I have had the privilege recently of speaking at the memorial services of two very important people in my life: my father-in-law and my grandmother. These experiences have prompted me to think about those I am still blessed to have with me, and so, I wrote this as a Father’s Day gift for my dad. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Love you!
I clutched the steering wheel, letting go only long enough to turn on the radio. Maybe the music will distract me, I thought, but the noise only added to my anxiety. My morning toast churned in my stomach. I was 23, fresh out of college, and on my way to my first teaching job. I exuded confidence throughout my teacher training, excitedly longing for the day I would have a classroom of my own. I was going to be a great teacher. But now, in this moment of truth, I felt like I was going to be sick.
The summer had been packed with preparations: studying curricula, planning lessons, and hanging bulletin boards. Arriving early that first day, I made sure everything was in order and took a few deep breaths before my students arrived. Suddenly, the empty classroom overwhelmed me.
Did I forget anything? Do I really belong here? Am I ready for this?
Contemplating the weight of the task before me, I noticed something on my desk that I had not put there. It was a bouquet of familiar garden flowers, freshly cut and carefully arranged in a mason jar. I immediately knew who they were from. The card, a folded piece of unevenly cut white paper read, “Dear Julie, God bless you. Love, Dad.”
Growing up, we knew Dad loved us. And we knew he loved Mom. When he got home from work, Mom and Dad always greeted each other with a hug and kiss and spoke tenderly so that we couldn’t hear. No matter what we tried to do to get their attention, it never worked. “I’m kinda busy,” Dad would say. Mom would laugh, they would kiss one last time, and then she would turn back to us as Dad headed outside to unload his truck and work in his garden. Despite our protests, we were secure in their open displays of affection.
Dad loved to work in his garden. In addition to our regular household chores, my sister and I were required to help him, but never with the planting. That was strictly Dad’s domain. We pulled weeds, raked the soil, and picked the small harvest of green beans, tomatoes, strawberries, and raspberries. There were always experimental plantings, some more successful than others. Dad enjoyed sharing the fruit of his labor with friends and neighbors. But he was most proud of his flowers.
“Why are they impatient, Daddy?” No matter how many times he told me he was lining his garden with impatiens, I never heard it right.
In the late afternoons, the rumble of Dad’s dump truck could be heard from way down the street. “Daddy’s home!” My sister and I exclaimed with glee. The neighborhood kids were so familiar with our evening ritual that sometimes they shouted it too. We dropped everything to greet him. He backed into the driveway, and we ran up to the driver’s door. Standing on tiptoes, we waited for Dad to reach out the open window and pull us each up with his strong calloused hands for kisses. “Can we have a ride, Daddy?”
“Sure. Hop in.” We climbed into the back and rode to the end of our long driveway with the gravel crackling beneath us.
After supper, Mom cleaned up the kitchen while Dad played with us. Sometimes, he played his harmonica and we danced around the kitchen table. Other times, we went into the living room and climbed, bounced, and flipped over his head until he sprawled on the living room floor, too tired to play anymore. No matter how many songs he played or turns we took, it was never enough.
“One more time, Daddy! One more time!” We shouted over and over again.
Then one day, it was the last time for me.
“You’re too big,” Dad said in his usual matter-of-fact way. His words stung, but I stubbornly refused to show it. I curled up on the couch and watched the fun from behind mom’s good pillows. That moment was the first brick in a wall that slowly separated us.
It was official: I was no longer Daddy’s little girl.
The years that followed brought that reality into clearer focus. I became rebellious, not in my behavior, but in my spirit. I fought with my sister constantly, talked back to my parents, and always had to have the last word.
“Dad, why can’t you just listen to me?” I complained.
“I don’t need to. I told you what to do, and you need to do it now. End of story,” he firmly replied. I wanted to explain. I wanted to be heard, but I knew it was no use. Instead, I felt the heat welling up inside me. I was ready to explode.
“This is so unfair. You don’t care about anyone’s opinion but your own!” I shouted, melting into a steady stream of tears. My boldness terrified me, but I couldn’t stop the rising fury. My restless spirit demanded to be heard. Dad moaned, threw up his hands, and looked questioningly at Mom before marching out of the room. His “my way or the highway” approach wasn’t working anymore, and I wasn’t about to submit. I fought with all the fire and drama a teenage girl could muster, and Dad responded with all the frustration of a man who was losing control of his daughter.
This scene played out many times over my teenage years. Later, I would affectionately refer to that period as “the nightmare years.” We never really talked about it much afterward, unless it was the punchline of a family joke. I got married and moved out before I finished college, so home wasn’t Mom and Dad’s when I left for my teaching job that first morning.
Back in my classroom, I gently lifted the homemade card from the thick bouquet and read it over and over again. Dad is a man of few words, so the note was unsurprisingly short and sweet. But it felt like forgiveness. Dear Julie, God bless you. Love, Dad. I kept the card close to me that first day, and I still keep it tucked among my treasures. Those garden flowers may be long gone, but the blessings remain.
I spent the rest of that day and many days after telling everyone I knew what Dad had done for me. To this day I can’t think about it without getting choked up. I am thankful for the time since then that I have had to reestablish a relationship with Dad that was lost during my teenage years. Now I have my own children who bring joy and delight to their grandparents. Dad looks at them with a mischievous sparkle in his pale blue eyes and repeats one of his many famous sayings, “What goes around comes around.” I hope so, Dad.
I am so thankful that like Dad, my Heavenly Father loves me through every stage of my life. His hand is always firm but loving; guiding me to be the woman He has called me to be. In times of spiritual struggle when I’m not sure where I stand, His blessings are like fresh cut flowers from His garden. They renew my faith in His love.