From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Dear Daddy . . .

Children have more need of models than of critics.

Joseph Joubert

My father was the gentlest, most loving and caring dad in the world—until we had an argument. During those moments, he transformed into an obstinate, unrelenting ogre who never considered that there could be a side other than his own. My words surely never reached his “open mind” because his ears were sealed. When he spoke, it was with such authority that it was easy to begin to doubt my own point of view. But I, my father’s daughter, had inherited his debating skills and argued back with the passion of a courtroom attorney, welcoming the battle of our wills. That was, until the fights became personal and our confrontations charged with emotion. There was no point trying to argue with my dad. He always had the last word. I could never win.

When my father refused to understand that I needed the privacy of a phone in my own room, my frustration turned to tears. When he sensed that I was gaining the upper hand in defending my case for wearing lip-gloss to school in junior high, he ended our “discussion,” leaving me silently defeated and miserable. So when he refused to budge on letting me go on my senior class trip to Montreal, I could do nothing but race from his room in hysterics. And then came the epiphany. If I couldn’t get him to listen to my side of our arguments, maybe I could get him to read it.

With the hope that his eyes would be more open than his ears, I began to plead my case—uninterrupted and uncontested—in a note that began “Dear Daddy” and ended with how much I respected his opinion, how much I hated to fight with him, how much I valued our relationship and, above all, how much I loved him. Following my exhausting catharsis, I folded my note into an envelope, slid it under the door of his bedroom and raced back to my own room where I collapsed on my bed.

It was only minutes before I heard a knock at my door. When I saw the look on my father’s face, I knew that my note had melted his temper, softened his stubbornness and touched his heart. After all, there was never any question that I was Daddy’s girl.

The victory of winning my dad’s permission to go to Montreal was sweet. But even sweeter was the serendipitous discovery of a strategy that enabled me to have an argument with my dad that didn’t end in tears, but instead with a hug. My “Dear Daddy” notes became a follow-up to many of our hotheaded confrontations. During our most emotional arguments, when his unyielding final word drove me to tears, when his “I’m your father, that’s why!” left me speechless, I knew just how to get through to him. While my notes weren’t a guarantee that I’d get my way, they did succeed in defusing the anger between us and paving the way for the truce—and hugs—that always followed.

Years later, when my father died, his memory lived on vibrantly through the many stories about him that friends and family continued to share. One of my favorites was the “Dear Daddy” notes. It always made me smile to remember some of our most passionate arguments and how my dad would become so pig-headed, until he read my notes. He surely must have seen through my calculating strategy, but he never let on; he savored every note that turned him to see my way.

When I first told my own children, then twelve and nine, about my emotional battles with their strong-willed grandpa, they thought that the notes were a silly solution. My daughter, also a recipient of the “skilled debating” genes, responded with, “What a cop-out! Why couldn’t you just work out your issues face-to-face?”

But a few months later, when she became a teenager, she finally understood the frustration I had been trying to explain.

During the first major argument, I overheard protests of “Daddy, why can’t I take the train to Manhattan? All of my friends are allowed to go—we’re thirteen!” As I listened to their shouting match, I suspected that my husband, as stubborn as his father-in-law had been, was not about to give in. My prediction was confirmed when I saw my daughter bound out of our bedroom, sobbing. Knowing the two strong-willed contestants, I prepared to assume my role as mediator. In the privacy of our bedroom, I faced my husband and was all set to begin my speech, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted an envelope sliding under the door.

Linda Saslow

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