I realize with every passing year how much I love and appreciate my Daddy. I have written of him in several of my books, and joined authors Dr. James Dobson, Philip Yancy, Rick Warren, Bruce Wilkinson, Gary Smalley, and John Trent in Embrace of Father. They also have heartwarming stories of their fathers, as do many of you. So in honor of great fathers everywhere, this is an excerpt from my book, It’s Your Turn Now, celebrating Daddy’s “Love Letter” written many years ago.
I was born on Father’s Day back in the 1950s to wonderful parents, but somehow being born on Father’s Day immediately made me “Daddy’s Baby Girl!” For 12 years I could do no wrong; then came my terrible teens! I wish I could take back those rebellious years, for I would never have chosen to be a high school dropout and runaway – especially back in the late ’60s in my small Beaver Cleaver hometown of Clarksville, MO.
I don’t know why I chose this pathway, but at 250 pounds, in spite of wonderful parents, food became my comfort while drinking and running away became my way of escape. This “Love Letter” was written by my precious father the last time I ran away; however, I wouldn’t receive it until 20 years later:
My Darling Baby Girl,
I write this as you have threatened to run away again. I am leaving this on your pillow with the hopes that you will get it before you leave. I know at seventeen you’re a young woman and we can’t stop you from going. Mommy and I have asked ourselves a thousand times where we went wrong…where we failed you. I would give anything if we could go back to the days when you were Daddy’s baby girl and would snuggle up on my lap, bringing all your hurts and wounds to me to “make better.” I only blame myself for all that has gone wrong and would give my very life for another chance to make it right. I didn’t see soon enough how much you were hurting. We have prayed and cried for you more than you will ever know and have asked if we were too strict, too lenient, too giving or not giving enough. All we know is that we love you and want you to please reconsider before you leave again. Let’s work it out one more time. Dearest Debbie Girl, we love you with no strings attached. God brought you to us and no matter what, you’ll always be Daddy’s baby girl. When you read this, no matter how late, please come talk to me.
Your Loving Daddy
He didn’t know that night I had already run away again and wouldn’t return for six weeks. However, he saved the letter and faithfully believed I would return and eventually head down the right path. He was right. He and Mom welcomed me home once more with unconditional love, but also this time with the much-needed boundaries, and wise counsel. With my parents help I was reinstated in school and paradoxically went on to complete college and became – of all things – a teacher!
Twenty years later, happily married, and having lost over 100 pounds, I was being honored at the Missouri State Teacher of the Year banquet. There I was sitting between my husband and my daddy, along with the rest of my family. As I was rehearsing my upcoming speech, my mother gave me a beautifully wrapped gift box. Thinking I might find a pendant or medal with the inscription “Teacher of the Year,” or “Wonderful Daughter,” I instead opened the box to find nothing but a yellowed, crinkled, tear-stained, faded letter dated 20 years earlier, hand-written by my loving daddy. I wept uncontrollably as I realized for the first time all he had gone through on the road that we had all traveled to achieve the joy we now experienced.
With mascara streaming down my face, I said, “Mother! How could you give this to me at a time like this? Right now when I have to give a speech!” She took my hand in hers, patted it and calmly replied, “I knew there would be just the right time!” As always, she was right.
I quickly improvised an entirely different speech and read to the audience my Daddy’s letter written 20 years before. I explained that had it not been for my parents, I would never have finished high school or become a teacher helping other at-risk youth. In closing, I thanked the Father above for my earthly father who was finally able to see the fruit of his unconditional love.
Upon my retirement from teaching high school, I was one of five selected nationally for the National Teachers Hall of Fame. Dad was there as I read “his letter.” For 10 years I hosted a radio talk show where I had numerous calls from parents and teens to whom I also offered hope. My Daddy often came in and shared his perspective as well. My parents often accompany me as I travel around the world as a motivational speaker, and I always share Daddy’s letter. We still blink away tears whenever I read it.
For their 65th wedding anniversary two years ago, we took them, along with the whole family, on a Caribbean cruise. As usual, we had a hard time keeping up with these active octogenarians! When asked the secret of his youthfulness and vitality, Dad teasingly says, “Serving as a Navy Pilot in WW II was nothing compared to making it through my daughter’s teen years. If I can survive that, I can do anything!”
In private, he still cuddles me, and reminds me that he loved me as much back then as he does today. He says he always knew how special I would be when God gave him the best Father’s Day gift he ever received! This weekend, I will celebrate both my birthday and Father’s Day in the embrace of my 89-year-old daddy, who still calls me “Baby Girl.”
Happy Father’s Day to my Daddy and all you fathers – especially those who had to put up with kids like me!
Debra Peppers, a professional speaker for 25 years, was one of only five inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame upon her retirement from Lindbergh High School. A member of the National Speakers Association, she has traveled to all 50 states and 60 countries teaching others that if she can go from being a 250-pound high school dropout, to Teacher of the Year there is hope for every child and adult. For info, visit www.pepperseed.org
If you would like a copy of the book The Embrace of a Father, by Bethany House Publishers, you can go to your local bookstore, Amazon.com or contact Debra Peppers directly at pepperseed.org. Other tributes she has published include, Thanks, Dad in the Chicken Soup series, and her own autobiography, “It’s Your Turn Now.”