Being born on Father’s Day, 1950, somehow immediately made me “Daddy’s Baby Girl!”
I lived up to that for twelve years; 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” Midwest hometown.
I don’t know why in spite of wonderful parents, I chose this pathway, but at 250 pounds, I chose, I used food for comfort, while drinking and running away became my escape.
The following letter was written by my precious father the last time I ran away; however, I wouldn’t receive it until twenty 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, asking if we were too strict, too lenient, too giving or not giving enough. All we know is that we love you and ask you to please reconsider before you leave again. Dearest Debbie, 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 I had already run away again and wouldn’t return for six weeks. The letter disappeared, yet I would returned to their never-ending unconditional love. However, this time with much needed boundaries, wise counsel, and my parents help, I was reinstated in school, and paradoxically went on to complete college and became – a teacher of troubled teens!
Twenty years later, happily married, and having lost 100 pounds, I was being honored at the State Teacher of the Year banquet. Sitting between my husband and Daddy, along with the rest of my family, I was rehearsing my upcoming speech. When Mom slid me a beautifully wrapped gift box, I thought I might find a pendant with the inscription “Teacher of the Year,” or “Wonderful Daughter.” I instead opened the box to find a yellowed, crinkled, tear-stained, faded letter dated twenty years earlier by Daddy. I wept uncontrollably as I realized for the first time all my parents had gone through in the middle of my selfishness.
With mascara streaming down my face, I improvised an entirely different speech.
I read Daddy’s letter written twenty years before, and explained that had it not been for him and Mom I would never have finished high school, or become a teacher helping other at-risk youth. I thank God for unconditional love.
Upon my retirement from teaching high school, I was one of five selected for the National Teachers Hall of Fame. Dad cried as I read “his letter.” For 10 years I hosted a radio talk show where I had numerous calls from parents and teens asking for advice and hope. My 90-year-old Daddy often shared his perspective as well. As a motivational speaker now, and I often share Daddy’s letter; we still blink away tears whenever I read it.
Seventy years ago, Dad and Mom vowed for “better or worse.” When asked their secret of success, Dad teasingly says, “Serving as a Navy Pilot in WW II was nothing compared to making it through Deb’s teen years!” In private, he still cuddles me, and says I was the best Father’s Day gift ever. And as always, he still calls me “Daddy’s Baby Girl!”
Read more posts by Debra Peppers, Ph.D., here. Dr. Peppers blogs for JenningsWire.
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