When Father's Day rolls around, it seems like dads all over the country are relegated to receiving gifts such as dress shirts, ties and grilling supplies. Even though I'm guilty of having gifted my father these same things, it's mostly because I don't know what to get him because he deserves so much more than that. Here's why.
It was the summer of 2003, and I had just finished third grade. My dad took my little sister and I on a nine-day trip to Yellowstone National Park, and when we got home my mother wasn't there. She returned the next day and said our friends were camping at the county park about a mile from our house and we could go visit. Already lonely from having been off from school for a bit, we jumped at the chance.
That was the last time we saw our dad for nearly a month. We drove past the campground, further and further away until we reached a motel where my mother's new boyfriend was waiting for us. We were told that Mom and Dad were getting a divorce, and we would never see our father again.
For three weeks, I cried out for my dad who I thought no longer loved us as we had been told. My mother, who resented my father after a rocky marriage, and her boyfriend, were mentally and sometimes physically abusive toward me because of it, especially because I resemble my father and often act like him. And Dad, who wracked his brain and body trying to find his girls, lost nearly 20 pounds in two weeks even though he was already thin as a whippet. He couldn't eat or sleep and had to go on antidepressants to function. When Dad finally found us at our babysitter's house three weeks after Mom took us away, I knew I had to do everything I could do at 9 years old to help my dad bring us home for good, even if it meant withstanding more name calling and hitting.
After a temporary custody agreement was drafted, we were able to go to Dad's house on the weekends. I slept for nearly 12 hours on the first night back in my own bed. However, as the summer dragged on and things with my mother and her boyfriend continued to deteriorate, I would become despondent on Saturday nights - thus marking the beginning of a lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression - because I knew we had to go back with her on Sunday afternoon. The judge presiding over my parents' divorce proceedings appointed a guardian ad litem to represent my sister and I. We both told her over and over that we wanted to live with our Dad.
Finally, the day had arrived for the final custody hearing in September. It just so happened to be the second day of fourth grade. I knew when the bell rang at 3:15 p.m., whichever parent standing at the door to come pick us up would shape the rest of our lives. As the clock drew closer to the final bell, I was a nervous wreck. In a move of solidarity that I won't forget, all the girls in my class joined me by my side. Finally, as the bell rang, I walked myself to my cubbyhole to grab my backpack and made my way toward the door.
There he was - a dress shirt, a tie and two thumbs up.
My sister and I both squealed with delight and ran into his arms, knowing we were going home for good this time. Sam and I recently celebrated a year of marriage on May 29 which is also the day my father received primary custody of his daughters. The day my dad received custody of my sister and I is the happiest day of my life.
Over the years, my dad and I have struggled, but have come back to each other when the dust settles. It happens when you're so much alike, I think. I've forgiven my mother for the wrong which was done, and she realizes the depth of the pain that was inflicted. Those scars have strengthened me instead of broken me. There are times in a girl's life when a motherly touch would have been nice, like prom and breakups and the like. But, when I think back to that September day, I remember that this man saved my life and helped me become the woman I am today.
Now that I'm grown, married and farming, our relationship has deepened even further as Dad gets to live out all of his boyhood memories on the farm with Sam and I. My dad, even with his unfiltered sarcasm, is one of the coolest and greatest people I will ever know. I don't tell him nearly as often as I should, but every Father's Day - and Mother's Day, too - I am reminded of just how much this man has done for me, especially as I grow older. I think this year I'll opt for something more than a dress shirt and tie when picking out his Father's Day present for the man who is my hero.