HUg a Tree

©Marna Blanchard, 2009

You stepped down into the shallow creek, planting your big, sturdy boots between me and dry land.  Grabbing me under my arms, you hoisted me up and over the muck, and set me gently on the grassy path beyond.  We paused to take in the view of Echo Lake, then continued our hike up the mountain to Saucer, retracing the trail that you climbed so many times as a boy.

I always knew that your best “dad” moments were at Echo Lake.  It was there that you were completely in your element.  You knew the entire routine for opening the cabin; you knew exactly where to find the right tool for hanging the hammock; you were completely confident teaching me to drive the boat and build a bonfire.  Remember when you taught me to water ski?  I remember what you didn’t do.  You didn’t get frustrated.  You didn’t yell.  You didn’t lose your patience.  Over and over I would yell, “Hit it!” and you would speed up the boat.  Over and over I would struggle to stand, and then collapse in the water.  Over and over you would swing the boat back around, dragging the ski rope to me so I could try again.  And every time you would smile, offer yet another bit of advice, and patiently wait while I squeezed my feet into the skis.  “Keep your arms straight.  Sit back on the skis.  Let the boat pull you up.”  And when I finally succeeded, finally stood upright, finally circled the lake on wobbly knees, you told me you were proud.  And you hugged me, soaking wet hair and swimsuit and life jacket and all.

At home I think you were less certain in your dad role.  There were three of us girls, after all, plus Mom, and you were the only guy.  And you didn’t want to be the kind of authoritative, demanding dad to us that your father had been to you.  So you watched.  You watched Mom, because you trusted her parenting instincts.  You watched us, waiting to see what we needed.  And you watched yourself, careful not to make the same mistakes your parents made.  And you learned.

You learned that we were sensitive, easily moved to tears.  And although our tears made you uncomfortable, you hugged us.  You learned that we were so sensitive, you could communicate disappointment with your eyes, and we would be shamed.  You learned that we were so sensitive, you could communicate love with your eyes, and we would be empowered.  You learned that more than anything, we wanted to please you.

Remember when we used to go running at six in the morning?  I thought I was so cool, because no girl I knew went running with her dad before school.  As we jogged down the hill, our eyes adjusting to the dark morning air, I stole glances at you, hoping to see youglancing at me, pride in your eyes.  I wanted to be the athlete you had hoped to get in the son you didn’t get.  I wanted to make you proud.

So I became a swimmer and I was really slow.  I don’t remember much about swimming, even though I spent eight years competing.  I do remember that I never won a ribbon.  I do remember that I didn’t impress anyone with my athleticism.  I do remember that every night, after climbing out of the pool, I saw you, waiting to pick me up.  You would squeeze my shoulder, tousle my hair and ask me about the practice.  You made me feel like an athlete, like a competitor, like a daughter you were proud of.  Riding home after practice, alone with you in your very cool Datsun 240Z, I was the princess for a few minutes.  You had three daughters, and you would never play favorites, but for just a few minutes each evening I knew I was special to you.

I couldn’t impress you as an athlete, so I found another path to your attention: athletic knowledge.  Someone would say, “Who was that guy, the one who tossed free throws underhand?”  Without hesitating I would answer, “Rick Barry, the white guy from the Warriors.”  Your head would spin, your mouth would drop, and you would stare at me in amazement.  Oh, the joy I felt when I saw that look on your face.  I knew you were impressed, and I knew you were proud.  So I learned to pay attention to the things that mattered to you.  I didn’t like to watch sports, I didn’t care who won or lost, who got traded, who was injured.  But I read the paper and I listened to you.  And when the opportunities came, I let you know I was paying attention.  I wanted so much to impress you.

I remember that you wanted to impress your parents, too.  When we would visit them, you would show them the latest pictures of the cabin.  “See, we added this window so Marilyn has more light for reading.  We moved the shower room over here, so we have more space.  And look at this dock!  Solid rock, so we won’t find it floating down the lake in June.”  You wanted them to see that you were taking good care of the cabin that they had passed on to you; you wanted them to be proud of you.  I hope they were.  I hope they knew what a great man you became.  I hope they knew how much you loved Echo Lake and the cabin.  I hope they knew that you passed along a love and deep reverence for our Sierra home, and that two generations later the love continues.

I remember when I was fifteen and my boyfriend broke up with me over the phone.  I wandered the house, looking for sympathy.  No one was inside, so I tried outside.  I found you in the driveway, working on the car.  Although not the female confidant I initially hoped for, you were safe and available.  I tried to tell you what happened, but broke down crying instead.  You hugged me, and I remember what you didn’t do.  You didn’t tell me it would be OK.  You didn’t tell me he wasn’t worth it.  You didn’t tell me there were more fish in the sea.  You just held me, tight and long.  And then I knew it would be OK, I knew he wasn’t worth it and I knew there were more fish in the sea.  But more important, I knew you loved me.

Like most fathers and daughters, we suffered awkward, difficult times when I was navigating adolescence.  We just couldn’t figure out how to talk to each other. You, however, didn’t waste any time rebuilding our relationship once I grew up.  Remember the letters you sent me when I was in college?  I still have them.  I remember that you took the time to put into words, on paper, in your less than legible handwriting, your pride in me and your dreams of my future.  I remember that I felt like a little girl again, jogging in the dark, hoping to catch a proud look from Dad.  And I did.

I was eight months pregnant with Chloë when you called and asked me to lunch.  I remember we went to Marvin’s.  We both had omelettes, and marveled at their size.  “You know,” you said, in your know-it-all dad voice, “they make them huge just to justify the price.  What a waste.”  I nodded.  I had heard this before, one in your collection of dad-rants.  Then you pulled a slip of paper out of your pocket and took my hand.  “I know I haven’t been a perfect parent, but your mother and I have learned a lot over the years, and I’d like to share some of what we’ve learned with you.”
Then you went over a list that you had prepared of your best parenting advice.  I remember that you had numbered from 1 to 10, but had run out of advice at about #6.  I remember that your advice rang so true, so genuine, and so beautifully reflected the value you had placed on your role as a father.  Number two said, “No physical punishment,” and I remembered your gentle scoldings, more with your eyes than anything else.  Number four said, “From time to time, person to person,” and I remembered our moments in the car after swim practice.  Number five cautioned me, “Don’t try too hard, relax.”  You left numbers seven through nine blank, and then number ten encouraged me to “Enjoy!”  I remembered our early morning runs, our hikes at Echo Lake, and those skiing lessons.  You did enjoy us, didn’t you?  And you didn’t spank us.  I remember a T-shirt we gave you one year for Father’s Day.  It read, “Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a daddy.”  You didn’t take lightly your role as dad.  You weren’t a father because of biology; you were a father on purpose and with purpose.

I tucked that list of advice into my scrapbook, alongside baby shower cards, ultrasound pictures and other mementos of pregnancy.  I didn’t fully appreciate then how valuable your advice was, and didn’t realize just how much I would need it.  Chloë is 15 now, the same age I was when my boyfriend broke my heart, and now more than ever I am seeing how your little list reflects not only how you parented me, but also how I need to parent my children.  Finally the wisdom you passed on to me that day over omelettes is becoming clear to me.  Not like a bolt of lightning, not like a comic strip light bulb over my head, but piece by piece, like a jigsaw puzzle nearing completion.

When I am driving in the winter and the windshield fogs up, I turn up the defroster.  The fan blows on the glass, and gradually the fuzzy white recedes.  Then I see the road clearly, then the cars and signs come into focus.  That’s how I see you, as gradually, bit by bit, your love and your parenting reveal themselves in my life.  And when Chloë cries I try to remember to just hold her, long and tight.  I try to remember to be patient, to give her person-to-person time, to show her that I love her and am proud of her.  I try to remember to put my sturdy boots in the creek, and gently lift her over the muck to the grassy path on the other side.

©Laura Bradley, 2009

Laura Bradley has taught junior high English for 16 years, the last eight in Petaluma.  Her participation in BAWP/SSU Summer Institute 2007 led to six pages of a novel about teaching junior high, which led to a week at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in Summer 2008, which led to six pages of a novel collecting dust on her shiny new MacBook Air.  At present she is nagging her daughter to finish her college applications.

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17 Responses to “Love Letter to Dad by Laura Bradley”

  1. Page Says:

    Laura,
    This piece always brings a tear to my eye. Makes me miss my dad and look forward to seeing him the end of the summer.
    Page

    1. Laura Bradley Says:

      Thanks Page! Your support in the writing was very much appreciated.

      Laura

  2. Adela Arriaga Says:

    so lovely!

  3. Pat Says:

    I wish I had had a dad like that!

  4. Eric Fessenden Says:

    Laura,
    Tears don’t come as often of late, but this did it. Thank you for expressing so dearly the hope we are doing right by our children and giving them the means to tell us. That cross gender “barrier” is a challenge for us dads with our daughters; Brenna was just able to cross it before she left, yet there are many unsaid moments. I’m glad he and you did.

  5. Laura Bradley Says:

    Eric,
    Your words mean so much. Thank you for sharing.

    Laura

  6. Alexa Stuart Frisbie Says:

    This is truly touching. I was going to rush into work, and now I just feel like sitting back, looking out of the window, and think about this! Thank you for writing this.

  7. Mom Says:

    Laura, This brought me to tears. Your thoughts, your love, and your talent are just awesome. I look forward to reading more.

  8. leah Says:

    WOW !
    0_o
    oh oh oh oh oh oh awesome !
    hehehe

  9. leah Says:

    pero atik wrah !

  10. leah Says:

    nice words ! nag nosebleed ko ..

  11. leah Says:

    A little girl needs Daddy
    For many, many things:
    Like holding her high off the ground
    Where the sunlight sings!
    Like being the deep music
    That tells her all is right
    When she awakens frantic with
    The terrors of the night.

  12. leah Says:

    Perhaps we’ll never understand each other.
    Loving doesn’t mean that we agree.
    If that were so, then I would say, why bother?
    But there are things I know I’ll never see.
    I’m sure your heart knows what I don’t yet know:
    The pain of loving a reluctant son;
    The anger, coming fast and building slow,
    Of being helpless to control someone.
    You want only that I grow up right,
    But you know what right is, and I still don’t.
    I have to learn to wield my inner light,
    And if I follow yours, well, then I won’t.
    I’m sorry for the anger in the air;
    Though we fight, my love is always there.

    Happy Father’s Day

    A Dad is a person
    who is loving and kind,
    And often he knows
    what you have on your mind.
    He’s someone who listens,
    suggests, and defends.
    A dad can be one
    of your very best friends!
    He’s proud of your triumphs,
    but when things go wrong,
    A dad can be patient
    and helpful and strong
    In all that you do,
    a dad’s love plays a part.
    There’s always a place for him
    deep in your heart.
    And each year that passes,
    you’re even more glad,
    More grateful and proud
    just to call him your dad!
    Thank you, Dad…
    for listening and caring,
    for giving and sharing,
    but, especially, for just being you!
    Happy Father’s Day

    Good for father’s birthday poems : OUR FATHERS

    Our fathers toil with hands and heart
    To make our lives complete.
    They quietly brave the winter cold,
    Endure the summer heat.

    Our fathers’ lives are busy, but
    There’s always time for us.
    They boldly face the ups and downs
    And seldom ever fuss.

    Our fathers are the greatest dads.
    We know you know this, too.
    But thank you for the chance to share
    Our love for them with you.

    (c) by David A. Olds.

    Inspirational Poem for father : A FATHER MEANS…

    A Father means so many things…
    A understanding heart,
    A source of strength and of support
    Right from the very start.
    A constant readiness to help
    In a kind and thoughtful way.
    With encouragement and forgiveness
    No matter what comes your way.
    A special generosity and always affection, too
    A Father means so many things
    When he’s a man like you…

    ~Author Unknown~

    More father’s poems coming soon !

    QUOTES ABOUT FATHERS

    “The most important thing a father can do
    for his children is to love their mother.”
    ~~Author Unknown

    “To her the name of father was another name for love.”
    ~~By Fanny Fern.~~

    “They didn’t believe their father had ever been young;
    surely even in the cradle he had been a very,
    very small man in a gray suit,
    with a little dark mustache and flat, incurious eyes.”
    ~~By Richard Shattuck.~~

    “Fathers, like mothers, are not born.
    Men grow into fathers-
    and fathering is
    a very important stage in their development.”
    ~~By David M. Gottesman.~~

    “It is a wise father that knows his own child.”
    ~~By William Shakespeare (1564-1616)~~

    “It doesn’t matter who my father was;
    it matters who I remember he was.”
    ~~By Anne Sexton (1928-1974) U.S. poet.~~

    “I cannot think of any need in childhood
    as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”
    ~~By Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)~~

    “A Man’s children and his garden both reflect the
    amount of weeding done during the growing season.”
    ~~Author Unknown.~~

    “The greatest gift I ever had
    Came from God, and I call him Dad!”
    ~~Author Unknown.

  13. joanpriceauthor Says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. This is a beautiful testament to your father, and a glowing description of what parenting can and should be. Please share it with as large an audience as possible.

    1. Laura Says:

      Thank you, Joan. You know you had a hand in the writing. 🙂

  14. Molly Says:

    I’m glad I saw this Laura – it’s beautiful! thanks for sharing a private glimpse of your relationship with our dad. he sure was special as a parent, and you certainly are, too.

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