time I did it and I’m not sure when I ever will again, but at least I know how. Mom tells the story about how nervous she was that her little girl was handling sharp things while you were so patient and trusting that I would follow your instructions. What a perfect analogy for the rest of my childhood and adolescence!
I don’t think you ever really spoiled me too much that I can remember, but I will say that there’s no better breakfast than half a grapefruit that you’ve sectioned perfectly, waiting for me in the refrigerator. Ask how often I eat grapefruit now. I’m too lazy.
Depending on the year and my age, I was either excited or annoyed by the fact that you always insisted Sissy and I wear dresses for Easter and Christmas.
“Little girls should wear nice dresses.” Old fashioned and impractical as it seemed, hunting for eggs in white tights and white patent leather shoes, and mud. Slipping along Grandma’s driveway in the snow and cold in white tights and black patent leather shoes. It’s stayed with me‚ now I find myself teetering along in heels and pencil skirts. It’s a holiday. You’re supposed to dress nice.
Your final words on fashion are probably, “Hey, be a trend setter.” The response to complaints of not having Guess Jeans and the latest fashions. Yet, your fondness for vintage cool, or maybe it’s just your refusal to get rid of anything, brings to mind the year you wore an old green corduroy suit to the family Christmas Eve party. Mom was mortified and I was in awe. It was probably 1995 or so and grunge was god. Corduroy was everywhere. You weren’t trying to be hip or ironic. You were just dressing nice for the holiday. I got over not having stylish clothes, but I’ll never get over that green suit. Badass.
Your most iconic outfit has got to be your greasy blue work uniform. I’d look for that uniform from the stage at every dance recital. I’m ashamed to remember that your uniform embarrassed me sometimes. Now I think about it and smile, because it means that you rushed straight from work to be there. Every year. I think about it with pride, because if you weren’t in that uniform, I wouldn’t have been in dance lessons.
Thanks for taking me out into the woods every year to pick a cedar tree for Christmas. I was too young to understand why our tree never looked like the $50 trees that other people had, but it didn’t matter. All five of us decorated it together, but I got to put the Christmas Spirit on the top. I loved those mornings in the woods. But I don’t miss the bagworms on the cedar trees.
I think about the time you told me that Bob Dylan was a poet and how, for the first time in quite awhile, I felt like you and I had something in common. I don’t think anyone who truly listens to “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” can disagree.
This fondness for classic rock combined with enough afternoons spent at car shows and countless evenings spent at the drag strip gave me just enough knowledge to be able to talk to boys about something they found interesting. I think some of them would have rather hung out in the garage with you than take me to the movies, but to this day, any guy who spent any time at our house always asks about you. Then he immediately recounts how impressed he was that any time we left the house, after Mom’s warnings to be careful, be home on time, and call if we were going anywhere else, your final words for the night were always “Be cool.”
You trusted that you and Mom had done your job, that I knew how to act once I left the house, that I was smart enough to make good choices. I was certainly no angel, but there were plenty of moments when I’d consider you telling me “If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not” and go from there. I think it worked all right. You must have too, when you and I had a talk about whether I should go away for college or not, and you told me that it was important for everyone to spend some time away from home. I needed that.
Even though I’ve been away from home for a long time, the first warm spring day makes me want to ride on the back of your Norton. I think about summer nights on the back porch, listening to the Reds while you pet your bird dog and chew tobacco. Sometimes when I wash my face at the end of the day, I wish that you were in the next room playing guitar along with some Stones or Beatles song, like you were so many nights when I was younger.
Thank you. For being you. For the parenting decisions you and Mom made, for the imagination I developed as a result of what we couldn’t afford, for the times our family spent together because we had nowhere else to go and no money to do anything. For everything. I think most of the memories and experiences that shaped our relationship were things you’d have done regardless, that you didn’t even realize you were doing, that you still do now. And that’s cool.
From more on the Shoebox Letters and series editor Clay Brizendine, check out the foreword excerpted from the book and a Q&A here.
Here is the first letter, Daughter Praises Dad for Unconditional Love