Dear Dad: What I've Learned Since You Died

06/18/2017 03:13 pm ET Updated Jun 18, 2017

Dear Dad,

Happy Father's Day!

So much has happened since you left. Not a day goes by that I don't think of you or see something that reminds me of you. Lately, I've been ruminating about all the things you taught me while you were here and all the things I've learned as a result of your death. I learned a great deal through your words, but some of my biggest lessons came from how you lived.

Personal Responsibility.

In your final years, I heard your pain when we spoke, I saw it in every letter, every email, and I felt it in every attempt you made to create calm out of chaos. To bring peace and forgiveness to those you loved. I watched you battle depression, deal with anxiety over your lost independence and suffer from devastating grief at believing you had failed to make right the wrongs others perceived.

You lived your final years the same way you lived your entire life: doing the best you knew how to do at the time while continually striving to be a better man. Not once did you give up or take the easy way out, even though I know you considered it. You took responsibility for yourself and taught me to do the same. And you taught me so much more.

Choose Work You Love.

When I was younger, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to work the kind of hours you did. Later, however, when I was old enough to understand, you said something I've always remembered. "It never felt like work, because I loved what I was doing."

You were making a difference for thousands of people each year, doing something you loved. You set the example, and today I am proud to share I have taken this lesson to heart. I'm now doing work I love and making a difference every single day.

Be A Giver.

I'm embarrassed to admit how much I took for granted while you were here. The magazine or newspaper clippings you'd send because you thought I'd appreciate them; the boxes of books, Barnes & Noble gift cards and writing journals you gave to encourage and enlighten me; and your words of wisdom and advice, even when I wasn't ready for them.

I miss the surprises I used to find in my mailbox, but most of all, I miss the conversations we used to share. Your wisdom, your advice, and your ever-present love and support. Today, I strive to give to others as you taught me.

Take Time For Yourself.

You never actually said this to me as far as I can recall, yet you showed me what it looked like to take care of yourself. Granted, I had to get much older, before I understood why you needed those long baths when you came home from work. And driving up into the mountains or across the country to see me, (when flying would have been easier, quicker and cheaper), all because the open road gave you a sense of freedom, nostalgia for your youth and time to immerse yourself in learning through audio books.

Thanks to your example, I've learned the importance of taking care of myself. I'm not a fan of driving cross country, and the mountains don't feed me the way they did you. Instead, I use meditation, time by the water and reading.

Books Matter.

I can't recall a moment where books weren't a part of our lives. Whether you were reading them to me, buying them for me or sending them to me, you always encouraged a love of books. As a child, we'd spend weekends going to used book sales under tents in parking lots or in library basements, where the fragrance of musty books permeated everything. To this day, the smell of an old book brings back images of those times together.

Over the years, I've had to purge a lot of my books through various moves; it was never easy deciding which books to let go of and which ones to keep. There was one book that always ended up in the purge pile but never made it out the door. Living, Loving & Learning by Leo Buscaglia. The thing was, you gave me this book, and I'd never read it, so I always felt guilty about getting rid of it. Guilt isn't always a bad thing, I discovered today. You see, you gave me this book exactly 25 years and 13 days ago, and until this morning, I had never read a single word.

My biggest take-a-way from this morning's reading is this: "Perhaps love is the process of my leading you gently back to yourself." And it occurs to me; this is what you were trying to show me all those years ago.

Self-Love Is The Answer.

Self-love is by far, the most profound lesson you ever taught me and one I didn't master until after you left. What I'm realizing only now, as I write this, is how all the other lessons you gave me, have culminated in self-love. Learning to take personal responsibility, devoting time to myself, being a giver and doing work I love (while also making a difference). And books.

A few short weeks before we said our final good-byes, you told me to love myself the way you loved me - without conditions and judgment - promising that if I did so, I'd find a life full of freedom, joy, and love. I've been busy since you left. It took a lot of work and time, and you were right, Dad.

Self-Love IS the answer.

I miss you.

Love,

Ann

P.S. Thanks for the book. I'm sorry, it took me this long to start reading it!

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