Writers are often told to write about what they know. Sometimes that’s not always easy to do. If you’ve never experienced cancer but want to write about it then you have to do some serious research to craft a believable story. In my first novel, the protagonist lost her father suddenly when a car accident claimed his life. When that story was released in 2006, I didn’t know the pain of that loss. The emotions I wrote of were those I imagined by putting myself in that character’s place. Seven years later, my father passed away in his sleep at the age of fifty-nine. There’s a lot I know as a result of that experience and while I’m sharing it with all of you, it’s my hope that my teenage daughters, Kylie and Cyan, will pay the most attention so I pen this as a letter to them.
I know there are times when your father drives you crazy. You think he’s unreasonable and overprotective and just plain mean. You think he doesn’t know what he’s talking about or maybe he doesn’t remember what it’s like to be a teenager. I know you think these things because I too was once like you. I also know something you don’t yet but one day will. Everything you think about your dad may be right, but it’s also wrong.
Your dad doesn’t like to be lied to. Neither did my dad. Sometimes he punished me for my lies, but sometimes he didn’t have to. I can recall one time in particular. I must have been seven or eight years old. Rubik’s cubes were fairly new then and I was so proud of myself for getting one side solved. Granddad offered me five dollars if I could solve the whole thing. I tried and tried, but I just couldn’t do it. I’d get one side solved and then start on another only to have it mess up the side I’d already solved. Frustrated and desperate for the money, I took all of the stickers off the cube and put them back on so it appeared as if I’d solved it. I then marched in to show Granddad my triumph. He took one look at the stickers and seemed to know something was amiss. He twisted the cube several times so it was no longer showing solved. When he handed it back to me, he offered me fifty dollars to solve it again in front of him. Again and again I tried, but I just couldn’t. And do you know what your granddad said? Nothing; he didn’t have to say anything. That grin he wore as he watched me said it all. He knew I lied to him. Not only did he show me that I was caught in the lie, but he showed me the damage a lie can do. It’s a lesson I remember to this day and I’m almost forty years old.
Your dad pushes you in school. Every day he asks what you’re learning in class and how you’re doing and if you’re turning in your homework. My dad used to do the same thing. He valued education and was determined that I would benefit from it whether I wanted to or not. I was expected to get good grades and was held accountable if I did not. I can’t tell you how many times I listened to your granddad say that if I could get an A I should be able to keep it and if I got a B then I should bring it up to an A and there was never an excuse to get a C, D or God forbid an F. And boy did I dread the days that I needed help with my math homework. Your granddad wasn’t always the most patient teacher and he had a difficult time accepting that I couldn’t understand. So many times, he jabbed his finger into my paper demanding to know why I couldn’t see the answer that was right in front of me. Fat tears would roll down my cheeks and I would tell him he was mean and it wasn’t my fault that I had trouble with math. When I grew up, Granddad admitted to feeling bad for how he handled the situation. You know what? I’m not sorry for the decisions he made. I wasn’t permanently traumatized. If it wasn’t for Granddad pushing me to excel in my education, I might not have gone to college or found a career that I’m good at. I might not have moved beyond my current station. My dad wanted better for me than he had, and your dad wants the same for you. If you ever have children, you will feel the same way.
You girls have never known what it’s like to go hungry or go without the basic essentials of life. One of you thinks the fact that your iPhone camera doesn’t take good pictures is an incredible injustice while the other of you thinks not having your iPhone screen replaced when it was stepped on and cracked is just your father’s way of being cheap. You don’t know that you’ve never gone hungry because there was a time in your life when your father ate once a day so that he could make sure you were well fed. You don’t notice that your father owns just four pairs of jeans and three of those are riddled with holes because he’s spent all his money buying your black low top Converse, not those Air Walk knockoffs that Payless sells, and your Bear Paw boots that have to be Bear Paw because you have to have the symbol on the back of those boots or you’ll just die. My dad was once like your dad, and I didn’t see it at the time. I saw only myself. I was eight or nine and I desperately wanted a Care Bear and not just any Care Bear but Wish Bear. The Care Bears cost maybe twenty dollars at that time, but we couldn’t afford it. I stood in the Kmart toy aisle crying and hating my dad because he couldn’t buy me the toys I wanted. And do you know what Granddad did? Even though I was behaving so selfishly, he promised me that when he got paid in two weeks I could have that Care Bear. Two weeks later, he made good on that promise, but I don’t remember if I thanked him.
Your dad doesn’t like your boyfriend and that bothers you. You know what? Granddad didn’t like too many of my boyfriends either. Most fathers don’t like their daughters’ boyfriends. The day he met your father, Granddad sat shirtless on our couch just staring at your father without speaking. At the time I was mortified and irritated by his behavior. Now I know better. He was sending a message to your father that he’d better take care of his daughter or be willing to deal with the consequences. Maybe someday when you’re grown you will understand your dad was only so harsh in his judgment of your boyfriends because he loves you so much that he wants only the best for you. Sometimes your definition of what’s best for you is not the same as his.
One year ago, my dad died. The other day I visited him at the cemetery. As I stood in the rain looking at his modest grave, I wished I could see him again and tell him again how much I love him and how much I appreciated what he did. When he was alive, your granddad often told me how much he admired your father. Granddad thought your father was a much better father than he himself was.
Girls, with all of my heart, I hope that you will one day open your eyes and your hearts to the knowledge that your Granddad already had. You have an incredible gift. You have a father who loves you and sacrifices for you and always puts your needs and wants ahead of his. You have a father who cares more about you than he does about himself and would do all that he could to make you happy. You have a father who will always be there for you. You have a father. I wish I still had mine.