Dian Reid's father and her cat enjoying a Sunday afternoon on the couch

Dear Dad

Forget the past.

~ Nelson Mandela

When my mother died it consumed me; I was sixteen. I was thirty when my father died; life simply went on.

To compare the two events and their impact on me is unfair, although I do it all the time. It took me more than a decade to truly come to terms with my mother’s death, and less than a tenth that time to be at peace with my father’s death. I can try to con myself into thinking that one parent meant more than the other, or one relationship was stronger, deeper, more intertwined than the other.

The reality is that they were different people in my life, each having an impact all its own, and having more to do with me than either of them.

Over the years I’ve written a number of letters to my mom, both publicly and privately. I’ve never written one to my father. This has the gremlins in my head whispering behind closed thoughts, leaving echoes of guilt on my choice of omission. Or is it a choice… they whisper.

Honestly, I don’t know if it’s a choice or not, but I do know it’s certainly not a conscious one. I also know that it hasn’t felt necessary to write my father a letter since his death. He and I wrote many letters to each other as if we were never going to see each other again (part of an almost-yearly workshop we both attended when I was a teenager), so there isn’t much from my childhood I need to get off my chest. I also wrote a book about the last days of my father’s life and the various conversations we had leading up to his send-off to what he hoped would be heaven. We said what we needed to say to each other while he was alive, and that’s served me well. Until now, apparently.

This Father’s Day seems different somehow. Maybe it’s that some time has passed since his death and I have new revelations about life that I want to share with him. Maybe it’s that I released that book this year, and I feel like I have some explaining to do. Maybe I just want to feel connected to him and writing seems the easiest way for me to do that.

In any case, I’ve been trying to write a letter to my father in honor of Father’s Day, and it’s just not coming out. Not the way I thought it would.

It always starts out, “Dear Dad,” which seems odd because I’ve been referring to him as “my father” for the last seven years. Somehow “father” seemed more appropriate for a book than “dad.” But of course, writing “Dear Father,” seems so cold and out of touch since I never called him anything but “Dad” when he was alive.

“Dear Dad,” it is (if I ever get this letter written).


What resurges after all these years is the guilt of not being a better daughter. I don’t visit his gravesite. I rarely cry when I think about him. I rarely think about him at all. I have pictures up of him in the house, the flag from his funeral up on the wall, and memories of our time together stuffed in the dark hallways of my mind.

Dad & Sly

What to do when you’ve focused your life around living in the present moment, leaving the past behind, and not getting caught up in the what-ifs of the future?

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

~ John F. Kennedy

I think about what my dad might say about my lack of inclusion of him in my thoughts. In his thoughtful, humble manner, his dry sense of humor would come out to play and he’d say something like—honestly, I can’t even begin to know what he’d say.

Maybe he’d tell me to go be happy. Maybe he’d tell me how proud he is of me and that I don’t have to tell him I love him or write him letters he’s not alive to read or think about him at all anymore. Maybe he’d tell me he saw everything he needed to know about how I feel about him in my eyes on the day I was born.

I wish I could remember that moment, but ah, how fleeting our birth days are. So much going on, how can we be expected to remember the look we gave our fathers after being ripped so cruelly from our mothers. But then, we see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear, make meaning out of every little moment we can remember of the past—everything happens for the reason we attach to it in hindsight.

Whatever my father saw in my eyes on the day I was born, I can only hope I lived up to it while he was still alive.

Maybe this Father’s Day I don’t need to write him a letter. I’ll still smile more often than I cry when I think about him, and it’s not likely that I’ll visit his gravesite. I feel the same way about visiting a cold granite stone with my father’s name on it as I do visiting a cold marble niche with my mother’s name engraved in it: they’re not there anymore, why should I be?

As I sit here nearly a thousand words into a would-be letter to my father, I realize the letter I’d write really isn’t necessary.

No, the best way for me to honor my father on this Father’s Day is to continue to be someone he would be proud of. He was most proud of me for being my own woman, for forging my own path through life, and for living with integrity in honoring my values even when they didn’t match up with his.

Learn, grow, change; lather, rinse, repeat.






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