I have this fear that there will come a day when I am asked to sum up my father’s life, to put into eloquent words what he has meant to this world, and to me. And I won’t be able to do it.

Because some people just cannot be put into words.

You have to be around my dad in order to understand what he means to those who love him. You have to experience how gentle his big calloused hands feel when they hold onto yours. You have to smell the pipe smoke that lingers on his jacket when he returns from an afternoon fiddling around in one of his sheds. You have to see him flash that big toothy grin at you after cracking a silly joke and know that his smile — not the joke — is what makes you smile back.

You have to see the tear in his eye as he holds his grandson for the first time.

On the surface it seems that all his life my father has done small things with great love. But when I peel back the layers of that life, I realize he has actually done astounding things with amazing determination.

He had a fairly miserable childhood, one of loneliness and abuse and neglect. Yet somehow he grew into a God-fearing man with purpose, direction, and hope.

He had a harrowing experience in Vietnam, parachuting out of a downed aircraft and spending 13 days hiding in the jungle, traveling only at night and praying he’d run into his own troops before the enemy. Terrified, starving and alone. Yet he survived.

He put himself through school, married his childhood friend, and raised three girls. When his home was deemed unsafe due to toxic chemicals buried nearby, he moved his family to another town and found work. Each time he was laid off from a job, he found another. He sometimes endured excessively long commutes, bad managers, hard labor and meager wages.

He beamed at every one of our accomplishments growing up and drove us cross-country on family vacations. He taught us how to fish and cross-country ski and roll up our clothes to fit more in a suitcase. He took on all three of us in tickling wars, accompanied us to father-daughter dances, and stayed up late worrying when we were out on dates.

All the while, he showed us how to respect each other and ourselves. He brought us up to believe that anything is possible, that we are powerful, and that family is everything.

Turns out he’s done great things with great love.

Happy birthday, Dad. I love you.


Tara said...

This is beautiful. Does your dad read your blog? If he doesn't, I think you should print this out and send it to him. It will be the best gift of the year.

ZFooFoo said...

Geez, now how are Lisa or I supposed to follow that, huh? At least in the past couple of years we could trump you with the gooey birthday card full of toddler placed stickers and hand prints, but now that you have a little one's hand to trace the field is decidedly un-level again! Ugh....off to shop for the bigger, better fishing lures.....

(Beautiful as always, Kiddo, you always capture my feelings better than I can myself.)

Heather said...

Robyn- You inspire me to put pen in hand and write. You're such a wonderful wordsmith. Have you thought about writing a book about your dad? I want to read more about him.

Kim said...

So sweet. Makes me miss seeing your dad and spending time with your family. It's been too long.

Carol said...

How beautiful! I second Tara's motion. You should print it out and give it to him as a very early Father's Day present. Better make it pocket-sized and laminated, because he might be carrying it in his wallet for years to come!