From the time I was an adolescent, buying a Father’s Day card for my dad was always challenging. Rows upon rows of greetings depicting fishing poles, cars, and remote controls pointed at football games didn’t represent my dad at all. Neither did flowery messages about how much he means to me and being The Best Dad Ever resonate with my relationship to him. Each year I would stand for a long time, my anxiety rising, as I tried to connect with a message that I could stand to send. Where were the cards that said, “Thanks for teaching me how to research a project, clean an oven or shop for home decor”? Where was the card that said, “Gee, I wish you were like normal dads but I guess I love you anyway”?
This was particularly hard during my teenage years when my resentment far outweighed my pride in my father. I couldn’t bring myself to offer him some insincere well wishes so I would find the vaguest and most unsentimental card I could, sometimes accompanying it with a carton of cigarettes as a gift, an absolutely meaningless acknowledgment of the day.
This all changed in the last few years of Dads life. We had grown close by that time, and our long conversations about my life and his health became a steady dialogue in a relationship where, in the past, much was said in anger and hurt and not enough in love and acceptance. Shopping for cards became a joy and while I still wouldn’t hand him a Father of The Year card, I was able to find sweet messages of appreciation, especially ones from a daughter to her dad.
The last card I bought for Father’s Day illustrates a photograph of a small girls hand in that of a man’s. A tight shot of the loose grip he has on her is in sepia tones, and creases line the edges of the square blue envelope after years of being handled. The sentiment is about how much he means to her, how she appreciates their conversations and that she respects his opinion. It was just the right card and one I was excited to buy.
Then Dad died before I could give it to him.
The card landed in a cabinet in my office, too lovely to toss away, and with no one else to send it to, I just kept it. I was rummaging around looking for a birthday card recently and came across this perfect symbol of my love for my dad. All the years and all the struggles were eclipsed by this one perfect message to him, the one I didn’t get to deliver.
Tears stung my eyes as I thought of all the years I lost being mad at him for being who he was. Sure, he was selfish to the point of narcissism much of my life, yet he truly loved me and wanted me to be happy. That was lost on me as I chose to see the ways he cared more about himself than showing up for me. Sure, he chose to support Mom over me in ways I could not understand. My jealousy over his care for her was a poison that stole precious hours of joy from us. Yet, at his deathbed, the thing I thanked him for most was how much it meant to me that he loved, and cared for, my mother.
The card remains in a drawer, it’s lovely image a chance to relive a moment when I deeply recognized my father’s goodness. I decided to sign it, and pull it out every Fathers Day to remind me of that little girl who held her Daddy’s hand, and how lucky I am that little girl was me.