Dear Dad

Thursday, August 18, 2016

If you're a long-time reader of Elm Street Life, you've probably noticed that blogging has been very sparse since I went back to work as a nurse. Admittedly, my life is pretty full these days. Besides being a wife and mom, I'm away at the hospital for 25-30 hours every week caring for patients. Still, I've made excuses for long enough not to blog. I miss this space. I miss making space: space to chronicle, to reflect, to wrestle. Whether or not anyone reads this blog, I need to be writing. 

With that said, the original intent of this site was to chronicle the life of our family. Under that heading, my dad celebrated a big birthday this summer and the best gift I could think to give him was one he'd given me time and time again: a handwritten letter on a piece of yellow legal pad paper. I wanted to share what I wrote here to remember these words years from now, but also for you to catch a glimpse of the man I get to call Dad. 

Dad and me on my 12th birthday, with the letter he wrote me for the occasion
Dear Dad, 

It's your birthday, and it's a big one. As I've pondered the thirty years I've gotten to spend with you so far, I see a clear theme in your life. From the time you were a tiny little guy wielding a not-so-tiny accordion, it was apparent that you were talented. Gifted, even. Grandma tells me you were smart as a whip, and I believe her. Since then, you've spent your ministry and career behind the piano, and thousands have marveled at your gift. You've produced countless records, you've played at Carnegie Hall, you've won a Grammy. You've had a musical career that most only dream of.

But there's something rare and beautiful about how you've chosen to steward your gift. You easily could have gloried in your own abilities to make yourself great, but you've chosen to use them to lift others up and make them great instead. The definition of accompaniment is this: "a musical part that supports or partners a solo instrument, voice, or group; something that acts as a complement to something else." As an accompanist, you allow singers to excel, giving them complete freedom because you'll be there to back up every note. As my dad, you've done the very same thing. You've provided accompaniment to my dreams, nudging me into the spotlight and doing everything in your power to make sure I shine. 

One of my favorite things about you is that you're a dreamer. Beyond that, you've never made me feel silly for any of my dreams. Instead, you've done everything in your power and with your words to make those dreams a reality. 

When I was seven years old, I saw an episode of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood where Mr. Rogers interviews a drummer. For a fleeting moment, I set out to be a drummer myself. When I told you about it and asked if we could go to the music store, you didn't even flinch. You just hopped in the car and took me to Sam's for a pair of drum sticks and a practice pad. 

When I was thirteen, I took up an interest in photography and desperately wanted to take pictures at a graveyard when the sun rose. You woke up at the crack of dawn (literally) to chase me around the wet, dewy, falling down graves in search of that perfectly backlit shot. 

At age sixteen, you handed me the keys to the car. You also handed me some exorbitant cell phone bills, but I won't go there. Most of what I remember from this time, though, was running track and cross country. Throughout all of those years, I can't remember a single race you missed despite your busy travel schedule. As we'd line up on the starting line, my stomach full of butterflies and my head full of doubts, I'd sift through the crowd with my eyes until I found you. Your face was always glowing... and the race hadn't even started! Your steadying presence was all I needed to be ready to run.

At age eighteen, you and Mom drove me to Waco, Texas and dropped me off at my dorm. I'm sure you probably thought, "Couldn't you have picked somewhere a tad closer to home?" but you never said it. You supported every change-of-major and even a change-of-school and wrote every check without ever making me feel unworthy of the sacrifice.

At twenty two, you walked me down a candle-lit aisle to forever with the love of my life. You didn't just relinquish me to his care with a trite, "Leave and cleave!" You welcomed Shawn into our family. Just the other day, Shawn was commenting on how easy and supportive you are to work with as you produce his first album, and once again, I marveled at how rare and how wonderful your relationship with your son-in-law is. 

At age twenty six, just hours after Liam was born, you flew in from being out of town and walked into the room with a smile I'd never seen before: a smile reserved for a grandson. Seeing you hold my most important little dream in your arms for the first time... I'll never forget it. 

At age thirty, just the other day, I'd worked a string of difficult shifts at the hospital as a nurse and had written about it on my blog. The next day, you called me simply to say you'd read it with Mom and you were so proud of me and the way I lean on the Lord in those stretching moments. Those words would have meant a lot coming from a friend. They would've meant more coming from my husband. But for the little girl's heart that still beats inside my chest, they meant most coming from my dad. 

I've been far from a perfect daughter (Hello, tattoo! Hello, complete disregard of curfews!). But the way you've forgiven quickly and fully, the way you've fueled my dreams, the way you've cherished me and cared tenderly for me for 30 years is just a glimpse of how my heavenly Father must see me, and that brings me to my knees. You are steady as a rock, and have been a firm foundation for my waves of emotions. I never hear you complain, even after days of difficult travel. 

You've given me countless priceless gifts: your clear blue eyes, the love of a well-crafted letter on yellow legal pad paper, and the example of what it means to faithfully follow Jesus. I have a much clearer picture of who He is because of who you are, and I'm thankful that one day, we'll see Him with unveiled faces, together. 

I love you, Dad. Happy birthday!

6 comments:

  1. Tears in my eyes. Again. Thank you for honoring your dad, my precious husband. Love you so!

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  3. Whitney, it's so GOOD to have you back! I've missed your blog posts and now you've written one of the most tender and heartfelt ones yet. I had tears in my eyes as I read this wonderful tribute to your dad. I especially liked the part about his being an accompanist. As one who has accompanied soloists over the years, starting with my OWN dad, and one time even your mother-in-law, I understand what that is all about. In my case I liked not being in the spotlight, more out of fear than anything else. With your dad it seems it has truly been a sign of his humility, knowing how talented and accomplished he is. That has come through over the years having known who your parents are, yet knowing they were never "superstars" wanting the spotlight on them. May God continue to bless your dad and you through him!

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  4. Whitney, it's so GOOD to have you back! I've missed your blog posts and now you've written one of the most tender and heartfelt ones yet. I had tears in my eyes as I read this wonderful tribute to your dad. I especially liked the part about his being an accompanist. As one who has accompanied soloists over the years, starting with my OWN dad, and one time even your mother-in-law, I understand what that is all about. In my case I liked not being in the spotlight, more out of fear than anything else. With your dad it seems it has truly been a sign of his humility, knowing how talented and accomplished he is. That has come through over the years having known who your parents are, yet knowing they were never "superstars" wanting the spotlight on them. May God continue to bless your dad and you through him!

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  5. I read this post when it was first published, and at the time I had been contemplating (with mystery) what to get my dad for his 60th birthday. Of course! A letter. My dad also has written me letters on his signature yellow legal pad paper over the years, and I always feel like I inadequately express my gratitude and love for him in return. Writing is my more eloquent mode of expression.

    Your letter is heartfelt without being sappy. It's encouraged me to include more stories, anecdotes and illustrations in my own letter to my dad, which I will be writing tonight in advance of the big bash this weekend.

    Anyway, thanks for providing the lightbulb moment for me. Your dad sounds pretty special and deserving of such beautiful words.

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