Story by Janet Seever
My father grew up as an only child of second-generation German immigrants, a rigid upbringing. In his early twenties, he married his high school sweetheart from a neighboring farm. I was the first of five children.
Dad expected his children to excel at school and whatever else they did. As the oldest, I worked hard to meet his expectations.
In this era, fathers did not hug or kiss their children. Praise was sparse because it might “go to their heads and make them proud.”
I remember a few occasions when we did things together. Dad would carefully mark rows in the garden early each spring when the ground was still cold and damp. My brother and I would follow him as he planted the first long rows of peas. I also remember planting spruce seedlings with him as part of a conservation project.
A few times I fished with Dad and my younger brother in Dad’s old wooden boat. When the lake was high, huge sunfish hid around the roots of up-ended willow trees.
How I longed for Dad to say, “I love you” and give me a hug, but it never happened. Did he approve of me? It was difficult to tell in my teenage years.
I grew up, graduated from the university, and eventually married. Unfortunately, my husband and I often lived hundreds of miles away from my family, and at times our work took us overseas. Mom wrote weekly, telling of events back home, what my dad was doing, and news of my siblings. But Dad never wrote. He left that up to Mom.
When we came home to the farm, our visits were cordial, but Dad and I were never close like some fathers and daughters.
In 1986, it was time to say good-bye for another of our overseas assignments. My husband, two children and I, stood with Mom and Dad, our arms around each other. My husband prayed for God to watch over all us while we were apart.
Afterward, I hugged Dad and said, “I love you.” It was still awkward.
“I love you too,” he said and I noticed him brushing a tear from his eyes. How I wished we had been closer over the years.
My parents were in their early sixties, so I expected to have many more times together in the future. We’d be back from our work in Australia in four years.
Then two and a half years later, a life-shattering call came from home. That Sunday afternoon, Dad had been snowmobiling around the edge of the farm property, visiting neighbors. When he failed to return home, my brother-in-law searched for him and found him in the snow, dead of a massive heart attack.
Friends urged me to go home to Minnesota for the funeral. “You’re not doing this for your father,” they said. “You’re doing this for yourself.” How true it proved to be.
At the funeral, people had wonderful stories of Dad, a man of integrity with a quiet faith, Their stories were fresh; recent. They knew him so well. Even my youngest brother, twenty years younger than I, had related to Dad in a different way from me–as a friend.
Dad, how I wish I had really known you! I screamed inwardly. It was like a song without an ending, a book with the last pages torn out.
I grieved, for Dad and the close relationship that would never be.
Then, three years after his death, my mother died as well.
After the funeral, all of us five adult children came back to the farm and sifted through the treasures we had left behind in the attic of the family farmhouse. I was going through a box of my memorabilia when I came across a small canvas bag. Inside the bag were drawings I had done, old letters, and photos. In the midst, I discovered two letters from my dad written years back when I was finishing university-the only personal thing I had in his handwriting. How could I have forgotten that they existed?
I carefully pulled out the yellowing paper. The first one was about things on the farm. The second was about an honor society I had been elected to at the university.
When I read the first paragraph of the second letter, my eyes welled with tears, for he had written, “How proud I am to have a daughter like you. . .”
Thanks, Dad. Thanks.