Gifts My Father Gave Me

Gifts My Father Gave Me

Whenever I speak, I love telling stories about my father, first because I adore him, and second because I am all too aware that a dad like mine is a gift that not everyone gets to enjoy. The relationship we have with our earthly father has a profound effect upon the way we view our heavenly Father. If you are one of my reader-friends who did not have the relationship you wanted and needed with your earthly father—for whatever reason—I pray that reading this gives you comfort by painting a picture of the kind of relationship God the perfect Father offers to you . . . to all of us. I also share these things because I hope they will encourage other dads (and moms!) who read them, that so often it’s the little things—the things you don’t even know you’re doing—that help your kids the most.

He took me to see movies.

On summer nights in high school, Dad would catch my eye with a gleam in his and say, “You wanna go see a movie?” I’d breathe “Yes” (always, yes), sprint up the stairs to grab my shoes, and off we’d go, screeching into the theater parking lot, out of breath and laughing, five minutes late every time.

He loved my mother.

Sometimes he’d get quiet in the middle of dinner and I’d see him sitting there, hands clasped, fingertips pressed against his lips, eyes shining as he gazed at Mom, just . . . watching her talk, enjoying her laugh. And I’d know what was coming. When he found his voice he’d say, “Isn’t she wonderful?” (He still does this even now.) He showed me what forever love looked like. Even as a girl, I knew I wanted what Dad and Mom had. Nothing less would do. I was willing to wait, as long as it took, till I found someone who loved me the way my dad loved my mom.

He didn’t just love me—he liked me.

Weird and quirky and nerdy as I was (am), he enjoyed me somehow. Laughed at my jokes. Thought I was smart. Liked the dumb things I wrote. Paid me compliments I probably didn’t deserve. Saw who I was becoming, instead of who I was. Enjoyed the journey instead of obsessing over the results.

He showed me how to love God.

He didn’t just take me to church, didn’t just tell me about God—he walked with God himself. Every morning I’d watch Dad disappear into the woods behind our house for his daily prayer walk, and come back thoughtful but happy. He prayed with me, with Mom, with the whole family, and made prayer a real and accessible part of our daily life. I’m still seeking to imitate the deep relationship with God that Dad enjoys.

He didn’t think I was crazy.

Even as a kid, there was a lot going on in my little head. Throw in there the complexities of growing up a Preacher’s Kid, trying to find my way in the world and in Christianity, and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of angst. My sainted mother carried 98% of my internal drama, but Dad listened too, especially when Mom got stumped. And he somehow understood the cartwheels my brain and heart were doing, and when we were done talking, I felt understood. Normal. Hopeful. Like I might turn out okay after all.

He helped me be logical.

Mom was the ultimate sympathizer; Dad was sympathetic too, but he also helped me untangle knotted thoughts. He’d walk me through them one at a time, step by step, until things made sense. Weren’t so scary. Weren’t so weird. Were more like manageable strings to examine one by one, instead of the whole daggum king-sized afghan.

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He told me about his mistakes.

It was wonderful to know that the father I so admired wasn’t perfect. He told me story after story of his own temptations, disappointments, and failures. He gave me hope that I might turn out okay after all.

He cared about what mattered to me.

When my middle school basketball team got cheated out of a chance to compete for regionals, I was so mad I couldn’t think straight. Dad listened, and understood, and didn’t try to “fix” my feelings. Sometimes you want fixing; other times you just want somebody to show you they get it, and sit there and hurt right alongside you. Only then can you fully hear them and let them help you work through it.

He helped me pursue the things I loved.

When I decided I wanted to run track, Dad designed exercise regimens for me, which the Type A girl in me followed like they were the Ten Commandments. When I decided I wanted to run for class president, he helped me tweak my speech. When I failed miserably at being class president for the first semester, he gave me a talking-to and helped me turn it around. When I got accepted to my dream university and worked myself silly trying to find enough scholarship money to pay for it, but it still wasn’t enough, Dad figured out how to make up the difference for year one and let me go there on faith, figuring that between the four us—God and Mom and Dad and me—somehow we’d find a way to pay for years two, three, and four when we got to years two, three, and four. We found it.

He gave great hugs.

Dad liked to grab us kids as we walked past, and bury us in bear hugs. We always tried to squirm away, but then we’d settle in and absorb the affection. There was something healing about those hugs. Comforting. Pure. Confidence-building. Something that said,  I am so very loved, and right here, in this quiet moment, all is right with my little world.

He wasn’t afraid to cry.

I still remember the first time I saw Dad cry: the day he told me my cat had died. We sat there on the bed and cried our eyes out together. And there were countless other times when Dad let his emotion show—tears of joy, of empathy, of loss, of memory, and—my favorite—tears of laughter.

For all this and so much more, thanks, Dad. Happy Father’s Day. And to all the dads out there, doing the little (big) things for your kids . . . keep it up. You’re getting through. Your kids will thank you one day.

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Gifts My Father Gave Me


13 Things Every Dad and Daughter Should Do Together

I am painfully aware that not every girl is lucky enough to have a dad in her life, but if you are, it’s a gift not to be squandered. And we all know that most dads are better at doing than saying. With those truths in mind, this List of Thirteen is in honor of Rage and Crystal, and all the dads and daughters who fight to form a relationship, no matter the obstacles.

Thirteen Things Every Dad and Daughter Should Do Together:

1. Ride roller coasters. What girl wouldn’t love seeing her dad scream like—well, a little girl? (Sadly, this is the only one on the list I can’t do with my dad. Just looking at roller coasters turns him a lovely shade of puke green, with an emphasis on the puke part.)

2. Go see a movie at the last minute. This is one of my favorite things my dad and I used to do when I was in high school. We’d be standing around the kitchen after dinner when he’d get a mischievous look in his eye and slowly lift one eyebrow—I already knew what was coming—and he’d say, “You wanna go to the movies?” We’d both tear upstairs to grab our shoes, then speed across town to the theater—five minutes late every time. (P.S. Random Helpful Hint for Dads that you’ll thank me for later: Spring for the tickets and the popcorn, every single time. If you’re a gentleman, your daughter will look for a gentleman in a boyfriend, too. See what I mean? You’re welcome.)

3. Be stupid together. Sure, ladies, it eventually gets embarrassing when your dad tries to be the cool dad who makes all your friends laugh, but deep down, you kind of like it. At least he’s trying (and that’s better than the alternative).

4. Cry together. I’m not saying you have to turn into a Hobbit or anything (Is it just me, or do the Hobbits cry a lot in The Return of the King?), but sometimes, it’s a good thing—the right thing. I still remember the day my beloved cat Puff died, and my dad sat on the bed and cried with me.

5. Dance together. One of my favorite scenes to write in The Thirteenth Summer was the one where rock star Rage, after a lifetime of being an absent, distant father, decides to finally be a dad to Crystal in one of the only ways he knows how: He teaches her to let loose and dance. It’s a bummer that he hasn’t passed on his rhythm to Crystal, but at least he can pass on some of his confidence.

6. Work out together. My dad always helped train me for cross country, and I’ll never forget the simple joy of pounding along the pavement, side by side, not saying a word—just running together, breathing the same air.

7. Have private jokes. There’s nothing like making your dad laugh across the table, and only the two of you know why.

8. Talk about religion. A girl wants to know what her dad really thinks about the big things in life.

9. Arm wrestle. Dad, you don’t even have to let her win, because a girl likes to know her dad’s a stud. When I was three, I told my dad, “Daddy, the Incredible Hulk is big like YOU are!” He has adored me ever since.

10. Do something nice for her mom together (even if Mom and Dad aren’t “together”). It’s good for a girl to see her dad treat her mother well.

11. Talk about books together. My dad and I don’t always read the same kind of books, but he taught me to love words. Clearly, the lesson stuck.

12. Go out to dinner, just the two of you. Definitely get dessert.

13. Be a little dangerous together. My dad took me out on his Harley once—he probably doesn’t realize this, but it was one of the most terrifying moments of my life (and yes, my own fear is reflected in Crystal’s terror when Rage tricks her into riding his bike), but I’m still glad I did it. The point is: There’s nothing like sharing an adventure with the first man in your life to teach you about being brave for the rest of your life.

Ways for dads and teenage daughters to bond

Me and my dad


Little girl dancing

In honor of Father’s Day, with more love than words can hold…

by Elizabeth Laing Thompson

Twirling in a clumsy pirouette,
a carousel of pink lace, purple satin, spangled frills,
she whirls to a breathless stop,
her pixie face radiating self-delight.
Wiggling fingers stretched wide to embrace the world,
her cockeyed crown slips down over one twinkling eye.
Giggling, she sing-songs,
“Daddy, am I your beautiful princess now?”
He nods, stifling laughter, and pulls the pile of princess jumble into his strong arms.
He nuzzles her baby-fine hair, inhaling the maple syrup smell of innocence.

A radiance of white, she squeezes his hand
for one last walk, safe under his wing—
just yesterday, he could balance her tiny body in his palm.
Her enraptured gaze is all for another;
his remembering eyes are all for her.
“Her mother and I,” he whispers, so the crowd can hardly hear.
Bending down, he gives one final kiss on her cheek,
flushed warm with dreams of the life to come.
She smiles, and breathes—he wonders if she even
spoke aloud—
“Am I your beautiful princess now?”
His words brush light against her ear—

He opens the door,
chaos tumbles in—
a litter of grandchild puppies, tripping and squealing, havoc-wreaking.
Over the melee, her arms filled with the newest chubby bundle,
she detaches greedy fingers tangled in her hair, gently shakes off an ankle-grabber;
with a happy-harried laugh and a rueful glance down at her wrinkled shirt,
she opens her mouth to say hello—
but a dancing blur of ribbons and skirts slams into his knee.
Throwing a blanket cape across her shoulders, the little tot laughs,
“Granddaddy, am I your beautiful princess now?”
Throat closing, he rests a palm on her bobbing curls
And winks up at her glassy-eyed mother—

The Butterfly on the…Ummm…

My dad’s face was redder than usual, the way it always gets when he is laughing to himself. “Look at that,” he sputtered, pointing across my yard.

Dad and I were relaxing on my back porch, on the kind of glorious, angels-singing-in-the-heavens spring day when it is a crime to stay indoors. He pointed to a black butterfly with aqua lacing the edges of its delicate wings. It was breathtaking. I’d been on Butterfly Watch all week, ever since we’d planted several flowering plants that were supposed to draw butterflies (my four-year-old daughter was desperate for their arrival, asking me every day if the butterflies had come).

My admiring gaze traveled across the butterfly’s fluttering wings, down, down—and I burst out laughing. The butterfly was perched on an enormous, still-steaming pile of dog poop. (Thanks, Cole, you nasty dog, you.) Never mind the hibiscus bobbing merrily in the breeze just six inches away, or the other brightly colored, sweet-scented, butterfly-friendly flowers—oh, no, this butterfly insisted on sitting on a pile of poop. And he stayed there for an hour. (Of course, the moment we tried to snap a picture, he flew away. Argh.)

It seems to me there’s a message in that incongruous image.

Some days, I feel like that butterfly. And perhaps my fellow deep thinkers will know what I mean when I say… Here I sit—a creative, sensitive soul, my sentimental heart throbbing with ineffable longing, aching to grasp and savor life; living as fully as I know how, loving with terrifying abandon; a stubborn idealist with a melancholy streak—and the world is just a big pile of poo. We spend our days flitting around on fragile wings, decorating the world in our own small way; but when we want to land for a moment and bask in the glory of spring and life and all that is good, we can hardly breathe for the stench. We look for joy, but see heartache; we search for faithfulness, but find broken promises… and everywhere we turn we see children, precious souls, receiving lifelong wounds they are not yet old enough to grasp… it’s overwhelming, the heaviness this life can hold. I don’t mean to be melodramatic, just—honest.

But then other days, when I haven’t been the person I long to be, it seems like everyone else is the butterfly, and I am the unworthy pile on which their glory rests. And then some days, the really confusing days, I’m a little bit butterfly and a little bit… well, you know. And something tells me I’m not the only one who wrestles with these things.

I don’t want to overwork the analogy (or overuse the word “poop,” for that matter, although it’s probably too late for that)—you can run with it where you will—but my dad and I uncovered multiple profound messages in that bizarre juxtaposition. We could explore whether or not this was a masochistic butterfly… but I’ll leave all that to your imagination. And here I thought all butterfly metaphors had to do with caterpillars and rebirth! I confess, I’ll never look at butterflies—or the world—quite the same way again.

All I know is, sometimes the world really stinks. We’re doing our best to make it beautiful, venturing out on diaphanous wings, longing only for a fresh breeze and a comforting place to rest, but finding only imperfection and discontent… But then again, maybe the problem is not the whole world but our limited perception of it: Maybe we’ve simply stumbled upon the accident of a well-meaning but disorganized dog who needs a lesson in cleanliness; and maybe, if we look up, we might notice the sweet hibiscus welcoming us just a few inches away, planted just for us by a loving hand, waiting for us to find it…