46: Runaway Letter

46: Runaway Letter

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Runaway Letter

Mother Nature is providential.
She gives us twelve years to develop a love for our children
before turning them into teenagers.

~William Galvin

I was born on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 18, 1950. Until I reached my terrible teens, I had always been “Daddy’s Baby Girl.” But then, everything changed. At 250 pounds, life was a struggle. I saw myself as the family outcast. My sister was valedictorian, head cheerleader, prom queen and a size eight. My brother was athletic, good-looking and the town sports star. I wish now that I could go back and relive those years, for I would never choose to be a high school dropout and runaway — especially back in the late 60s in the small town of Clarksville, Missouri where nobody did such things.

Now that I am a retired high school teacher having dealt with many students with similar problems, I realize there was not as much help available when I was a teen. Not only did I not have any coping skills back then, neither did my parents. They tried everything they knew to do, including taking me to counselors and child psychiatrists, but nothing seemed to help.

The following letter was written in 1968 by my precious, loving daddy when I was a senior in high school. I didn’t get it until twenty years later when my mother told me she had been saving it for “just the right time.”

January 1968

My Darling Baby Girl,

I write this as you have threatened to run away again. I am leaving this on your pillow with the hope that you will get it before you leave. I know at seventeen you are a young woman now and we can’t stop you from going. Your mom and I have asked ourselves a thousand times where we went wrong . . . where we failed you. I would give anything if we could go back to the days when you were Daddy’s little girl and would snuggle up on my lap and bring all your hurts and wounds to me to “make better.” I only blame myself for all that has gone wrong and would give my very life for another chance to make it right.

I didn’t see soon enough how much you were hurting. Mommy and I have prayed and cried for you more than you will ever know and have asked if we were too strict or too lenient, too giving or not giving enough. All we know is that we love you and want you to talk to us. Please reconsider before you leave again and let’s see if we can’t work it out one more time. Dearest Debbie Girl, we love you with no strings attached. God brought you to us and no matter what, you will always be my precious baby girl. When you read this, no matter how late, please come talk to me.

Your Loving Daddy

I never received the letter that night as I had already run away again and wouldn’t return for six weeks. However, my parents saved the letter for more than twenty years, anticipating the “right time” to present it to me. It was the night of the 1990 Missouri State Teacher of the Year banquet at the state capitol. I had been designated as one of the top five teachers in the state who were being honored along with our families and school administrators. Having survived those terrible teen years by much prayer and faith, I did finally graduate from both high school and college, became a teacher, lost 100 pounds, got married, and had my own wonderful family. Unfortunately, I had also become filled with pride for all that I thought I had accomplished.

Before my big acceptance speech that night, my parents gave me a beautifully wrapped present to celebrate the occasion. Thinking I was opening a little gift box with perhaps a pendant or medal with the inscription “Teacher of the Year,” or “Wonderful Daughter,” I instead opened the box to find nothing but a yellowed, crinkled, tear-stained, faded twenty-year-old letter. As I read it, I was transported back to my teen years and wept uncontrollably. I not only realized for the first time all that my parents had gone through, but also how pride had kept me from sharing with others my troubled past, and the road that we all must travel to achieve success.

With mascara streaming down my face, I gave an entirely different speech from the one I had planned. I thanked God that my parents were finally able to see the fruits of their labor. All their past struggles, the sleepless nights, the times they insisted I stay in school and in church, had finally been worth it all. The real gift, which they had been giving all along (and still do), was the priceless gift of unconditional love! Those words written by my father so long ago will now remain with me forever. Thank you, Daddy, for showing me this unconditional love.

Now that I am a radio talk show host and speaker, I always share this letter with my audiences, as I did with my students and fellow teachers after that eventful night. Often my parents will accompany me, and my dad always has to blink away tears, as do I, when I read his letter.

We recently returned from taking my parents to Europe for their sixtieth wedding anniversary where we had a hard time keeping up with such active eighty-year-olds! When Dad was asked the secret of his youthfulness and vitality, he teasingly said, “If I could survive my daughter’s teen years, I can do anything!” Daddy recently had a stroke and though he can’t walk very well, he still shuffles over to hug me every time I enter the room. He says he always knew how special I would be when God gave him the best Father’s Day gift he ever received nearly sixty years ago — his baby girl!

~Debra D. Peppers, Ph.D.

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