I have shoeboxes full of handwritten (in fountain pen) letters, not notes, full-out letters, from my Dad dating back to before I could even read. I have yet to decipher exactly what portions of some of them say, more from the handwriting style than use of metaphors, but sometimes due to metaphors, too. I learned early in life that he communicates feelings best in written word, and clearly the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.
The letters are about all kinds of stuff: Being proud of me for winning a Jump Rope for Heart field day ribbon not long after my pectus repair chest surgery. Moving to a new city. His father’s cancer. His father’s death. Being proud of me after a swim meet. Being proud of me, but not so proud of my chemistry grade. Being less than thrilled with my algebra grade. My Mom’s cancer. Going to seminary. Getting ordained. Getting married, etc. Every major or minor life event is documented via a handwritten letter.
I remember once in college someone asked me about the stash of letters, and assumed my father must be in the Army or Navy sending letters home from various continents. They were as perplexed to hear that’s just how he and I talk as I was to hear their dad had never written so much as a birthday card.
I have stashes of other stuff from him, too: Years of expired AAA Gold membership cards since my parents still renew it annually. Coupons for Chic-fil-A he handed me as I drove off and I often misplaced them until after they expired, but kept them anyway. Letters he wrote to his father during his father’s cancer that I found at my grandmother’s house. Pictures and letters his father (who actually was in the Army) sent him and my grandmother. Articles he printed off and mailed to me with a cryptic Post-It note telling me why I should read it. Saved stream of consciousness emails sans any punctuation or capitalization…We’ve probably had less than 100 hours of verbal conversations in over three decades, yet I have closets full of our conversations.
It seems only fitting to wish him Happy Father’s Day in written word, instead of an hour-long phone conversation, as that’s just not our style. I did send a text this morning and will call later, but he will likely hand the phone to Mom after about 5 minutes. So, Dad, thanks for all the letters, AAA memberships, coupons, printed articles, oil changes, “you have potential” speeches, and $20 bills for gas on my way out of town…Especially the times Mom had already given me $40.
Most of all, thank you for not going into the Witness Protection Program during my teenage years when I was all things hormonal teenager while Mom was all things hormone-zapping cancer treatments. With your chemistry background, you knew better than to mix a teenage daughter and Tamoxifen, lest there be multiple emotional explosions, yet you stayed anyway. Had you not already buried your nose in books and escaped to get daily workouts at the gym, you likely would have fled the country or been driven to drink…
Thank you for everything. Love you more than words can say.