From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Smeared Ink

The manner of the giving shows the character of the giver more than the gift itself.

John Casper Lavater

My dad has been writing me letters every Thanksgiving and Christmas since I was able to read. When I was little, I would always find three letters taped neatly in a row, sorted by age, on the bathroom door. First Kenneth, next Kristina, then me, all sealed with our names scrolled across the white envelope neatly in blue ink. Every holiday I eagerly anticipated my letter.

“Amy, I’m so proud of you,” he wrote to me when I was in fourth grade. “I know you will make a wonderful Paddington Bear in your class play. . . . I pray for you every day. I love you, Daddy.” The blue ink has smeared and faded over the years. The paper is tattered and torn because I crammed most of the letters into my childhood junk drawer.

“Amy, you will always be my baby . . . ,“ Dad told me once after a very stressful teenage year. “I love you, Dad.” I remember that year. I was sixteen. A sophomore. And I wanted freedom. One thing that Dad was not ready to give me.

Then one year Dad hung our letters up on the bathroom door early—before Christmas dinner, instead of after. I tore mine down, put it in my pocket and went to my bedroom to read it.

“Amy, you’re growing up so quickly. I can’t believe you’re in your third year of college. You’re turning into a beautiful woman. . . .” I continued to read the neatly scrolled blue ink. “God has been good to you with the many gifts you have. Always use them for his glory. . . . I love you, Dad.” I wiped my eyes, folded the letter and crammed it in my top dresser drawer with his other letters. I opened my door, headed downstairs and met my dad on the landing of the steps.

“Thank you,” I said. He smiled and continued walking. I had never thanked him or written him back. I had always expected his letters and assumed he knew I looked forward to and appreciated them.

We opened our Christmas presents after our turkey dinner. As we were cleaning up gifts and the wrapping paper that was strewn over the living room floor, Dad announced that he had one more present for the three of us.

“You can’t keep them, though,” he said, as he reached behind the tree and pulled out three, small, neatly wrapped boxes. “This one’s for Kristina. Here’s Kenneth’s. And Amy’s,” he said, as he handed us each a shiny silver box with a blue bow on top. “Now open them together.”

We eagerly ripped off the paper. Inside each box there was a Waterman pen, each a different color. We all looked at him, confused.

“Every letter that you’ve gotten from me has been written with your pen,” he explained. “And when I die, I hope you will take these pens and write to your children.”

I stared at the pen. Its tip had been cleaned; the ink removed. I knew I probably wouldn’t see the pen again until after Dad had died. I snapped the box shut and handed him back his pen.

That night I ripped my drawer out of the dresser and dumped all the contents on my bed. I fumbled through junk that I had kept over the years, wishing I had put all the letters together in a safe place. I knew some were missing and that they were irreplaceable.

I reread the letters. Each ended with “Amy, I love you, Daddy” or “I love you, Dad.” I wondered when he stopped being my daddy and started being just Dad. And I wondered when he had noticed the change, too.

I remember when he was Daddy. I used to grab my daddy’s hand in parking lots, to cross the street, and simply just to slip my hand into his. I wondered if Dad missed those days as much as I did.

The letters not only marked the transitions of my life, but also ultimately reflected my relationship with Dad over the years. He didn’t see my fourth-grade play. But he knew that when I was ten years old, Paddington Bear was very important to me. And even though he wasn’t there to see it, he was praying for me. And continues to.

Years have passed since I last saw my Waterman pen. But the letters keep coming. And now I am about to become a parent. I know that someday I will hold the Waterman pen, just like Dad did, and write to his grandchild.

And one Christmas, my Waterman pen will once again be under the tree, neatly wrapped in silver paper tied with a blue bow.

Amy Adair

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