For Father’s Day — A Letter to My Dad

June 11, 2014 | 33 comments

Dear Dad,

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.

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 daughter can’t forget a thing like that — for I am 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 will pass, and the cranberry trees will drop leaves. 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 …

pill box

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.

So, what’s your Story? A #TellHisStory is any story that connects your story into the story of God.

You’re invited to tell that story right here, in community with us.

Share your narratives, your poems, your Instagrams tagged with #TellHisStory, … your beautiful hearts. You are the chroniclers, the people who help others make sense of the world with your words and your art.

Story is how we know that, no matter what happens, we can get back up again.

Visit someone (or two) in the link-up to encourage with a comment. Then, Tweet about your posts, and the posts you visit, with the #TellHisStory hashtag. Come back on Friday to visit our Featured #TellHisStory, in the sidebar.

A final note: This is a safe place to tell your stories. You don’t have to be a professional writer to join us. Story is built into every single one of us. Your story matters, because it’s part of God’s story down through history, not because you punctuated everything correctly. Deal?


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by | June 11, 2014 | 33 comments


  1. Sybil Brun

    So very sweet! What a blessing this letter will be to your Dad! : )

  2. Becky Keife

    Jennifer, your words always read real and reach deep. What a blessing it is to get to know you more this way. I’m praising God that this great dad, faithful hired man, is part of your story.

  3. Kimberly Sullivan

    Your words always make me feel familiar to you and your though we have been longtime friends and I have also spent some time in that hired hand room…thank you for your vulnerability.

    • dukeslee

      Grateful for your visit today, Kimberly. I’d love to have you in the hired hand room sometime. For real. 🙂

  4. Holly Solomon Barrett

    Jennifer, this is a lovely tribute to your dad. I can feel how much you love him and how proud he is of all of you! Isn’t it wonderful when our parents support us, even as their years are slowly (hopefully very slowly!) winding down? I don’t know if y’all do this in Iowa, but in the south, we call our fathers Daddy, no matter how old they are…or how old we are. Somehow I could just imagine you calling your father Daddy too!

    • dukeslee

      I don’t think I’ve even called him daddy, even when I was little, but he definitely has that kind of heart! Thanks for stopping by, Holly.

  5. Laura Risser Moss

    What beautiful words about your daddy. And how blessed you are to have him.
    Father’s Day is a hard one for me.
    I am the fatherless daughter of a man still alive. He chose to disown me almost a decade ago…he was never much of a daddy, so I don’t miss him. Just grieve a bit still what my little girl heart needed but didn’t get.

    • dukeslee

      So blessed indeed. Growing up, I didn’t know that dads were any different than mine. So yeah. I took it all for granted. Not any more. Not after hearing too many stories like yours, Laura. xo

  6. dukeslee

    Oh, I love this picture of Dad, too. From my place on the fishing boat, taking a photo of Dad in his spot. 🙂

  7. dukeslee

    Oh– I love this picture of Dad, too. From my place on the fishing boat, taking a photo of Dad in his spot.

  8. soulstops

    What a tender tribute to you dad…Happy Father’s Day as you celebrate your dad and as your girls celebrate their father 🙂

  9. Lyli Dunbar

    Oh, Jennifer, this made me cry the ugly cry! And those sweet pictures of little you are just too precious.

    Happy Daddy’s Day to your 2 farmers! 🙂

  10. Lisa notes...

    This is such a beautiful story of love, Jennifer. I know it will bless many, those who did have good fathers and those who have wondered what a good father looks like. I was blessed with one of the good ones, too, and even though he’s no longer here in the flesh, I know he still exists.

  11. Deb Russell

    Very sweet! Your writing took me right back to Marathon and the Coop. I remember running errands with my mom and we had to pay the Coop bill, your dad was always there with a friendly smile and to say hi! I can picture him in that Coop shirt. My dad has been back in the tractor seat a few times since he retired from farming as well, and it’s just like coming back home, just feels right. Thank you for sharing this!

  12. Katie Reid

    “I’m happy you exist, Dad. Can you hear me say that?
    Because I can hear you. I can hear how you love us”- Love these lines, so true of how I feel about my dad. Thanks for sharing these words and the opportunity to link-up too. You are a blessing.:)

  13. Eileen

    This is lovely. And what a precious Father’s Day gift to him. My dad and I never had a close daddy/daughter relationship growing up. I knew he loved me even though he struggled with expressing it. He did the best he knew how to do and I am SO grateful for that. Amazing how the older I get the more I can look back and see the blessings…even in the not so ideal. Thanks so much for sharing!

  14. Karrilee Aggett

    So full of love and honor… but I come here always finding this, my friend! Love you so!

  15. Being Woven

    Oh, this is wonderful, Jennifer. Just wonderful! A loving tribute to a special man whom you call your dad. Makes me think about my own who does not exist on this earth now (and has not for 54 years) but exists in my heart with such a fondness. Thanks for this.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

  16. Sharon

    I don’t have too many words right now. My eyes are filled with tears. My dad just passed away in January. The more time that goes by, the more I am remembering the good memories. I miss him, but am so glad that I will see him again. Thank you for this lovely tribute…


  17. Susan @ My Place to Yours

    Surely you didn’t write this beautiful tribute to your Dad without a box of Kleenex beside you… There are tears in my eyes as I write this – and little girl memories of my own father swirling through my middle aged mind. My Dad is 75, in good health, and too many states away to see him every day. How fortunate you both are!


    Beautiful and poetic prose to honor your father. Love the vintage photos – takes me back, too. Those halcyon days of innocence in childhood – yes – thinking on those moments with my own father this weekend, too. My dad will be 87 next month – super healthy and active and still so generous to his little girls. And, he misses my mom – as we all do. Bless you, milady, for providing a platform where we can all share our stories . . .

  19. Bruce Barone

    Such a beautiful tribute! Thank You for sharing. Makes me think of and miss my dad.

  20. lindalouise

    This is precious Jennifer. I am looking at life from your Dad’s perspective these days. It does go by like a snap of the fingers. What a treasure in the memories you have and are making.

  21. Mary Hill

    Jennifer, I miss my dad too this Father’s Day season. Thanks for sharing.

  22. pastordt

    Oh, so lovely! I miss my dad. And on weekends like this one, I really miss him. Thanks, Jen.

  23. Rie

    Jennifer, it was beautiful to read these words to your daddy. Mine passed away on Christmas Eve and it seems every day this week has been a hard Father’s Day. What a blessing it is for you to have him and he has the joy of reading your words of love.

  24. Deb Anderson Weaver

    This is beautiful.

  25. Caryn Jenkins Christensen

    There is a lump in my throat that I can’t seem to swallow. Oh how I wish this was my earthly story ~ this beautiful connection that you share with your father.
    But it *really* is ok. Because not having all of *this*… well it just draws me closer to my heavenly Father. I know that He loves me perfectly and completely right now and what I lack here on earth will be restored fully in heaven. Sometimes, I can hardly stand it, imagining what it will be like to experience a loving dad face to face!
    In the meantime, I truly appreciate “glimpses” through your story. As usual, you paint a precious picture through your words dear friend. Love you. <3

  26. Cheryl Smith

    Wow, Jennifer! I just now had the chance to sit down and read these touching, heart-wrenched words. How I miss my dear Daddy!! I wish I could write him a letter today and tell him all that is in my heart. I am on the other side of this picture, having said my last good-bye to him 14 years ago. He was a handy man, too…he could fix anything and everything that needed fixing. One of my favorite memories is bringing my doll to him as a child. She was one of those “walking” dolls, and she had a quirky problem with one of her legs. It would frustrate me terribly, when that leg refused to move as I “walked” her across the floor. I would bring her to Daddy, and no matter where he was or what he was doing or how busy and pressed for time he happened to be, he would drop it all and take my Marsha up into his loving, weathered, work-worn hands and tenderly fix her and make her able to walk again. I never knew it was just a rubber band that held her leg in place…to me, Daddy performed a miracle each time he fixed my doll, and he could do anything. So, I guess you hit some very raw nerves today, and I just wanted to say it is wonderful that you cherish every moment with this wonderful man you call Dad. The years…my, how they fly by, and then there are only memories left. So, enjoy the making of memories, and treasure each second (whether good, bad, frustrating, or pleasurable), and relish this precious season of your life!! 🙂



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