My dad is not someone who says “I love you” often. But as my sister and I left the hospital tonight, I cried out, “I love you, Daddy.” In return, he said “I love you.”
It meant the world to me today.
At age 55, my Dad’s health is pitiful. He has diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. For the last 30 years, he has smoked more cigarettes than anyone should have in a lifetime. His self-destruction came to a head this weekend, as it led him to suffer a mild stroke and an occluded carotid artery. The doctors ordered an urgent carotid endarterectomy. The surgery was successful, but he is still at risk of a stroke.
These last three days leading up to the surgery were taxing, as we waited for test results and needed to make important and risky decisions. Throughout those hours, I thought of the special connection I have with my Dad and how it’s unlike any other relationship in my life. Just daughter and Dad.
When I left to college at 17, my Dad wrote to me often. He’s somewhat of a writer, too. In fact, we’re alike in a lot of ways. Like him, I am a dreamer, adventurer, and risk-taker. We’re also both devout readers who always have books in our hands. That first year away from home, I was terrified and homesick, but his letters saved me. The letters were filled with all types of questions – some parental and some thrill-seeker – like, “Are you safe? What is the campus like? Have the leaves started to change yet? How will you manage to get around when it really gets cold? What should I expect when I visit? “
I always talk to my Dad about anything, including relationships with the opposite sex. He gives me sound advice and I owe to him my unexpected wisdom. He never stops encouraging me to go out and see the world. His support has propelled me to experience places like Boston and London, and, most recently, to my latest journey to another part of the country for my career.
It saddens me because now is when I need his advice the most. And because of the state of his health, I can’t have a long conversation with him about life. It’s my turn to ask him many questions. Does he think the job is right for me? Is it crazy for me to move again after being home for 8 years? Does he think I will like the place I want to move to? Now is the time for one of our dad-daughter chats.
After I left the hospital tonight to come home to rest, I stopped and listened to my heart. I remembered he and I have had this conversation many times. I ran up to my loft and pulled out the letters from college that he had written to me. And there among the many postcards, pictures and letters I’ve collected over the years, was a letter he had written in 1997 the day I left to college. Through my tears, I read aloud the words of advice he had written to me so long ago and which I know he would say to me again today if he and I could only talk.
August 31, 1997
It’s seven o’clock, you left eleven hours ago and already everyone is feeling the void of your absence. Immediately after hanging up with you, a lot of things came up which I should have said and questions to ask. Your mother too, started tossing questions in my direction. The main one was…what is your phone number?
Your mom surprised me by not crying as much as I expected though her sadness was apparent. But your little brother took it real hard. He cried from the time he hugged you last until shortly after we got home. He went into your room and stayed there for a while and finally emerged, without tears but still hurting. He somehow feels angry that you left.
Sensing your brother’s sadness, your mom took him bowling. Nena, Alfred and the kids also went. Me, I’m coping the usual way, by staying home. I was looking forward to watching the Redskins on TV, but when I put on my Redskins t-shirt, I remembered the many times you wore yours by coincidence. I, too, miss you already.
We all need to make adjustments and we will learn to do that. Yours will to be not to get too homesick. Until you have your own child go away to college, will you realize how proud we are of you. You’re what every parent hopes for, not just smart, but with the discipline and inner strength to take that all-important, giant step which will give you an advantage in life. I know it’s scary knowing you’re on your own and so far away, but put us in the back of your mind as much as possible and concentrate on your studies. Don’t ever forget what you’re working for.
Whenever you feel lonely, or need support, feel free to call us. Especially if you’re feeling homesick. It will be pretty rough at first, but believe me, you’ll get used to it.
Your mom said you met someone on the plane and even shared a cab. That’s fine, but don’t be so trusting. You have to realize that not only is it a big world out there, but there are so many dangers and people who will take advantage of you at the drop of a hat.
Trust your instincts and your heart. All humans can learn to co-exist together as one, but so many times it’s only temporary. You can live together with someone for years and get along and think you’re in love, but for it to last forever, it has to be your soulmate! Very few individuals find their soulmate, but those who do are the ones who spend their entire lifetime together and rarely have regrets. Life has many detours and pitfalls, small regrets for having given up some of our small dreams but your big dreams should never be compromised.
Try to make friendships that will last a lifetime, male and female. Women and men can have friends of the opposite sex, they just have to define their friendship and their boundaries and keep them. There is no quicker way to ruin a friendship than sex.
If my talking to you about this subject bothers you, just tell me. I just don’t want you to make mistakes you’ll regret later. Also, by writing, I can tell you things I could never say in person because of my own discomfort. Always remember that I’m here for you, no matter what. Don’t ever feel that you can’t discuss something with me. If you have any questions about anything, ask. If you’re not sure about a guy and wonder if he’s acting the right way in a certain situation or if he could be lying to you, call me. It may be hard for you to believe, but I understand the things guys say and do. If I don’t know or am not sure, I will tell you.
There is so much you’re going to learn, good and bad, and that is what life is all about. Whenever you come to a crossroad, stop and think for a moment whether you’ll have any second thoughts or regrets if you take a certain direction.
For every choice we make, any decision, we have a parallel life. Our lives, our destiny can be changed by them. When you’re older, you’ll look back and wonder what might have been if only you had done this and that differently. That’s not to say that it’s bad, but if you consider it for just a moment, you’ll usually make the right decision. Life is not black or white, but many shades of gray. We are the choices we make.
Meet as many friends as possible and with each, you’ll paint a picture of what is truly important to you in a friend or a husband. Never limit yourself or allow yourself to be told what you can and can’t do or be. Simply be yourself and you’ll have a happy life.
Have fun but don’t forget what you’re there for. An education! I wanted to go to law school when I was young but never felt the confidence in myself to ever achieve it and I gave up my dream and took the easy way out. I found something I was good at [Mechanic] and did it, but always wondered what could have been. Call it lazy, or whatever you want, but giving up on our dreams hurts Set reachable goals and long-term ones and chase them with all you have within you and when you’ve reached them, set higher ones and you’ll always be happy. How it wish it was me in your place. Don’t take it for granted and if you find yourself having trouble in a certain class, try harder.
I’ll write again soon and hopefully we’ll get in touch tomorrow. Don’t let your surroundings overwhelm you, you’re just as smart as most and smarter than many more. I’ll send you a camera so you can take pictures for us, especially of changes in the weather. We’ll send you pictures soon.
I love you,