My parents sent me to summer camp when I was 11 or 12 years old. I didn’t want to go- at all! Ever since I was very young, I was much more comfortable staying close to home, but my parents felt that going away would be good for me, help me grow, cut the umbilical cord, blah, blah, blah.
No surprise, I hated camp. Most of the girls in my bunk had been returning to the same camp every year and I was clearly an outsider. I missed my parents and siblings (and life!) terribly.
But the memory that stands out more then the fear and upset was a particular letter I got one day at camp. Back before cell phones, when calling long distance cost a lot of money, we relied on the mail for news and words of encouragement.
This letter was different than the other ones I’d previously gotten. I could tell by the handwriting on the envelope that it had been written by my Dad. Now, my Dad was NOT the communicator back in those days. And when he did speak, my siblings and I had to learn the art or the unspoken word, the words in between what was being said. Dad communicated a lot with those unspoken words.
So I was really surprised to see a letter from him. And I’ve treasured what I found inside that letter for all the years that followed. On a scrap piece of paper my Dad had scribbled (he’s a doctor, so all of his writing seems like scribbles) just a few words, “Maybe this will help you break your way out of camp. Love, Dad” And inside the folded paper was a small jack knife. Typical Dad humor. But it was so much more. It showed an understanding to what I was experiencing. And it reminded me there were ways out.
In the years to come, Dad and I spent a lot of time building a strong relationship. I learned how to communicate better with him and he worked hard to connect with me. See, I’m a heart communicator and Dad’s a head communicator. And for many years we just could NOT connect.
But in many ways, that letter was the first step in bridging the gap of communication. There would be many more years of anger and frustration at my inability to connect with my Dad. But after lots of effort on both our parts, we now share a wonderfully warm and tender relationship.
Dad’s getting older these days (aren’t we all?!) and I find myself worried about the amount of time we have left together. He is, without a doubt, the hardest working man I’ve ever known. He is gentle and compassionate in a stealth sort of way. And he is crazy smart…and not just head smart. He’s also very heart smart.
I understand that as women, our relationship with our Dad is the foundation for all of our future male relationships. What we see our Dads doing, their work patterns, how they interact with our Moms and in general, how they communicate, sets the tone for our own expectation and experiences with men. It determines how we’ll hold ourselves in relationship with other men.
And I believe we choose our Dads (and Moms, siblings, partners and friends) because they have specific qualities that will assist us in working through our Spiritual curriculum. I am so grateful to have chosen to take this journey surrounded by the nurturing love of my family.
Today I want to acknowledge my Dad. His tireless work as a professional speaks for itself. He is world renowned for his research in medicine. His work ethic and methodical approach to accomplishing tasks are qualities I’m so grateful I was able to mirror and carry into my own life.
But it’s his love for my Mom, my siblings, myself and my family that stands above all his other accomplishments in my heart and mind. He has always, ALWAYS been there for me. And that has created a foundation of safety that I value so dearly.
I still have that jackknife from so many years ago. It serves as a reminder for so many things. First, there are always ways out of any predicament, even when you’re miserable and you can’t see an exit strategy. Second, keep a sense of humor throughout and everything’s a little easier. Third, relationships can grow and change if both parties make an effort. And lastly, if you experience love from your Dad, you’ve been given a blessing that can carry you through a lifetime.
Happy Father’s Day to all those Dads out there who work tirelessly to love their kids.