What do I owe you, dad?: A Letter


Dear Dad, 

We don’t talk much about feelings. Well, that’s actually not fair, I don’t talk much about feelings. That’s not on you, you’ve always been the person to cry at weddings and say ‘I love you’ with no hesitation, I guess I just turned out a little different. Doesn’t Stephen always say I was perfect to move to England because I’m so absolutely emotionless and taciturn? I do, though. Love you. A lot. A ‘I would kill for one of those bone crushing hugs at Logan Arrivals Gate E’ lot. 

Maybe being 3k miles away has given me perspective, going from seeing you every day to seeing you every 3-5 months. I would never lie and say that I regret that decision, and I don’t think that you do either, even though you say you miss me so often. You always knew that I needed to start my own adventure, and that that adventure, if I had my choice, would take me a very far way away, probably for a long time. 

So much of this is to make you proud, too. Even when I don’t feel like revising Russian verbs or finding even more sources for a paper, I remember how thrilled you were when I told you that I got in. We were standing on the roof, you working on some joists with ear protection, and I was waiting for the call with my AP results, trying to come up with an excuse as to why I failed. Trying to figure out how I was going to live with my own shame and bitter disappointment. And then the call came, and everything was a 5, and I practically jumped on you from behind like a little kid, screaming my head off. You picked me up and spun me around and shouted and screamed with me. I always want you to be that proud of me, I want to be worth it. 

What I want to say is thank you. Thank you for everything. 

Most little girls don’t grow up getting dragged around to job sites and being put to play with 60-year-old warehouse foreman and forklift operators while their dads take measurements and finish up jobs. But I adore that part of my story, I’m so glad that you loved me enough from the very start that you wanted to take me everywhere with you, to give me so many people that would look after me even now, as unlikely as it should seem to other people. Growing up in mills, and half-finished kitchens, warehouses, and construction sites taught me hard work and the importance of camaraderie. And more than a few swear words (as well as giving me more 55-year-old friends called Hillbilly than most typical 6-year-old girls). 

I’m also grateful that you weren’t ashamed of me for being a girl. So many of the girls I went to school with received so much less attention from their dads than their brothers or had to do sports to get that attention. You never hesitated to tell us how happy you were to have two girls, that it was “so much better than having stinky boys.” By the same token, there was never any yelling or threats over wanting to wear nothing but sweatshirts and jeans when I was in middle school or taking up boxing. No pressure, now, to stay in a relationship that makes me unhappy just because it makes others feel good. Just, be safe, be happy, do the right thing. 

Do the right thing. All the time you rave over what a great dad Uncle D is, that his boys are such a testament to his skills and that you admire him for it. I do too, and I’m just as grateful that he watches over me as well. But I think you underestimate what a great dad you were, especially in the realm of doing right. Teachers and other adults always commented on what polite kids we were, and I know for sure that that was because of you. We didn’t fear any incandescent rage, like some other kids if we acted out, but we had clear rules and freedom by equal measure. You understood that personal responsibility was as important as following the rules, if we were going to be functional, moral adults. I grew up listening to Rush and Glenn and Howie with you, listening to you groan at mom over popes and bishops, but when push came to shove you respected my choices no matter the direction they went. Somewhere, I still have the letter you wrote me for confirmation about how proud and happy you were that I had chosen to be a faithful Catholic and that I hadn’t just passively accepted what mom wanted, but agonized over the choice. That I had put so much thought into even who my confirmation saint would be. Even the monks, though you still kid about them, you accepted when you saw proof that they cared for me, and were happy to let them be like a second family for me. 

I still don’t know quite how you manage it, to let me know how proud you are at all the right times. In chemistry class sophomore year, I remember the granddaughter of a friend whose kitchen you were working on telling me (and a teacher) how cute you were. No offense, but as good a looking guy as you may be, I couldn’t quite figure that one out. Turned out that she thought you were cute because you knew that we shared classes, and asked her about me. After she told you her opinion, she said, you smiled and agreed with her assessment, told her how amazed and confused you were with what a smart and strange and kind kid I had turned out to be, that I was certainly the milkman’s kid. Anything good in me is certainly the product of me being your kid. 

There was a lot of sharing, too. We watch Inspector Grumpy Old Bastard together whenever I’m home, and there are always plenty of WhatsApp pictures back and forth. You making fun of the pretension of that academic conference I went to in Austria last summer, just to have me laugh at all the most inappropriate times. Sticking the cats up on FaceTime, because you know how much I miss those little siamese monsters. Telling me how Eino is and taking me to see him without ever having to ask. Sneaking in to hear me practice the harp, or making a stand for my Chinese calligraphy brushes. Telling me for the thousandth time that Frank Sinatra doesn’t sing, he talks, and I’m just like Granny Marion for preferring Dean Martin. Driving me to Hebrew lessons in Boston, even though whenever I speak it in public you start to back away slowly like I’m contacting ISIS directly. Cheering, and asking questions about my project and process, through every NHD project. Finding just the right old books. 

I could say thank you in a lot of different languages, and I try to say it in a thousand little gestures. I should say it flat out more. But if you ever doubt, just remember that as much as what I study is my vocation, the thing I was created for, so much of my pursuit of excellence, of making my work meaningful and the best that it can be, is for you. At the end of this life, you can look at me and hopefully think that every sacrifice, every hour you spent on me, every way you supported me was worth it. 

Happy Father’s Day, dad. Sometime, hopefully soon, I’ll come bearing indie beer and other goodies from my travels, with hours for us to spend together on truck rides, tv, and wrangling cats, with grades that make you sure all you did to get me here was right. Until then, I love you (see, I’m already getting better). 

Don’t eat all of the dried apricots without me, 


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There are 5 comments.

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  1. KirkianWanderer Coolidge


    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher

    This is a great tribute.

    • #2
  3. MarciN Member

    What a beautiful letter. Your dad will keep this close to his heart forever. 

    You are a wonderful daughter too. :-) 

    • #3
  4. Al French of Damascus Moderator
    Al French of Damascus

    KirkianWanderer: I still don’t know quite how you manage it, to let me know how proud you are at all the right times.

    Heck, I’m just getting to know you and I’m proud of you.

    • #4
  5. Arahant Member

    KirkianWanderer: (as well as giving me more 55 year old friends called Hillbilly than most typical 6 year old girls)

    Every girl needs a crazy old hillbilly in her life.

    • #5
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