When I first heard about this idea of writing a tribute to my dad, I knew I didn’t have a choice. I had to do it, even though I knew it would be a stretch goal. I felt so nervous about it that I procrastinated way too long.
I first heard about the idea from Dennis Rainey from Family Life at a meeting of the Fatherhood Commission in the first week of December 2015. As leaders of the “Fatherhood” movement, his comments inspired us to take the simple action of writing down what dad has meant to us over the years. We were especially encouraged to present him this tribute in person if said father was still alive. As Dennis was showing this idea, I could see how it would benefit me. Through taking some time to think intentionally about and write down my dad’s contributions to my life, I would experience a surge of gratitude for the positive things. But, since my dad happened to be still alive, and we had a relationship, it would also give me the chance to encourage him by appreciating specific things that I was grateful about receiving from him.
In my case, I didn’t work up the nerve to write and present a tribute to my dad until his 74th birthday, which was almost eight weeks later. This was pretty risky because he was already quite ill. In fact, there were plenty of excellent opportunities to share it with him before then: including right away, Thanksgiving, my birthday, Christmas, before he went in for major heart surgery, etc.
Knowing I had no business waiting any longer, I invited our family to come over to present my tribute to him. Now that I was on the hook, I sat down to write the day before our scheduled visit, writing these words at the top of the page: WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR ME? Then I hit the worst writers block I have experienced in a long time. If I was ever to write something important, now was the time. My mind went blank at the magnitude of the assignment. I wondered, “how can I get out of this?”. It was too late now; there was no turning back.
At first, I tried to write long and flowery prose. To be honest, I couldn’t figure out how to decide what to try to include and how to say it. Then, an idea: just write bullet points. For me, this made it much easier. Just get little ideas out instead of trying to tie things together into tidy sentences and paragraphs. First, I wrote 10. Then 20. Then I walked around and wrote a few more. I was on a roll. When I was in the shower, I thought of about a dozen more. Finally, I ended up with 50. Not bad. Especially since I was kind of nervous about writing at all. I printed out two copies and went to bed wondering how it would go when I presented my tribute the next day.
When we arrived at my parent’s house, it was nothing like I had dreamed. My dad was clearly in the middle of something, and we ended up crowding into his office—six of us in a space where two would fit comfortably. I handed him one copy and started reading down the list, item my item. There was seriously no magic, no chemistry. He didn’t look at me once but instead kept his eyes drilled straight ahead on his computer screen. He sneezed once, and we helped him clean up. His eyes were watering pretty bad, but I wasn’t sure if it was emotions or a cold. I got to the end, feeling more relief that I had finished than anything else.
Now that my dad is gone (he passed away about ten weeks later), I am so glad that I took the time to do this thing which seemed so hard at the time. I am glad that I got to read it to my dad in person while he was still alive. I am glad that my kids got to observe this exchange. I am glad that I took the time to think intentionally about 50 things that my dad did for me over the 48 years of my life he was alive. By the way, the experience was so valuable that I repeated it just a few weeks later for my mom.
Some of you may not be ready to write a tribute to dad—yet. Some of you couldn’t think of 10 things to appreciate about your dad. I had far from a perfect relationship with my dad, but we did have one. And in some way, although he lost much of his ability to reciprocate as he became sicker, the experience of writing a tribute somehow made it easier for me to thank him for the things I did appreciate.
If your dad has passed, or you don’t have a relationship now with your father, or never did, there may still be some things that are worth valuing. One lady told me “I will never have the opportunity to meet my dad. But I know that he gave me good genes for nice skin and physical fitness.” This could be the opportunity of a lifetime to see how to make the positives grow in your life and give you clues about how to overcome the negatives.
Tim Truesdale is a son, brother, and father of 4 who is still figuring it out. Want to join him on the journey? Check out his blog entries or subscribe for periodic content like this here. Be sure to check out practical ways to be an honorable father by downloading the UNCOMMEN app at uncommen.org.
Check out the Honor Your Father campaign for more inspirational stories and ideas on how to honor your dad at honoryourfathertoday.com.