2: From the Only

2: From the Only

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

From the Only

Dad, your guiding hand on my shoulder will remain with me forever.

~Author Unknown

I thought I might die. It was the first semester of my second year in college, and my freshman-year boyfriend had just broken up with me. I didn’t know what to do. I had not been without a steady boyfriend since my sophomore year in high school, and this one was special. I had seen it as my first legitimate adult relationship, being that I was almost twenty. I was miserable, unable to eat or sleep. My roommates were worried, but had given up after trying to cheer me a thousand different ways. I had even written my estranged sweetheart a poem about an old doll that had been left on the shelf. Me. I was so hurt and so young.

I began to call home almost every day after the break-up to muster sympathy from my mom. My dad and I, however, continued to have those bare bones dad-and-daughter phone conversations during our official Sunday phone call, the ones where I reassured him each time that I was studying and had enough money. My mom and I, on the other hand, really talked. She wanted to know everything that was happening around campus, what I was learning in my classes, and what was good in the cafeteria. These were the days before cell phone “anytime minutes” and unlimited long distance, so we began racking up some bills. I waited for the “other fish in the sea” speech that, thankfully, never came. My mother was supportive and patient through my tears, but after weeks had gone by, she finally told me that I was being silly continuing to pine. I knew she was right, so I tried to mend my broken heart by burying myself in my studies even more than before, and joining a few more college organizations. Dad stayed away from the topic altogether. I knew that he felt bad that I felt bad, but he generally left emotional rescue to my mother.

One day when I returned to my dorm room from an afternoon class, I found my roommate sitting at her desk, grinning up at me. An arrangement of pretty, pale flowers sat on the table in the middle of the room.

“For you,” she said. My heart stopped. This was it. My ex had finally realized the error of his ways and wanted me back. He hadn’t actually fallen for that Barbie doll freshman in his RA orientation group after all. I approached slowly and lifted the fragrant basket, opening the little card with shaky hands. Written there was simply: From the only man who has loved you for twenty years. My eyes filled with tears. My roommate looked at me with confusion.

“These are from my dad,” I choked, sitting down to cradle the bouquet in my hands and gaze at the delicate blooms.

“Your dad? What for?” My roommate crossed the room and sat down next to me, arm around my shoulders. I handed her the card. She smiled again.

“Your dad’s so sweet.”

“I know,” I sniffed. Right there something shifted in me. I gained perspective. My mom’s steady counsel had aided in my slow recovery, but this was the shot that I needed to heal completely.

Many years have passed since then and I am happily married with a daughter of my own. My father has had his own battles to face in recent years, with failing health and forced retirement, but the grand image of Dad as protector never really goes away. As it turns out, a father’s physical strength is just a metaphor for what he really gives his children. I don’t think I realized the absolute fortress of my dad’s character, the strength of his morals and convictions, until he began to fail physically. Mom had been telling me over and over again how my father never complained about the deterioration of his quality of life, no matter how bad he felt, but that he often lamented no longer being able to do things with and for us. I wanted a way to reassure him that not being as active anymore had nothing to do with his ability to be a great father. We had traveled together all our lives, Dad and I, and I did miss that aspect of our relationship. But the foundation and support that he had given me had never weakened. In fact, it had strengthened.

I had all but forgotten about the boyfriend, my desperation, and Dad’s flowers, until I saw a picture in an old album that jogged my memory. My eyes filled with tears again at my father’s sweet gesture. It was just a week before Father’s Day and I had an idea.

My dad opened his simple card with a weak smile, as smiles come harder with Parkinson’s. The flowers had surprised him, although he had always been the rare man who appreciated flowers as a gift. The card read: From the only woman who has loved you since the day she was born.

Then I hugged him, asking him in a whisper, “Do you remember?”

“I remember,” he assured me softly. We nodded at each other. As always, there was no need for words.

~Heidi Durig Heiby

More stories from our partners