A Letter to My Father
I love that sound.
It’s your pickup-truck tires crunching the gravel on the driveway, right outside our garage door. I hear that glad sound in the spring, when craggy trees burst forth with buds, then again when those same trees blush with autumn.
This is the sound of you returning, of coming home to our home, because we need you. And maybe you need us, too.
We wanted to make your room extra-special this year. Do you like your new “Hired Man’s Quarters?” I’m sure you thought the sequined pillows were a bit much, but you never complain.
Thank you for being here, season after season, to help the other man I love, my husband. Both of you are tied for First Place as my two favorite farmers.
Thank you, Dad, for being the answer to one of my father-in-law’s last wishes. Before Paul Lee died in 2009, he had penciled the words on a scrap of paper: “Scott needs a hired man.” He worried that his son wouldn’t be able to farm this ground alone, and he knew he didn’t have long. His autumn came too soon.
That next fall, when these fields turned copper, you showed up to fill the tractor seat.
How do I thank you for that? And for a thousand other things?
You described your “hired man” work as a win-win. That’s what you said that first harvest, when you sat at our kitchen table after the sun slid down the sky.
You had long-since retired as CEO of a farm cooperative. You had served as board chairman for a major agri-business firm and helping train agricultural leaders in places like Ethiopia. I remember how you sat at the table that first harvest, combing your fingers through your still-black hair, just like you’d done since I was a toddler on your lap.
You said these words: “After retirement, I didn’t feel I had a purpose. But this? This feels like purpose to me.”
I think you’re right. It has been win-win. And it has been purposeful. So you did “win” something in this, I guess.
I’m glad for that. But I want to thank you anyway.
See. This is me, thanking you.
This is me, the little girl who would climb up on your lap when you came home from work as manager of the Farmer’s Co-op in Marathon, Iowa. This photo is one of my favorites, a tender moment frozen with a Life magazine on the hard-wood floor, your tarnished gold watch around your wrist, maybe a pack of Pall Malls in your shirt pocket, twelve years before you stomped that last smoke into the sand with your the toe of your shoe.
Of course, I can’t remember this one particular moment by the Christmas tree, drooping under the weight of all those kitschy ornaments. But it feels like I remember it all somehow. It was that joy of climbing up onto your lap when you came home from work every night. It was the joy of Christmas and home and security.
A 40-year-old woman can’t forget a thing like that — this woman who ended up with your blackish hair, and that tendency to run her hands through it when she questions her purpose in life.
You were a busy man back then. I remember you wearing a double-circle Co-op shirt with “Phil” embroidered in red, right above the breast pocket. It seemed like you were gone for long business trips a lot, now that I think of it.
But I never felt neglected. I always felt loved. They say that a child’s first impressions of God — and sometimes her forever-impressions of God — are shaped by her earthly father. No wonder I always had the idea that God actually liked me. And that God enjoyed Nerf basketball games in a dingy old basement.
I wonder how tired you might have been all those nights when you came down to the basement with brother John and I to play on that tiny basketball hoop duct-taped to the wall. I swear, you never missed a shot. And you never yawned.
You taught me about the magic of little moments, and how it’s important to play with your kids, to be all there, to teach them how to throw a Frisbee, catch a walleye, shoot a lay-up with the left or right hand. You also taught me that it was okay to miss a basket, or to come across the finish line in last place.
You always made time for us. And see? Here you are.
Remember that first day of planting this spring? I sat right down beside you in the John Deere. It reminded me of long trips to Grandma’s, and how you’d crank up the radio real loud when that “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” song came on the radio.
And there we were — middle-aged mother and senior citizen, sitting side by side, and lined with years.
In the tractor this spring, you told me how Harold* fainted in church the Sunday before, right there in the sanctuary of the Methodist church. In my mind’s eye, Harold is still 55, and he looks the way he looked the year I got confirmed on that red patch of carpet. He was in the pews when I held the red carnation in my hands and affirmed my baptismal vows.
“He’s 88 now,” you told me, shaking your head. “I’m 74. And just like that”—you snapped your fingers—“I’ll be 88. If I live that long.”
And in my eyes, I’m still a kid, even though the mirror says different. And Dad, you’re still 45 to me.
You dropped me off that morning by the budding cranberry trees at the edge of the cornfield, and you told me how good it felt to be alive, to drive a tractor, to sing songs, to sit next to a daughter.
You said these words: “I’m happy I exist.”
Months later, here we are again. The cranberry trees are dropping leaves. The seasons have turned, and we have, too. A whole series of God-incidences brought me to you and Mom 40 years ago, and now you, to us. And with each passing season, a new bud bursts forth, or an old leaf falls. And both seasons are glorious in their own right.
I stepped into the Hired Man’s Quarters a moment ago, to leave you a laundry basket for your farm clothes. The antique dresser bears witness to the passing of seasons: your tray of pills, and your hearing aids. You left behind your hearing aids, Dad, right there beside the HOPE candle. So I hope you can hear me now …
I’m happy you exist, Dad. Can you hear me say that?
Because I can hear you. I can hear how you love us. I can hear it when that gravel crunches under your tires, or when you call out to me across these Lee fields, asking me to ride along with you, or when you sing those old songs in silly falsetto, and when you tell me how good it feels to be alive.
And it is good. It is so good to be alive.
* “Harold’s” name changed for this story.
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Oh Jennifer…what a beautiful tribute…what a gift to have a father who has loved you well through all the years and continues to serve you family. A rich heritage indeed…one we long to leave for our children as well. Enjoy your sweet time with your dad….how long does he stay?
Hi Ro …
He’s usually hear for 3 or 4 weeks, but because our harvest started so much earlier than usual, he wasn’t able to get here until this week. So we’ll only get to have him here for about a week or so. We’ll make the most of it! 🙂
“Both seasons are beautiful in their own right.” Love that. You are a blessed woman, Jennifer — and blessed to realize it.
I am blessed. Blessed for sure. So grateful that I was raised by loving parents who affirmed me and made time for me. I don’t think I realized the gift until I got much older, and heard horror stories from others.
With tears filling my eyes and rolling down my face… oh how lovely this post is!!! Beautiful, truly beautiful. Blessings to you Jennifer!!
Grateful, Danise, that you’re here. Thank you. xo
Jennifer, what a loving tribute to your father! From your words, I have just met an awesome man of faith and promise even now. Your letter brought tears to my eyes as I remember my own dad, gone now since 1973. Ah, but the memories last forever. You are a blessed child of God and a blessing to us all, Jennifer.
Thank you, Sherrey. It’s been such a joy to have him here, season after season. Mom sometimes joins us for a few days as well, but is having fun with her sisters this week.
What a beautiful tribute to your father. Sweet memories of the way he has reflected God’s love. Moments in time stand still in our mind while real time keeps moving. We wake up one day and wonder how it went to fast. Enjoying and reflecting on each moment helps preserve and cherish it. Thanks for this!
Yes… That’s where I am this week — the waking up one day and wondering how it went so fast. I’ve been feeling that a lot with my girls, too. So grateful for the lesson to be “all there” when I’m with them. I don’t always do it well, but when I do, I see the fruits.
What a glorious gift to have a dad who teaches you about God and makes time for you. What a beautiful letter. ( I do like letters.)
A gift, indeed. Some gifts are unwrapped and appreciated more and more over time. I feel that way about both of my parents.
What a beautiful tribute to your wonderful father! He is a special man … I have a few memories of my own of Phil Dukes from church and the Marathon Coop 🙂 My dad’s birthday is today, 77 years. He misses the tractor at this time of year and in the spring. He’ll always be a farmer at heart. We both have very special men to call ‘dad’. Thanks for sharing!
Hi Deb! We definitely have great dads. Hope your dad had a blessed birthday.
oh, my daddy just left – he came and spent the night with us- he’s always a rock – steadfast – solid – soft hearted rock. Your tribute is precious – so thankful we have good dad’s – thank you for sharing – love the fish pic – I have such fond memories of fishing with my daddy. I live at the beach now- because of the times we spent here as a family – because of his sacrifice to bring us here – just a precious tribute to your father- so special – glad you shared -thanks!
“soft-hearted rock” … I like that imagery.
What a beautiful tribute!
I love the photo of you, the same height as those fish, staring at them quizzically, and your dad with that big ol’ smile.
P.S. Thanks for your sweet comment this morning. Made me happy.
I was introduced to fishing early and often. One of my favorite places to spend time with my dad is on a Lund boat, in a little lake up in Minnesota.
What a beautiful and tender tribute to your father…love that picture of you with him next to the tree..what a good and loving picture of God, he left on your heart and mind…blessings, sweet Jennifer 🙂
Thanks, Dolly. Yes, that is an image that represents how we can come to our Heavenly Father … climbing right up onto His lap!
I loved this Jennifer. Just beautiful and heartfelt. A wonderful tribute to your father and your family. You always inspire me and make my heart smile big. 🙂
Lovely, Jennifer. Love the baby photos with your dad, all the cherished moments. Tenderhearted writing, my favorite.
Oh, my friend! Do you have any idea what an extraordinary gift you have both given and received, by daring to share these words with your father this side of eternity?
So beautiful, Jennifer — what a loving tribute! Thanks for the great post & for hosting, & God bless!
What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful father, Jennifer, from a grateful, precious daughter. I wrote such a thank-you letter for my father, and it was a book. I mailed it to him as a Christmas gift, and Mother said he let it set for a day or two before reading it! =] My father always encouraged me to be brief! =] That said, once he read it, he loved it. I also wrote him a couple of funny poems too. He was always composing silly songs for us kids, and actually, he had a GORGEOUS voice–a basso-profundo voice (could have sung opera, had his parents been able to afford lessons). My father and I had a wonderful relationship, and yet he was not demonstrative. He haled from that generation and he couldn’t *say* “I love you.” So I beggfed him to write a letter to me. I begged for five years, and he finally did…..and while he couldn’t *say* “I love you,” he wrote it–literally–and in all the sweet things he said about me. Daddy died five years ago, and I miss him every, single day. I treasure that letter. And I know your father treasures yours! What you have written here is very important. I pray it will encourage every reader to write to their parents before it’s too late to do so.
This is a very nice tribute to your father whose hands worked for you then and also now as he helps your husband. I am starting a new continued story, and am sharing chapter one. Anyone interested please sign up to follow by e-mail so you don’t miss any of this fictional but great story.
So lovely, friend. The gift of a good dad lasts a whole lifetime. So glad you had/have that gift.
Lord love a duck! Jennifer you have me in a muddle of tears. This is so heartfelt, and touching. I so wish I had had a good relationship with my own father. I’m thrilled that you have your Dad, and that you are close. Bless you Dear One!
I think it a gift of infinite worth to give your Dad these words now – this day. How well he loves and how well you love him right back.
This is so precious Jennifer.
I love this. After my 83 year old Dad came to visit us, I wrote a piece called “When Superman Ages.” I’m so grateful for opportunities and moments with him! How wonderful that your precious Dad is able to stay a season with you. Thank you for sharing him with us today!
Do you have that piece posted at your place? I’d like to read it!
I loved this – and not only remembered my own dad, gone now 30 years, whose gentleness and selfless love did much to open me to the Father – but also sent it on to my sons and sons-in-law for their encouragement along the way. Thank you!
I know you must have had tears in your eyes when you wrote this. I know I had tears in my eyes while reading it! I lost my Dad nearly 7 years ago and this brought back so many memories. I might have to write a “Dear Dad” letter…even if he will never read it.
Thanks for sharing your memories and for reminding us just how much a Father’s love means to us.
Beautiful tribute to life and your dad. I guess if I’ll admit it, losing mine is what brought me back to writing… I miss him… God blessed me with him.
Yes,yes,yes….the sounds of Dad. Everyone has there own special sound that reminds them of their Dad. This almost brought me to tears. My eyes were VERY moist! Oh, Daddy (why am I weeping now) how great you are and will always be. Thanks for such a touching look into your relationship with your Dad.
This is such a touching tribute to your dad! I’m privileged to know him personally, but even for those readers who don’t know him, his wonderful personality and your warm love for him are evident in abundance in your message. Thank you!