This Father’s Day is a difficult one for me. My 88-year-old father passed away six weeks ago, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea.
Like all parents do, my dad influenced me in many ways, including some I couldn’t appreciate until later in my life. I wrote this letter to him two years ago (and sent him a printed version); he told me how much he enjoyed reading it.
Although my dad never embraced electronic books (see the end of my letter), he was a voracious reader his entire life and always had a book with him. I’ll always be grateful to my dad for the examples he set. Wherever he is, I hope he’s enjoying a great book.
Because you’re a self-declared technophobe, you won’t read this today, but I’ll send you a printed copy via snail mail. I may be using all my techie toys (laptop, printer, and my WordPress blog) to write this, but the message is very old school: without you, I would never be following my dream today.
You see, I’m finally pursuing a passion I’ve had my whole life. Remember when I’d spend hours in my room reading books and writing to pen pals? You and Mom humored me for the most part, but every so often, my bedroom door would fly open and you’d bellow, “It’s time to go outside for some fresh air!”
I hated when you did that, Dad, because invariably I was lost in a world you couldn’t have known. A word where magical things happened to imaginary people—and it didn’t matter to me whether those magical things happened in the books I read or the letters I received. I couldn’t get enough of those worlds beyond my door, and I really have to credit you for that as well.
For as far back as I can remember, your nose was always in a book or magazine. I can close my eyes and see you sitting in your chair in the living room, glasses perched on your nose and a book balanced on your lap; you always had your legs crossed (I wonder if that’s a genetic trait, because I can’t seem to sit without doing the same). I can’t remember the titles of any of the books, but I clearly remember the Look and Life magazines; you and Mom read those cover-to-cover, and I loved looking at the photos, too, until I was old enough to read the words.
Yes, you instilled in me a love for reading, but more than that, you instilled a love for writing. I seldom shared my little stories with you because I feared your disapproval, but I wrote them nonetheless, and even though you didn’t read them, you certainly influenced them. The letters I wrote to pen pals all over the world were a form of creative writing, too, as were the journals I meticulously kept, and later, as I worked on essays and research projects in school, I learned many valuable lessons about writing styles and rules and authors and grammar and . . . the list goes on and on.
Having a father who is a perfectionist and a schoolteacher is difficult for a child, but I suspect having that father is the reason I was constantly proofreading cereal boxes, street signs, and letters from those pen pals on the other side of the world, and why I was always drawn to helping others with their writing. When it came time for college, practicality won out and I convinced myself that I wasn’t good enough, that I could never make a living as a writer, so I went a different direction and never looked back.
Until a few years ago when my midlife-crisis-self decided it was time to follow my heart for a change. (Thank goodness that crazy lady finally spoke up!) My love of writing and grammar and teaching and helping others all came together, and today I have a wonderful career as a freelance editor and writer. Pat yourself on the back, Dad, because your example is what led me down that path:
- The example you set as a teacher who expected the best from every student you taught showed me that everyone has the ability to find just a little bit more inside himself or herself;
- The example you set as a parent who expected nothing less than perfection made me into a perfectionist, which is a noble quality for a proofreader (although less so for a writer, I’m afraid—anxiety tends to kick in when perfectionism rears its ugly head);
- The example you set as a reader taught me that words are a precious commodity to be respected and revered, whether one is reading The Little Engine That Could or The Godfather or an algebra text (that last one took a few extra years to appreciate, by the way);
- The example you set as a parent helped me pass my own love of reading and writing to my children and grandchildren; I can’t express the joy I felt when my eighteen-month-old granddaughter pulled me into her room to read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom—a book I gave her!
So on this Father’s Day, Dad, I just want to say thank you for sharing your love of words with that little girl who loved to crawl up into your lap and listen to you read aloud. You gave me a gift that has continued to shower me with happiness for all these years, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Now please, Dad, won’t you consider putting aside your fear of technology and just consider an e-reader? You’d make gift-giving so much easier!
(originally published Father’s Day 2013)
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