Every single year, I get a Valentine from my father. He sends out three now: one to me and one to each of my two nieces, his granddaughters, who are eight and eleven. When I was their age, I would wake up the morning of February 14th to a red envelope on my dresser, set beside a heart shaped box of chocolates, or a stuffed animal - sometimes a lion, sometimes a bear, sometimes a lion or bear holding a heart shaped box of chocolates. When I moved away from home, the red envelope would arrive at my dorm room, then to each of the various apartments I lived in after that and now they come to the home I share with my husband.
Last year, my dad had his hip replaced only a few weeks before Valentine's Day, leaving him unable to drive or walk without a cane. But there was the red envelope poking out of the mailbox.
"Things to love about a daughter like you," this one said, "A sunny smile, a warm laugh, a loving heart. Everything."
I take each card and add it to the shoebox of cards sent from my Dad over the years: a colourful pool of swirls and hearts and bubble letters. If it weren't for the date, written neatly in his small handwriting at the top right hand corner, it would be impossible to know which card was given to a three year old and which to a thirty-three year old.
I often tease my father for his sentimentality, the way he'll sing "It's your Da Da!" when he leaves a message for me. But I love to think of him noting the first day of February of his calendar. I love to picture him standing in the aisle of whatever drugstore or grocery store, looking through the daughter stack, picking out a card just for me.
Since my mother died ten years ago, I have devoted a lot of time to thinking about how hard it can be to be a motherless daughter, but I have never really thought about how hard it must be to parent one; especially a highly sensitive one like me.
Since my mother and father were divorced when my mother passed away, I have never really stopped to consider what the toll of her death has been on him too, how much slack he has had to pick up because of her absence. How many more sad phone calls he has had to field from me: the one where I call crying because my writing dream feels hopeless, the one where I call upset because I am dealing with infertility issues. No matter how old your children are, I don't think it's easy to be a single parent at any age.
When I went away to university, my mother and I spoke every morning and I came to rely on this touchstone to start my day. We would speak every morning before I started work as a summer student and checked in with each other up until the very morning she died. I talk to my father now. Every, single morning.
"Are you disappointed in me for leaving law?" I asked him the other day, "for being nothing but a fledgling writer, after you helped me through business school and law school?"
"Sweetheart," he says, "Are you crazy?"
His words are like a hot water bottle on my aching heart.
I have written essay after essay about my mother, examining our relationship, mourning her loss and the fact that she will never read a single word I write. And yet here is my father: alive and well, who celebrates my dreams with me and I'm not sure I have adequately expressed my gratitude.
I want to now. Thank you Dad for always making me feel special, for loving me at my best and my worst. Like a father should. Like a mother should.