Thursday, January 23, 2014

My father's daughter

I always identified with Elinor Dashwood, the older sister in Jane Austen's classic Sense and Sensibility, formal, cautious and guarded to a fault. I was so grateful when I met her character on those pages. Until then, I had never been able to make peace with my nature. Like Elinor, I am an introvert to the fiber of my being. In college I was called the world's oldest 18 year old, an old soul, rip tide beneath still waters, and intense. My more romantic spin on it is the notion of housing a love so large that it can't easily find a way out. I deal in the not very valuable currency of silent revelry. I marinate in life, studying, watching, analyzing. My life consists of always feeling emotion with close to zero ability to adequately express it. When I do talk, I find myself kicking myself in regret for things I said, forgot to say, or wish I had said, leaving me always wishing for a do over...or better yet, wanting to write a letter to clarify my end of the conversation. As a result of my being...well, all of that, relationships in my life have many times been hindered, stalled, and sometimes even dissolved totally in the wake of a personality that is hard for people to understand or appreciate. What seems practically impossible for me to say, however, I have no trouble writing. For whatever reason, this is my voice.

I realize much of who I am is closely connected to who my father is, a quiet man who works hard and enjoys home. As a child, I remember his presence always as one of steady constancy and security. I see so much in my adult self that similarly parallel memories I have of him from my childhood. One in particular stands forever etched in my memory. Obviously, I didn't see it at the time for the life defining moment that it was.

At age seventeen, I had worked hard for over a year to earn my church's Young Women's Recognition Award. It was a big deal for me and carried the same status for a girl as an Eagle Scout Badge would for a boy. My dad had always quietly attended and supported my school activities like sports, concerts or academic awards, but somehow, nothing could compel him to do the same when it came to my church activities. It was something I understood and never questioned. I don't remember ever even thinking about it. It was always just assumed that he wouldn't be present for those events.
On this night, I remember the other girls and their families admiring their awards and the necklaces that were given to signify the work they had done. I felt that unsavory feeling pop up, just for a second, just that tiny twinge of jealousy. I was the only girl without her family there to celebrate the milestone. It vanished as quickly as it came, and one of my youth leaders came over, hugged me and handed me flowers. She then placed two pieces of paper in my hands. The top was a typed white sheet with a yellow lined notebook sheet underneath. 

The rest of this memory, for me, happens in slow motion. Looking down, I read. I stopped, looked up at her, then back down to re-read it. I read it over and over about half a dozen times, looking up and down from her face to the page between each reading. I was stunned. It was one of the only true moments of surprise in my life. My face must have registered this as well as the fact that I didn't understand. It wasn't computing.

"Well, your dad doesn't always make it out to these things" she began. She was a sweet woman and chose such a gracious way of saying he had never darkened the doorstep of the church. " So I went over to your house and asked him to write something, a memory he had of you, that you could keep"

I looked down at the paper again. She continued "I typed it up, but then thought you might like the one he wrote too"
I pulled the second page to the top. It was torn from the yellow lined notepad he always had on his desk. The same words were written as the typed sheet, but the sight of his familiar tidy block lettering staring back at me was overwhelming.

When Coleen was 5 years old she asked for a rainbow to be painted in her room. She loved to go outside after the rain, searching for rainbows, and wanted to have one where she could always look at it. So on a hot afternoon in the middle of the summer, we painted an enormous rainbow that took up the entire length of her bedroom wall. Even as a little girl, she knew to look for the beauty after a time of trouble. Coleen has endured a lot of storms in her life, and now, with the life she has chosen, she is living in that rainbow.

In those words, he was there. In those words, for the first time in my life, I truly understood his love for me.
I made it out to my car before I started crying. 

To this day, it is the single most cherished memory I have of my father. Over the past twenty years, I have lost the award, the necklace, and the typewritten words, but I still cherish that yellow lined sheet from his steno pad. It is as precious to me as my wedding ring. They are both powerful and tangible evidence of the men who love me. The note helps to remind me that I am as blessed to be my father's daughter as I am to be my husband's wife.

I am painfully aware of how awkward, closed, guarded, perhaps even cold, I must appear at times to people in general. In our home, however, I try to be very intentional in rising above my nature when it comes to my emotional transparency with my family. Far from easy, it is a daily prayerful struggle, but one I see God's hand in every day. As always, I am grateful to be His work in progress. 

My prayer is that I may be continually guided in my words and actions so that each of my children will feel from me, even a fraction of the love and joy that I felt from my dad in that note twenty years ago. That, for me, would be the definition of a wholly victorious motherhood. 


  1. your last paragraph said it all - BLESSINGS!!

  2. Wow that is some passage at the end.. you brought it all together.

  3. That's a beautiful story! I hope that I can leave a memory like that for my children. My parents weren't (and still aren't) very expressive people, but they always still found ways to show me their love.

  4. Such a great post. Thank you so much for sharing that with us.

  5. What a wonderful story! My dad never really expressed his feeling to me my whole life, but once in my 30's he broke down the barrier & told me how he feels about me .... I will never forget a single word he said that day :)

  6. Your such a terrific writer. What a beautiful post, thanks for sharing part of your life with us :)

  7. My dad was the same when I was younger. Now that I am older he completely changed and is a really cool dad. Great post btw. :)

    MIchelle F.

  8. That is such a wonderful memory! Thank you for sharing this with us. I just love your writing and honesty!

  9. This is a great story!! Love the way you think about leaving the treasure of good memories to your child.. You are a wonderful mom :)

  10. So touching. Thank you for sharing such a lovely memory.

  11. What your father said is so beautiful! This is such a wonderful memory to have! I was always told when I was young that I was an old woman caught in a young persons body but I always appreciated who I was! Thanks for sharing!

  12. At times I wish I was more like my father as he is one of the calmest and down to earth people I've met. And I feel lucky that although he never said it, he shows me how much he loves me everyday :)