A FINAL LETTER TO A FATHER

A FINAL LETTER TO A FATHER

From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

A Final Letter to a Father

Come death, if you will: you cannot divide us; you can only unite us . . .

Franz Grillparger

Dear Dad,

A year has passed since your children placed a collection of greeting cards on the kitchen table, hoping against hope that you would awaken in the morning to read them. But you slipped away in the darkness of the night, determined, I’m sure, to spare us the additional anguish of losing you on Father’s Day.

This year there will be no cards at all. Just this, my final letter to you.

For quite some time after your death, I kept reaching into my mailbox expecting to hear from you. From the time I moved away from home years ago, your letters were a constant reassurance in my unpredictable life. Yours were funny, newsy missives pounded out regularly on your clunker of a typewriter: Movies to see and to avoid. The latest scandals at the university. Your travels around the globe with Mom. Jay’s graduation from law school and his engagement to Debra—on my birthday! Mitch’s adventures in Hollywood. Births, deaths and divorces.

Sometimes they contained money I hadn’t asked for; somehow you knew.

I kept every letter you wrote to me, thinking that when I was a very old woman, I would dust off the boxes and unwrap each one like a precious present . . . every typewritten sheet chronicling a piece of our family’s life and the world as it evolved year after year. How could I have known I’d be reaching into those boxes so soon?

December 10, 1987

You speak of the year’s end with the exuberance that has always marked your letters. Your students, suffering from predictable “bouts of hysteria and anxiety,” are preparing for finals. Holiday invitations are rolling in, and cousins are coming to town to help you ring in the New Year. You wish Barry and me luck as we voyage cross-country to Minnesota, suggesting that we start practicing how to keep warm. “Body heat,” you suggest wryly, “is a good first step.”

January 12, 1988

You don’t mention the cancer, diagnosed three days before Christmas, until the fourth paragraph. First you ask about life in Siberia . . . uh . . . Minnesota, and assure me that I am the best writer of my generation. Of course. Finally, you tell me that your oncologist has suggested an experimental treatment program in Arizona. “What the hell?” you say. “I’ll try it.” In the meantime you insist that life will go on normally. You promise me you’ll live to 100.

January 22, 1988

I learn that you had your hair cut, ran into Connie, brunched with friends, are struggling with your income taxes and have decided to cancel a trip to New York, “because the weather is so unpredictable this time of year.” Before closing, you mention that the medication is giving you flu-like symptoms, and you apologize for making so many errors with the typewriter. I hadn’t noticed. It’s been a rough go, you finally admit, but you’re hanging in there. “Wrap up warmly,” you lovingly close, “and say your prayers for me.”

March 14, 1988

The tidbits of daily life have been relegated to the final paragraphs. You begin by telling me how grateful you are for every day and how appreciative you have become of the natural things in life. You continue to set goals and feel hopeful. You’re looking forward to early retirement. You joke about your weight loss, describing yourself as a “prune face,” and assure me that by the time Barry and I arrive at the end of the month, you will have put on some pounds. I send ahead a six-pack of a high-calorie, liquid-protein drink in coffee, your favorite flavor. I am beginning to feel helpless.

April 7, 1988

You and Mom are looking forward to visiting us in Minneapolis. You thank me for understanding that you’d be more comfortable in a hotel. You’ve begun to clean out your massive collection of office files in anticipation of retirement, although it’s a major project that you plan to work on all summer. All summer, you say, and I rejoice. How dramatically my perspective has changed. Just three months ago, I feared you wouldn’t be able to keep your promise of living to 100. Today I pray that you’ll be here to see the leaves change from green to gold in September.

I set down your letter, and my mind is flooded with memories. My father, whose sweet voice sang me to sleep as a child, who accompanied me on my 5 a.m. paper route without a single grumble, taught me French, coached me through adolescence and addressed all 200 invitations to my wedding . . . what would my world be like without you in it?

May 23, 1988

Your weakening hand has drawn my name and address on the envelope, using liquid paper to cover up your mistakes. I slowly open the flap and stare blankly at words running together and misspellings that you—always a stickler for correct grammar—have tried diligently to correct. “This typewriter is slowly breaking down,” you explain. “We really need to think about buying a word processor.” For one precious moment, I feel euphoric: You are going to get well! You are going to buy a word processor! But your closing words jerk me back to reality. “Stay well, happy and no sad songs for me,” you write. “And when you think of me, smile.”

A week later, I realize that there will never be another letter. I pick up the telephone and hear your voice, asking me to come home.

A year has passed since your death on Father’s Day eve, June 18, 1988. At the time, I was certain I’d never again be able to walk past the Father’s Day cards in the grocery store without falling apart. But a week ago, I found myself browsing through hundreds of them, the silly, the serious, the sentimental, and I had no trouble buying one. It was for Barry, your devoted son-in-law, who became a father less than two months ago.

And so the cycle continues. Birth, death, then the wonder and magic of birth again. But as my role in life shifts from child to parent, I realize that no one will ever replace you—my father of abundant humor, courage and grace—or your wonderful, although sometimes painful, letters that blanketed me in warmth and documented my world until my twenty-ninth year of life.

Rest peacefully, Dad, and know that when I think of you on this Father’s Day, and on every other day, there will be no sad songs. Only smiles.

Your loving daughter,

Gail

Gail Rosenblum

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