A letter to my father on the fourteenth birthday since he died

On saying goodbye, relationships missed out on, visitations, peanut butter, Santa Claus, and following your heart.

Dear Dad,

When you died, I had such little experience with death. I didn’t know how to say goodbye. I had to do it twice because the first time I didn’t get it right. I hope you understand. Sadly, I’ve had more experience with death in the nearly-fifteen years since you’ve been gone, but … you are the one I miss the most of all.

How can a daughter say goodbye to her father?

Dad & me, sometime in the 1960s.

Today is your birthday. It’s the fourteenth time I haven’t been able to call you and sing ‘happy birthday to you.’ The fourteenth time I’ve felt that catch in my heart when I look at the date and remember you. I think to myself, what would Dad do today? He would love the sunshine. Yes, that’s what he would do. And so I love it, just for you, even though here in upstate it’s still cold today.

I remember the dreams after your death when you’d come to me in a visitation. I knew you were there, and I would try so hard to make the moment mean something — to ask you the questions I wanted answers to, or to just connect with you in a deep way. But I didn’t have control over those visits, so I would follow your agenda.

I remember when you came to me and told me about my son who was coming to our family in just a few months. I’ve always known you were watching over him. Dad, you would love him so much. He’s such a great boy.

When I think of him and you — of the granddad and grandson relationship that never happened — that’s when my throat gets all raw and tight. Because I can tell him about you (and I always do; his favorite stories are about peanut butter! who would’ve thought?) but he can never know what it really feels like to be in your presence.

Holidays + birthdays make my heart ache too. Especially my birthday, because I miss your off-key singing. And Christmas, of course, because you were like the overgrown kid who never wanted to stop playing Santa.

I miss those long conversations we had when you were sick, Dad. I’d call you and we’d talk business. I’d tell you how I was putting out so many proposals but not getting much business. You’d tell me to keep at it. I treasure the memories of those conversations.

This letter is for you, Dad — not just to tell you happy birthday, but to celebrate you, because even though you were afraid for me you always encouraged me to go after my dreams. And for that I will always be grateful.

I love you, Dad.


Sandra Gardner is a writer, designer, online marketing strategist, and the founder of Tall Red Poppy Media, a company that helps small businesses stand out + shine. She writes on creativity & getting past your fear at tallredpoppy.com. This post first appeared on the Tall Red Poppy Media blog.

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