Some time ago, I received a Facebook message from a friend who’d gotten a copy of my book and set aside a quiet Friday night to read it. She was writing to tell me that she hadn’t made it through the “Dedication” page before tears began cascading down her face making it impossible for her to continue reading:
To my daughter, Ashley:
I would have given anything, including my very life, to have spared you from the unimaginable suffering and heartache that ultimately led me to the reflections and revelations that fill the following pages. I only hope that the life lessons I’ve learned through your pain and what, perhaps unbeknownst to you, became our mutual struggle for understanding and emotional survival, will enable another precious young woman and her family to find hope and shed one less tear in their collective journey towards a full recovery.
You are my inspiration.
I hurriedly apologized for the effect my words had on her, but she was equally quick to assure me it was not my fault. Instead, she confided that her tears sprang from a lifetime spent wondering if her own dad “loved her that much” and was proud of her in spite of her imperfections. I hardly knew what to say, except that, on some level, I understood, not only because there was a time when I too longed for those assurances from my dad, but because, over the past several years, I’d heard countless women (young and non-so-young) echo those same heart-breaking sentiments.
Ultimately, I told her that, while I obviously couldn’t speak for her dad, I was confident that the day she first came into his life she took up residence in a very special place in his heart (that’s just what daughters do!) and she likely still “lives” there. The problem is some dads have difficulty properly expressing their feelings and some, regrettably, don’t express them at all. And so I encouraged her to take the initiative and write her dad a letter sharing her pain and her need/longing to know that he loves her and that he’s proud of her.
The following letter was a result of that Facebook exchange:
I can’t remember the last time I wrote a letter or recall if I’ve ever written one to you.
There certainly have been lots of times I thought about writing or picking up the phone to call you –
Times when I could have used and likely benefited from your wisdom and guidance;
Times when I needed assurances that I was making a good decision or that as dark as everything may have seemed at that particular moment there likely would be brighter days ahead;
Times when I simply needed a word of encouragement;
Times when I needed understanding or empathy; and, most importantly,
Times when I felt very much alone and just needed someone to listen, to be reminded that there was someone I could count on to be there for me, to love me, to be supportive, to not judge me.
I desperately wanted/needed that someone to be you, Dad, but, for some reason, I could never find the courage to write that first word or finish dialing the last number that would give you the chance.
I always stopped short, because I was afraid, afraid that if I were honest with you, if I shared my struggles, my fears and my shortcomings you would criticize me, make me feel small, leave me feeling even worse about myself in my imperfection than I already did. Most of all, I feared that you would be disappointed in me and I just couldn’t bear the thought of knowing or sensing I had done that – again. I’ve done that enough for one lifetime.
But, an old friend has convinced me that my fears may be unfounded. He assures me that there’s nothing quite like a father’s love for his daughter. He has encouraged me to reach out to you, told me to take a risk, to share my feelings with you openly and honestly – to let you know the longings of my heart.
Having never met you, he is somehow confident that the only disappointment you will feel will come from learning that there were so many times that I wanted to reach out to you, but allowed my fears to stand in the way and, in doing so, denied you the opportunity to be there for your little girl.
Is my friend right, Dad? Do I have this all wrong? Have I had it wrong all these years? Do you love me? Are you proud of me? I need to know. I need my Dad.
Your Little Girl