My father would have turned 70 today. He was a great man. Not many people knew that, least of all him. He taught me so much during the years we were together and perhaps even more during the many years we have been apart. Today I am celebrating him and all he taught me (purposefully or not:). Just a few of those things are:

1. Unconditional love – My Dad wasn’t always easy to love. In fact, some days, some years, he made it really hard. Growing up, I always wanted the storybook Dad, the one they talk about in those Hallmark cards, or even just one that was there at all. I didn’t know my Dad from the age of about 4 to 16. When I “met” him again, it was exciting, and awkward, and so different than the closeness I shared with my Mom, brother, and sister. We had to learn how to BE with each other. And, as it turns out, he still wasn’t perfect. None of us were. During those years, I learned to accept that if I wanted a relationship with my father, it was going to have to be with the one I had rather than the one I imagined as a child. I learned how to love him exactly as he was. I also learned that loving him unconditionally wasn’t for his benefit, it was for my own. It felt so much better to love him than to be angry and hurt. Unconditional love healed my heartache and gave me an indomitable strength I’ll carry throughout my life. It also gave me the courage and perseverance I needed to have experiences and make memories with my father I will cherish forever. I know to my core what it means to love no matter what, to not need anyone to be different to deserve my appreciation, to have personal boundaries and still love without bounds.

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2. The power of shaping your own story – One of the most difficult questions I was asked (repeatedly) after my father died was “were you close?” The first few times I stumbled and rambled and struggled to answer in a way that felt good and also true. I was angry with people for asking such a stupid question, but also understood they were just saying the things you say when you don’t know what to say. Eventually, I realized the best answer was: “Yes, we were.” There are so many ways I can tell the story of my childhood. I choose this one: I am the daughter of a wild mountain man and a star-gazing astrologer. I chose my parents before I came into this world because I knew they would help me become the woman I wanted to be. They didn’t owe me anything and yet they gave me the world.

3. Nature vs. nurture is a thing: One of the most cathartic exercises I remember from our eleven years apart was when someone suggested I make a list of all the things I love about myself that I credit to my Dad. Whether through genetics or early childhood impressions, my Dad gifted me a deep appreciation for nature, art, music, gardening, and all things beautiful. He shared his passion for knowledge and his constant questioning of societal norms that don’t feel right. He taught me to recognize genius in everyday people who might appear less “educated” but can name, steward, and make best use of every plant, animal, and fungus they see.

So on this day, if you knew my Dad, join me in celebrating the gifts he brought to your life. And for all of us, can you love your parents, your life, and yourself even more than you thought possible?  I know you can.

Rest in Peace, Dad. Thanks for everything!

Love always,

Jesse Dee