On the day I turned 21, my dad handed me a yellow-tinged envelope. Inside was quite possibly the best gift I’ve ever received or, at least, the most heartfelt.
It was a handwritten letter Dad had penned to me on my actual birthday. “You were born four minutes ago, my son,” was how the letter started. “I’ve never been this proud in my entire life.”
My father was from the era where men never showed outward emotion. Sure, they’d chuckle when things were amusing, but rarely a full belly-laugh. God forbid they’d show tears or the slightest bit of mawkish softness. Not my Dad, though. I pegged him as the sentimental softie of the family early on. But this unexpected letter he wrote propelled my father in to the warm-fuzzy stratosphere.
The letter continued with a playful laundry list of all the things Dad wanted to teach me when I grew up. Tennis—check. (My dad was a great tennis player. I got my rifle return thanks to him.) Drawing and design—check. (My dad could sketch anything he saw. He was the Bob Ross of pencil drawings. Me—not so much.) And, of course, building things. (Dad was forever puttering around in the garage. I never saw an actual completed project, but he spent countless hours constructing stuff. I, meanwhile, discovered my outlet in the kitchen.)
The beauty of the letter is that it was hastily written. You could tell that Dad wrote—on hospital stationery, no less—whatever popped in his head. It was a conscious, semi-fluid stream of thought that was probably enhanced by coffee, cigarettes and adrenaline. It was filled with cornball jokes and a frightening number of misspelled words. But it also had perfect, flawless penmanship. Dad was an analytical industrial engineer. Give him enough time and he could figure out the equation behind the time-space continuum. Words were an afterthought. Correctly spelled words, apparently, were a luxury.
I barely made it halfway through before I was bawling. The fact Dad squirreled away this letter for 21 years without me finding it was a Christmas miracle. But he sure was proud of it—and me. (I didn’t count—but I think he used the word “proud” about a dozen times.)
Dad was 44-years old when I was born. He and Mom had been married for nearly 15 years before—surprise!—I came along. After years of trying, they had already resigned themselves to never having kids. (Fun fact: I was conceived on a fishing trip in the hinterlands of Canada. I really should have dual citizenship.) They were both firmly entrenched in their careers and were in the process of building their dream house.
I’m sitting in that house right now writing this blog—in a big, plush, oversized rust-colored chair that they bought in the early 70’s. The fact I’m typing in my underwear should probably be pointed out too. Mom would kill me if she saw that.
The letter ended with Dad saying he can’t wait to pass out a bunch of cigars to his “cronies” at work. Seems all of his co-workers at John Deere were already dutiful dads. Apparently, all he wanted in life was to join in their reindeer games.
I had to laugh when I got to the end and he signed it, “Your Dad, Robert Mackie.” Very legit, yes? I guess he wanted to ensure I knew he was, indeed, my father—as if there was ever any doubt.
I love you, Robert Mackie. I couldn’t have asked for a better dad.