On your birthday a few months back, I wrote to thank you for some of the many things you taught me, and I really should have included a lot of the things you tried to teach me: skills I refused to learn in my
teenage obstinance and lessons I wasn’t yet prepared for. (These I will confess only to you in whispers.)
This weekend I tried hard to sift through our thirty(!) years together to identify the single greatest gift you’ve ever given me, but, boy, this trip to Michigan was a real doozy. We experienced all the seasons of life and every purpose under heaven in less than 72 hours. It was a challenge just getting to the end of my sentences.
This morning, though, waking up in the quiet of my own bed, I received the clearest thought I’ve had in days. I realized that your greatest gift to me is what you gave to anyone who was fortunate enough to enter your life. You loved ferociously, and you only wanted the best for everyone: family, friends, colleagues, employees, total strangers—didn’t matter (in fact, you probably wouldn’t have bought into that hierarchy I just imposed). You were always so eloquent about expressing your love, though back then (and maybe even a little bit now) I thought it was kind of cheezy that you insisted on the phrase “You I love” because it placed the You before the I.
But that isn’t even what makes your love so special. Its hallmark, rather, is your distinctive way of telling and showing the why and how of your love for each of us. It was kind of a family joke that you had the emotionality of a woman, but thankfully you were enlightened enough not to buy into that awful brand of machismo/misogyny. Your love was transformative because you built real relationships. You always took the time to write lovely little notes to let us know we were in your thoughts. And then in person, over the phone, or in longer letters you made sure we were each aware of the very singularity of our connection with you.
It tickles me to hear how you would brag so shamelessly about me and manage to sneak me into the unlikeliest conversations. I am still incredulous that you ever saw the beginnings of the person I am today back when I was in high school, back when I mistook your love for nosiness and walled you out right when I needed you most. You protested when I first said this to you, but I know in my heart that it’s taken me decades to become the daughter you deserved. If I ever felt misunderstood by you growing up, I now see that it’s because I shut the door to my bedroom all too often. What a miracle that we got to the point where we could communicate openly and lovingly, even when we disagreed or felt hurt by the other. How much easier things would be if I could replicate our relationship with everyone else.
People think that we children were lucky to have had you in our lives, since most of us weren’t even born to you. They should also know that your sons- and daughters-in law were just as blessed. You were pretty much Dad to all. And for that reason, I now find myself with this great, big extended family that embraces Brian and me, just as we embrace them, in your honor.
What treasures to have inherited, Dad. Stinginess was never your style (you were always generous to a fault), so here I am now with an embarrassment of riches. This morning I understand fully and indubitably that my life’s work is to love the way you taught me. ‘Thank you’ doesn’t even come close to expressing my gratitude, but it will have to do for now.