Friday, September 14, 2018

It Would Be His 89th Birthday

My dad, about age 20

I came early to my study on this grey and wintry morning, and as I wrote the date into my journal I realized today would have been my dear dad's 89th birthday. Rather than chat about weather and how weird it feels to see my corner of the world well-covered in snow this morning, and how I'm sad about my snow-laden flowers splayed across the garden, I'm eager to share a personal essay with you.

This piece was written as a tribute to my dad shortly after he passed away. It was my way of grieving, gathering cherished memories, and bringing closure to what I couldn't see clearly when it was right in front of my nose. Closing the chapter of his life with us -- with me -- here on earth.

On that note, I'm wishing you all a beautiful weekend.


A Tribute to My Dad
by Brenda his daughter 2004 

A father doesn’t tell you that he loves you. He shows you.
~ Demitri The Stoneheart

When we want to convey our affection and esteem to someone, gifts, flowers, and Hallmark cards have become accepted (even expected) tokens of our love. Like many, I avail myself of these most agreeable traditions, and I admit my eyes light up with pleasure at the sight of a parcel, florist bundle, or card addressed to me. But, I am the daughter of a man who did not express his love in these traditional ways. My dad was quiet and reserved, and for reasons only he knew, he kept his emotions and counsel close to himself all his life. It was not easy for him to initiate a hug or say words of love or commendation, even when he was proud of us; he wasn’t one who stood by the card counter to pick out the special occasion greetings for the family. 

Still, growing up I somehow knew my dad loved me. All my material needs and many of my wants were provided for in ample measure, and when I think about it in retrospect, his hands (in tandem with his heart) articulated a love that no store-bought gift or card could have done more eloquently than by the countless acts of service and lovingly-made offerings he presented to me and my family over his lifetime. 

Dad had strong and brawny hands, with freckles on them. Sometimes dirty with soil or machinery grease, they were always industrious and resourceful. They were the hands of a farmer, a builder, a gardener. On occasion, I would take hold of his hand for a moment. I marvelled at how small my own hand looked in his, and I could feel its strength. It was nothing for him to open a stubborn jar of pickles or haul a couple of five-gallon pails filled with grain or potatoes. 

Dad’s hands seemed to enjoy making surprises for us when we were kids: wooden tops, whistles carved from tree branches, little knitting devices created from Mom’s leftover cotton thread spools. In the days before mega-toy stores, it was nothing for my dad to fashion scraps of metal and lumber into some great play things. I don’t remember asking for a swing, sandbox, or seesaw, but there they were one day. And, oh, the countless hours of fun we had. There was also the time we came home from school to find a newly-assembled desk, just our size, sitting in our bedroom. Too small for adult legs to fit comfortably under now, it still has a place in our family, that little red-hued mahogany desk Dad lovingly built for me and my sister. 

Yes, Papa’s hands could rummage through junk piles and find the neatest treasures at an auction or garage sale. They were hands clever enough to recycle bits and pieces into a ‘brand new’ bicycle, strong enough to dig fence post holes with a hand auger, and, in later years, coordinated enough to use a small needle to hand stitch the family quilts Mom sewed. Whether he designed a go-cart with his young son or birdhouses with his grandsons; wood-worked oak shelves for Mom or doll cradles for his granddaughters; whether he refurbished and fortified work-worn wheelbarrows for kids who now had gardens of their own (painting them in his favourite jolly red or John Deere green), these deeds all represented Dad’s own brand of I love you. 

Dad’s hard-working hands also knew how to be kind, and they never struck us in anger. They were safe hands. As a young father, he cheerfully changed wet diapers and crawled on his hands and knees, so my little sister and I could play hairdresser with his reddish blonde hair. Later, as a grandpa, his hands would joyfully reach out for toddling grandbabies, settling them on his knee and planting big fat kisses on their chubby cheeks. Dad never felt nervous or shy around the little ones. Perhaps small children posed no threat; they made no demands for conversation, happy just to play with his reading glasses and sit on his quiet lap. He never grabbed out to them when they weren’t quite ready for his bear-hugs, but often you’d find a youngster tucked in the crook of Grandpa’s arm as they both snoozed in the big La-Z-Boy recliner. 

As a girl, I accepted my dad’s quiet and unassuming manner and was comfortable with it. However, as I matured into teen- and young adult-hood, my own secret desire, even need, for more affirming words and physical expressions made me long for something less restrained, maybe even more ‘traditional’ from him. Then, a few years ago, I came across a book by author Gary Chapman entitled, The Five Love Languages. Based on his own research, Chapman explained that people tend to express their love in five basic ways: words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, gifts, and acts of service.

I suddenly saw it! Dad had always been telling me he loved me, every time he filled my pantry with sacks of potatoes and vegetables he had grown in his garden; every time he responded so willingly, almost eagerly, to my requests for something from his workshop or help with building a new fence at our new house. His gifts and acts of service took on a whole new meaning for me. This was how he said, “I love you”. 

I finally understood. Gifts of love don’t come only in the shape of flower bouquets, greeting cards, or beribboned packages from fancy department stores; they come to us in as many creative ways as there are people in this world. I began to truly appreciate and understand more fully the kind gestures, generous deeds, and quiet ways my dad chose, maybe even dared, to show his affection. Once again, as a grown woman with expectations, the eyes of my heart clearly saw that my dad loved me. I could let go of an expectation to look for something Dad could not give and to receive with joy what he could.

Maybe Dad would have echoed the sentiment of a fellow in a movie I once saw, who in response to a comment made to him that he wasn’t good with words, replied, “Sometimes words aren’t good enough”. 

Almost a year has passed since those busy and loving hands were stilled. No more carpentry in the workshop, no more picking apples for pies and applesauce, and no more inquiries about whether I need some freshly-dug potatoes.

Despite the dreadfulness of my dad’s illness, something quite wonderful happened during the last couple of years of his life, and especially the last few months of Dad’s life here on earth. Some of the barriers and reservations with which Dad had guarded his inner life began to fall away, and we began to catch glimpses of the man behind all that reserve. Oh, he still didn’t say much when we visited, but there was less restraint, a new easiness between us. He liked it when I read a favorite Bible verse aloud as I sat by his bed. His hand was content to rest in mine when I’d reach out to hold it. Hugs were eagerly received and given. It was good. 

Jesus once said that people will know we are His disciples by our love. Surely Dad’s crown will shine brightly for all the ways, seen and unseen, he loved me and my family. Those strong, beautiful hands … they spoke of a love I shall always cherish and of a man I shall never forget. 



  1. Happy Birthday, Dad! Thank you, Sister, for re-posting this wonderful tribute to our dad. Miss him everyday.

  2. Dearest Brenda - what a terrific post. I lost my dad over a year ago. I so miss him. He loved Jesus and raised us to love Him too. That is one of the greatest gifts of love a Dad can give. Thank you for sharing this heartwarming post friend. Hugs!

  3. Oh Brenda, this made me cry. Such a beautiful, beautiful tribute to your dear dad. I know you will always miss him, truly I think we are supposed to. Thanks for posting this for all of us to enjoy.

  4. Beautiful words and description of your dad. My dad's been in heaven since 1981, and I still greatly miss him. Blessings . . .

  5. Dear Brenda,
    This is such a lovely tribute to your dad. Mine, like yours was, is becoming more open with his emotions as he ages. It's hard to see him slowing down when he was always active and strong, but I'm thankful that I can chat with him and go for little walks.
    And now your Dad celebrated his birthday in heaven!

  6. What a wonderful tribute to your father.

    My cousin is 101. Her son is a Doctor so he takes good care of her.

  7. Hi Brenda~

    What a beautiful tribute to your dad! I lost my father 35 years ago to cancer, and I have missed him every day since. My mother is slipping away, and will probably not make it to the end of the sad, yet such a blessing for escape a body that can no longer sustain her. She misses those she lost so long ago, and is looking forward to that reunion. I cherish each moment I can spend with her.

    Thank you for sharing such deep and personal thoughts...I loved every word.

    Hugs and Love,

  8. What a wonderful photo and tribute to your father, Bren. Eighty-nine seems young to me as my dad would be 106 if he was still living and I have siblings in their 80s! We never stop missing them when they leave us and that quote is so true...they most often show their love by what they do. Beautiful post!

  9. What a very special tribute to your Dad. In so many ways,I felt like this was written about my Dad as well. Hugs,just didn't happen, but I never ever doubted his love for me.

  10. A beautiful tribute to your dad Brenda.

  11. A loving tribute to your dad. He sounds like a loving, generous man. Say, are you saying that you have snow, in real time, on your beautiful garden flowers? Surely not...I hope that this is a repost of a repost. ❄️🌸❄️🌼❄️🌻❄️🌺❄️

    1. OK. I had to do some research. I am back to say that I think it’s a cruel trick to have snow, and that much of it, in summer. May that weather skeddaddle and things return to normal very soon.

  12. What a beautiful tribute Brenda. How wise of you to realize his love and not pine away for your version of what you thought it should look like.

  13. What a beautiful way to honour your dad's memory. I'll have to look for the languages of love book at my local library.

  14. September 14th would have been my Dad's 81st Birthday. I lost him Dec 20 15. I loved your tribute to your Dad. My Dad was alot like yours. I miss him terribly.

  15. Thank you, dear readers, for your lovely comments. They mean a lot to me! xox


To My Beautiful Readers,

Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same. ~ Franz Peter Schubert

Thank you so much for leaving your 'footprint' here in my comment box. I do appreciate you taking a moment to share your thoughts today.

Brenda xo