Instead, she advised, write him a letter and tell him what he means to you.
So I did just that.
When I called him on Father's Day, he sounded so serious and not like his jovial old self. He thanked me for my letter and said it meant a lot to him. Fighting back any emotion, he had a hard time talking about something so personal. My mother said how touched he was and that he read it over and over many times.
A member of the Greatest Generation, he was not one to get all sappy and sentimental, so we never discussed it again.
My mother quietly noted he kept the letter safely folded in his sock drawer for the remainder of his life.
After my mother passed away in 2007, my sisters and I were clearing out her home a few months later. There, in her underwear drawer, we found love letters from my dad during their courtship tied with a blue ribbon. Beneath those was the Father's Day letter I had sent over twenty-five years ago.
I re-read it for the first time since it was mailed to him.
I kept it.
Clearing out closets and drawers recently, I came across a manila envelope of old photographs and letters in my sweater drawer.
There it was.
I read it again.
Here are my twenty-year-old's words to my father. Please forgive the dashes and punctuation errors.
Happy Father's Day. The last clutch-n-claw of the Big 3 in June. Well - "Dear Abby" said to write to your Paw & tell him how much he means to you - so I decided to take her up on it because I don't think I ever did.
Thank you for always being my Paw. The older I get, the more thankful I am. You've always made me feel special and loved and I hope you've felt it from me.
Do you remember that time when I was sick & you took everyone to the St. Kiernan carnival & I had to stay home. Well - you won a big stuffed "Cleo" dog for me & I remember Karen telling me how you spent a fortune trying to win it - and hours, too. That made me feel very special and missing the carnival not too terrible after all.
Remember all our trips downtown? First to Kroch's for our new workbooks, then Trader Vic's for lunch and Field's for a toy and a new dress. Wow! That has to be one of my favorite memories. Then our Christmas Eve trips downtown with Meg! Always a lunch, last minute shopping and drinks. Such a memorable tradition - I miss that!
Remember when you took me to lunch, just the two of us, at the Palmer House before I moved to Atlanta. I was so proud to be with you that day. I really felt like an "adult."
Remember working at Zegers together and counting trucks and listening to WJJD and Elvis?
I was always proud of you when you started Koenco. Don't think of it as a failure. How many people have the guts to even think about their own business. That is a feather in your cap.
Remember the duck calls and feather duster? And dressing up with masks for family pictures. And all of our wonderful vacations that I am always daydreaming about and compare every other vacation to. I especially remember the Buffalo Herders and hauling our Barbie dolls to Banff and losing shoes on the train, and all our fishing outings. We always had a family day - but you always tried to take one of us out alone. That was so nice.
How about our Psych-out games, and Monopoly and O Crap and bets. And our quizzes and contests and plays and home movies.
Toots, you always taught me to be a lady, to respect people, to act intelligent, to work hard, to enjoy life, too, - to want to travel, to be independent, to spot a phony, and be proud of yourself.
I've always been proud of you and I think I've made you proud, too.
Even though you never had a son - you never once let on you regretted it. Having four daughters must have driven you crazy at times but I don't remember that it ever showed.
So on this Father's Day - thank you, Toots, for making me (or rather helping to make me) what I am today.
You mean the world to me and I love you!
You may wonder why I would keep my own letter to my father.
I don't know.
It's not well-written. Childish in places. But it had the best intentions.
I do know it reconnects me to my dad in a very personal and profound way.
He kept it in his sock drawer.
My mother kept it her underwear drawer.
It stays protected now in my sweater drawer.
Perhaps someday my children or grandchildren, who never knew my father, will keep this letter as a remembrance of my history and love for my dad.
I hope they do.
Handwritten letters are so rare in this era of texting and email. It's pure joy to hold one in your hands and read it when you crave that connection.
If you are lucky enough to still have your father, take the long ago advice of "Dear Abby." Write him a letter this Father's Day and tell him what he means to you.
Forget the golf shirts and Cubs hats.
He won't even remember what you got him by the Fourth of July.
But a personal letter? That's something worth keeping.
And the impact could be everlasting.
Happy Father's Day, Toots.
I loved you and always will.
Oh, about those love letters he wrote to my mom? We read each one aloud and divided them between us.
For safekeeping, they also remain in my sweater drawer.
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