If I’m being completely honest, I was a little bit scared of my 21st birthday!
The majority of people in college over celebrate their 21st birthday and it ends up ruined. I love birthdays, and I didn’t want my 21st to be ruined.
Well, much to my surprise, 21 was the best birthday of my entire life.
I didn’t spend October 13th, 2015 at a bar, but instead at my apartment; laying in my bed until 2 A.M. reflecting on how genuinely influential, uplifting, illuminating, loving, and beneficial my father is.
Earlier that night, I got the usual assortment of birthday presents from my parents and grandparents and got to spend time with them both–what would have been chalked up as a perfectly fine birthday altogether. But before they left, my dad gave me one last present and told me not to open it until they were gone. Honestly, I thought it would be a bunch of expensive liquor considering it was my 21st and all, but I should have known better than to put my dad in a box.
A daughter’s relationship with her father can change so much in her world; this is something I’ve been passionate about since I was mature enough to understand it. Even before my 21st birthday, the older I got, the more I realized how much there was to me that I could direct back specifically to my relationship with my father.
My dad gave me my silliness and my confidence in being a little weird sometimes. He gave me my love for the outdoors and all things adventure. He influenced me more in my faith and relationship with Christ than I’m sure he would even begin to take credit for. Even my first car jam sessions were with my dad. He gave me so many things, but most importantly, my dad whole heartedly took on the role (and never forgot for one second how important his job in doing so was) of being my Earthly father.
Before I go any further, I want to state that this post isn’t meant to step on any toes. There are so many women I know who have no relationship with their father what so ever, and still hold themselves to high standards in relationships and in the way they carry themselves in their day to day lives. Those women are much stronger than I am, and I recognize how infinitely blessed I am to have been just handed that strength so undeservingly.
That being said, my dad gave me the high standards I hold in relationships. He gave me the definition of what love looks like between a man and woman in his daily example of loving not only my mom, but me, too. He never spelled it out verbatim, but instead, always showed me what I should expect in a relationship–to a point where there are no grey areas in my mind or clouds in my vision of what a healthy, loving, fruitful relationship looks like.
The gift my dad gave me on my 21st birthday was just another testimony to his love.
As my parents left my apartment that night, I ran back into my room so curious as to what in the world my dad got me that I couldn’t open up in front of everyone else. I ripped through the tissue paper not knowing the delicacy that lay at the bottom of that birthday bag: a cigar box of 22 letters.
“Start at letter one and read on. Happy 21st birthday, love Dad”
At this point I was still confused, but when I opened up letter number one and started to read, it was milliseconds before the tears began to fall. The letter was dated October 21, 1994.
My precious baby daughter!!! I’m writing to you the first of what I pray to be 22 letters. Today, you are 8 days old. I hope to write you a letter like this one on each of your birthdays until your 21st birthday…”
So many thoughts instantly ran through my head: how in the WORLD did I get such an amazing man to be born a daughter to? How could someone love me, such an imperfect humanbeing, so much to write me a letter a year for 21 years? I am so undeserving.
My eyes couldn’t have stopped reading even if they had wanted to. I read thoroughly, as if missing one word would have left me lacking. I had opened a time capsule of love letters from my first true love.
“I was very over-joyed and happy when I found out your mother was pregnant…but it hadn’t kicked in until 8 days ago–October 13, 1994 at 2:52 in the afternoon.
After 10 months of pregnancy, you finally decided to come out. Your mom and I went to the hospital on Wednesday, October 12, 1994 and we got checked in at about 1:30 in the afternoon. About 25 1/2 hours later, you took your first breath of life. That’s when it kicked in. That’s when all of the emotions involved with becoming a father started swelling up inside of me. The nurses swept you away after you were born, and placed you in this little heated bed a couple of feet away from your mom and me. I hadn’t got a good look at you yet, because I was still holding your mom’s hand. As excited as I was, I needed to stay by your mom’s side because she was still in a lot of pain. You had been crying for a couple of minutes right behind me when your mom let go of my hand and said, “You can go look at her.”
I turned around and took those two steps towards you and then just stopped and stared. Tears were in my eyes, my lip quivered, and a lump was in my throat. The nurses were saying something to me, but I could barely respond in words. I knew if I started talking that I would cry about like you were doing at that moment.
I walked back to your mom, kissed her cheek, and in my weak voice whispered, “She’s beautiful.” — I was a dad…and I can’t explain the joy, the proud feeling in my heart, the happiness, and the love for you–my new baby girl.”
My letters are the most beautiful material possession I have. It’s like I was there. I mean, I know I was there…but it’s like I was truly there, aware of everything: the emotions, taking my first breath of life, being born to the two best things that have ever happened to me.
The letters continued…
“Your first day of church was with me on December 18, 1994 at Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN. Michael W. Smith led the music and Pastor Scotty Smith preached about peace.”
I’m not sure why this is my favorite sentence in all of these letters, but I assume it has something to do with the fact that I know at three months old my dad already had begun leading me to Christ. To know the exact first time I stepped in a church (metaphorically, of course. He didn’t clarify, but I’m about 100% positive I was carried inside) and what the sermon was about is so incredibly important to me, yet before these letters I’d never even had the thought of wonder about my first church experience.
I got to read about the very day I asked Christ into my heart, November 28, 2001. Now that was phenomenal to read–how lucky am I to have a father help me to remember the most important day of my spiritual life?
And even at 8 years old, my father was already reminding my 21 year old self of all the important things in life:
“How are you? I mean, right now…present time, as you’re reading this. Are you happy? I hope so!! How is your spiritual walk with Jesus going? I pray it’s going well. Do you have a boyfriend? If so, is he good to you? If not, you need to cut him loose–life is too short. Always say a prayer, every day, that you marry the right guy. I know I married the right girl!! Always be happy, baby! Stay positive. Keep your eyes focused squarely on Jesus. I hope I’ve done a good job of teaching you that.” — That last part is almost funny… My dad will never even begin to know how good of a job he has done of teaching me that.
I got to read about the first time I became truly sick and what it felt like for my parents; my dad wrote about how badly he wished I could talk so I could tell him what he could do to take my pain away.
I got to read about my first words, first birthday party, and how during my first year of life my dad “literally probably kissed my little head 5,000 times.”
I got to read about how happy strangers always used to tell my parents that I looked. And how I would scream on sunny days if they wouldn’t let me play outside.
I got to read about my first UT football game, and my dad’s early prediction that by the time I read my letters I would “probably know exactly who Tiger Woods is.”
I got to read about how I did in school, and who all of my best friends were year after year. I got to read about how close my brother and I always were, and that my dad always prays we will remain close forever. I got to read about what I asked for Christmas each year, and what music I listened to.
I got to read about how I loved butterfly kisses, and how when the song “Butterfly Kisses” by Bob Carlisle came on the radio it would bring my dad to tears. Then, I got to hear the song for myself as it brought me to tears, as well.
And, like clockwork, at the end of every letter I got to read how genuinely, truly loved I was and what a special piece of life I was and always will be to my father.
What I didn’t get to read about, though, was the sleepless nights and how hard it was that I was a colicky baby. Not one temper tantrum, frustration, disappointment or let down I brought my father could be found in all 22 letters. I know I wasn’t a perfect child. I can remember spankings, timeouts and getting in trouble as much as anyone can. It was as if my dad only wanted the good things about me to shine through in his letters–nothing else.
While reading, I got to thinking that the way my father wrote each letter was the way I’m sure Jesus would have. I know I disappoint Jesus sometimes, we all do it. But Jesus sees past our flaws, and forgives us for our sins before we can even have a chance to ask for forgiveness. He loves us unfailingly, more than we can comprehend, regardless of anything at all.
There are so many more quotes I could share, but that isn’t the entire point. While I do write this to (of course) shed light on what an awesome man my father is and what a truly, unbelievable, blessing he is to me, I also write this post to remind all fathers out there how important they are to their daughters.
If it wasn’t for my relationship with my father, I’m not quite sure that I would be the kind of strong that I mentioned earlier in this post–the kind of strong some women I know are without their fathers. That kind of strong is hard to get to without a dad to lead them there.
If it wasn’t for my relationship with my father, I’m not quite sure I would hold men in my life to the same standard that I do today. When I’m dating, I’m confident that there are guys out there that will treat me the way my dad treats me and my mom. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that if a guy isn’t treating me the way I deserve then he isn’t worth a second of my time.
And going further, if I can’t see the man I’m dating as capable of being the kind of father I had, to my daughter, then he isn’t worth my time, either.
So–current fathers, soon to be fathers, or future fathers, whether you be the kind of father to show up on your own front porch with flowers to bring your 6 year old daughter on a date, or the kind of father to encourage mission trips and spiritual growth, be a good father. Whether you be the kind of father to take your daughter hiking, kayaking and skiing, or the kind of father who reminds his daughter how beautiful she is and more importantly, how much more beautiful her heart is– be the best father you can be. Or, whether you be the father writing your daughter 22 love letters and putting them in a cigar box, just be the father who loves your daughter well. After all, it is The Best Gift a Father Can Give.