To My Babies… The Hardest Letter I will ever write to you

For My Babies, Love

Out of all the things I’ve wanted to say to you during your little lives, this was a letter I never thought I would write to you, nor would I ever, ever want to. Our family is going through such a hard time now. Your father, who we all loved so deeply, died in a motorcycle accident at the young age of 45. I never, ever wanted you (or anyone, for that matter) to experience such tragedy. Most days I still can’t comprehend the idea that he is no longer living with us. How such a beautiful light could just go out so quickly is beyond my comprehension. And his poor, sweet children. Rowan is 3 (going on 16), Dylan is 6, Sebastian is 12, Sarah is 15, and Justin is 26. He loved you all so much. The love that I shared with your father was passionate, deep, strong, and sometimes crazy. But we were most beautiful when we were all together as a family. We truly made such a beautiful family.

I love him and miss him so much. I cry so many times just at the thought of not ever being able to hold him, talk to him, laugh with him, kiss him, and go through with all the crazy plans we had for life with him. But it is really all of his kids that my heart breaks for most. There are so many things that make the situation so tragic. From the idea of my love being injured and hurt so bad that his life was lost in the blink of an eye, to the fact of someone so charismatic, funny, talented, charming, and hard-working no longer living amongst us. To how many people loved him and are truly devastated by this loss. But the worst is for his beautiful children who lost their beautiful father. My heart breaks the most for all of you.

Dylan and Rowan, I know you both hurt so bad over this, and yet, you are so young that I can’t imagine that you really understand what’s going on. I hate the fact that you only had him in your life for such a short time. Dylan, you have always been a happy child. You are just as playfully mischievous as your father. But I know you are hurting right now. You don’t talk about it much. You talk about Daddy in good ways. You’ll talk about random stories about him, but you don’t talk about your pain or even how much you miss him. I’m pretty sure your strong little heart is just trying to be brave and keep going. Rowan, I know you don’t really understand at 3 years old what has happened. You just know that Daddy’s not here and you miss him. You tell me so many times a day how you want Daddy. It breaks my heart that I can’t give him to you. I found one of his t-shirts the other day that he wore frequently. It hadn’t been washed, and it still smelt like him. I rubbed my face in it and clung to it. A while later that day, you were upset about something, and I remembered the t-shirt. I gave it to you and told you to smell it. You stuck your face in it, and all the sudden you lit up. “Daddy’s shirt!” you exclaimed. It made you feel so good, just to smell his scent and hold that old cotton t-shirt. You carried the shirt around for days. I finally put it up, in the hopes it might hold on to his scent a little while longer so that I could give it to you when you start to get sad and missing him.

We were in the car today; Dylan, Rowan, and I. Rowan, you had just gotten an Elsa doll that sings “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen. As you were sitting in the backseat singing along, I had a sudden memory of your dad singing that song with you. He was really the one that got you singing it in the first place, when you were only like 2 years old. You would start to sing it, and then your dad would start singing along with you, loud and proud. You loved it. He used to sing it with you all the time. We all did. But your dad was the one that really started it. As the memory hit me while we were driving in the car, I started to get a little emotional. I turned and asked you, Dylan, if you remembered Daddy always singing that song with Rowan. You smiled sheepishly and sweetly and said yes, and I could tell you really did remember, too. I asked you how you were doing. “I’m good”, you replied, as is a pretty normal response for you. I asked you if you miss Daddy. You said yes. I was thinking how I don’t ever really see you get visibly upset about losing daddy. I see you get upset, much more frequently than normal. I know you miss daddy, but you just don’t normally say that you miss daddy and it hurts. As I was asking you if you missed him and starting to tear up myself, I think you must have known my thoughts because  you simply said “My heart is crying.” It was the most honest, poetic, adult thing I’ve ever heard you say. I know your heart is crying, baby. And I am so sorry that all of you are having to go through this.

I love you. I love you all so much. And your Daddy does, too. He is watching over us, with a soul that is at peace, loving us, wanting us to be happy. But it still hurts so much. I pray for strength to be a good mama to you throughout all of your lives. I want you to know how many people have loved and supported us through this awful time. I want you to know that there is still so much beauty in the world and that we can still have beautiful lives, no matter the pain we feel from not being able to physically live it and share it with him. I want you to know that his beauty and everything about him still lives on in all of you and in every life that he touched, which was so many. And I pray that I may let him live on through me, all of his quirkiness and love of life, so that you can still grow up with that piece of him in your life.

I love you all so much. Out of all the amazing and beautiful things your dad did in life, the most precious are the beautiful children that he gave us. I am grateful for you that are mine by birth, and for my stepkids (who already have beautiful mamas that love them). You are all wonderful gifts to us from your father.

I love you always and forever.

To the moon and back. That’s what your dad always said.

Sincerely,

Your Mama

 

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Happy Birthday to The Best Dad Ever

Love
Today is my father’s 70th birthday. It will be six years in March since he passed away. Anyone who knows me well at all, probably already knows this. Just as his living had the most grand effect on my life, his death has changed both me and my life as well. I know that it’s easy to make a person you love a saint in your mind after their death, to only remember the good things and make their effect on your life greater than it actually was. This is not the case with my father. My life would have been much different without him in it, and I can’t imagine that it would have been in a good way. He was a man of such quiet and deep kindness, generosity, and honesty. He was the most dependable person I have ever known. If my dad said it, he meant it, and you could count on it. He was also not a person to make grandiose promises or say things he didn’t mean just to make you feel better. While at times, this characteristic may have made him seem unemotional, it was this silent, unending honesty that was one the most beautiful things about him. And he loved his children with that same deep, honest love. Like a mountain, he was strong and unmoving, and yet dynamic and nurturing. And he was a breathtakingly beautiful constant in my life for 28 years.
For anyone who has lost someone you love dearly, I am so sorry for your loss. If love is what makes life worth living, then losing those you love must be what can make you fall apart. I’m sure that I emotionally and mentally fell apart after losing dad, but looking back, I’m really kind of proud of my strength. I didn’t see it then, but now I do. I endured, maybe unhappily and maybe in tears. But I’m still living. I’m happy today. I have two beautiful children to whom I try my best to be a kind, patient, loving, guiding, responsible parent. But even on the days when I feel I’ve failed at this, I remember my dad’s kind words when referring to the difficulty of being a parent. “You do the best you can with what you have.” I had no children at the time. These weren’t comforting words of advice that he was giving me. It was merely him trying to explain to me that no one is perfect, and that the best we have is all that we can give. And he was right. We all have our own problems and background. Having a child doesn’t take all that away. It gives you a new, beautiful love with a whole lot of responsibilities that go along with it.
Those words from years ago have helped me through many a day of feeling like a lesser parent than I would like to be, and given me the hope and strength to continue to do my best. In a lot of ways, I believe it’s my stepchildren who get the best of my dad’s kindness when it comes to being a parent. He was always so good to all my brothers and sisters, but two of them weren’t even his children. Still, he was there for them in life as much as he could be. He would have given either one of them anything they needed, well after the time that he and my mother were divorced. I believe he did this because he cared for them, and he knew it was the right thing to do. But I also believe he did it because he knew that they were my brother and sister, and he wanted to treat them as so. This is how I feel about my stepkids. I love them for who they are, and I take care of them as a parent should because it is my responsibility to do so when they are with me. But I also know that they are my own children’s siblings, and as that I shall forever treat them as my own children when given the chance.
Not only does my father continue to effect my outlook on life and my attitude as a parent everyday, he also had a great part to play in my career. He is the main reason I made it through college. I became a nurse mostly because of him. He didn’t pick my career for me, but his want for me to find a path and stick to it encouraged me to do just that. I already loved science, biology, psychology. I also wanted a job that helped people and filled a need in the world. Nursing and the medical field in general seemed a logical way to fill both my needs in a job and his wants for me to have a dependable career.  Being a nurse is not necessarily an easy job, though, and nursing school is even harder. There were many times during college that I probably would have given up had it not been for his support and my want to make him proud. And he was proud of me when I graduated. And I was proud of myself. It may not be a major feat to some, but that accomplishment made me believe in myself and know that with hard work and perseverance I can accomplish anything. That feeling has never left me.
It has been said that everything happens for a reason. I think I kind of look at it in reverse. I don’t know that EVERYTHING happens for a reason. To me that would imply that every bad thing in the world had to happen for some good purpose. I find that a little hard to swallow. I do believe that we can choose to make the best of, find the good in, and learn from every experience, so that the bad things that do happen in life do not have to occur without purpose. That may be simply learning to be compassionate towards others because you know the pain you experienced in your own life.
The good things that have happened in my life because of losing Dad have been hard to find. He was such a wonderful person to have in the world, I find it hard to see any good that can come from him no longer being here for me to call when I need a few words of loving encouragement. Still, there have been some positives. Mainly the fact that because I don’t have him around to give me strength when I need it, I’ve had to look elsewhere for that. I’ve realized that most of the time, I can find it inside myself. I’m stronger than I thought I was. The world didn’t end when he died. There is still much beauty and love in it. And even though my father was not a real “religious” man, the physical loss of him has helped me spiritually. I still see him everywhere. Not literally, of course. But I see him in my oldest brother, with his kindness, ease of grace, and his pride in his son. I see him in my sister with her love for her children and passion for the outdoors. I see him in myself when I am patient and kind with my own babies and stepchildren. I see him so much that sometimes it feels as if I am looking at the world through his eyes. And maybe I am. Maybe that’s the best gift he ever gave to us. The ability to see the world with patience and understanding. I’m not perfect. Neither was my father. But he was a damn good dad. And I am grateful.
For anyone who is hurting over losing someone or hurting over some hard time in your life, I want you to know this: It does get better. Life is hard. There are times when your heart will break. Let it. Let it break, and then let it mend. Let it heal. Let others continue to love you and help you. And when you have regained your strength, reflect on your pain with compassion. Soften your hardened heart. Find what good remains in your life. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, if we will only be patient and look for it.
My dad’s birthday used to be the hardest day for me. Harder than Christmas or any other major holiday. I guess because it was the one day when I would always be sure to talk to him or do something for him. From the time when I was 8 and baked him an awful cake and wrapped up an old landscape portrait of a wooded lane for a gift, to taking him out for Mexican food (even though he probably wouldn’t let me pay), to coming over to the house and cooking a four course meal for him after he had spent the day at the golf course. It’s the one day of the year I atleast always talked to him, if not did something kind for him.
The first few years after he died, his birthday was unexpectedly hard. I’d find myself at work just suddenly crying and depressed. The past couple of years have gotten better, though. I still think about him and celebrate him, but I do it with love and fond memories. There may still be tears occasionally, but they are normally tears of gratitude and tenderness. I’ve decided to treat the day as it should be: a holiday. A day to celebrate the birth of a kind, beautiful, strong person and all he did and represented in my world.
So, Happy “Jim Highfill Day” to everyone! Hug your children. Call your parents. Go out and eat Mexican food and then lay on the couch watching old Star Trek movies with your family. Play a game of golf. Be kind, generous, and honest. Do a crossword puzzle at your own leisurely pace. Be patient with yourself and with others. Enjoy this beautiful day. And do the best you can with what you have been given.

God Bless A Good Dad

writing

Both of my parents made such an influence in my life, though they really had quite different personalities. Dad was very kind, dependable, and responsible.  Mom was fun loving and spontaneous. Their different personalities caused marital problems, and they divorced when I was only a year old.  While their contrasting characteristics made their own personal relationship difficult, I always felt that these differences were a blessing to me.  They were two pieces to the puzzle that completed me. I believe that having two people so different love me so dearly and be  such a large part of my life helped to give me a dynamic character and an open mind, able to see things from many different point of views. I cannot imagine that I would have had nearly as much happiness in my life had one of them not been in it.  This is not to say that my parents were perfect.  They made plenty of mistakes, same as everyone else.  But they did their best, and I know they loved me unconditionally.

Historically, mothers have been considered the most important parental figure.  The old school view of the woman being the homemaker and rearing the children while the man works has reinforced this in our culture and in many others.  I would like to bring to light, though, the importance of a father in a child’s life.  This is a personal topic for everyone.   Everyone has some feeling or view on it because we all have a father.  We are all affected by the relationship with this person, be it for good or for bad.

Fathers have an important role in developing a child’s social and psychological development. According to a study conducted by University of Maryland researchers in 2000 and reported on the Medical Center website, children with supportive and nurturing fathers or father-figures in their lives are more assertive, enjoy more social acceptance, have higher self-esteem and are less likely to exhibit signs of depression.  These findings were constant for both boys and girls, and with both black and white children.

Dr. Kyle D. Pruett reports other interesting research findings in his book Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is As Essential As Mother Care for Your Child.  For example, a father’s involvement in a child’s life is the strongest parent-related predictor of empathy. It is also associated with the development of problem-solving behavior and reduced sibling conflict and aggression.  Children of involved fathers are much more successful academically and are more likely to go to college.  Even if the father does not live with the child, if they are actively involved in their lives, a child will tend to have less behavioral problems.

Some dads may worry that by giving high priority to their family, they will lose their edge in the workplace and not be considered for higher positions as much as those who lack family ties or neglect them. Research does not support this fear.  It is beneficial to both the man’s health and happiness and also to his children’s well being to put his family first. It is okay to plan your work around your family.  It is a good thing to consider father-child time more important than work time.

In the sad situation that a child is unable to have their own father there to connect with and share a nurturing relationship with, studies show that having other positive male figures in a child’s life can help decrease the risk of this having negative affects on them.  With this in mind, every positive interaction between a child and a man can help to ensure a child’s healthy development.  This fact in itself speaks of how important a father’s role is.  If a man can make a difference to the well being of ANY child, imagine the difference they can make in the lives of their own children.

As a mother, I know it is important for my kids to have a good relationship with their dad, but I also tend to view my relationship with them as more important. While I believe there’s nothing wrong with being a little possessive of your children, the truth is their relationship with their dad is one that Imageeffects them greatly.  I would love to believe that I can give them everything they need on my own.  If ever that sad situation occurred, I know I would try my best to do so, and they would still be much loved and well cared for children.  I wish love and support unto every parent who is forced to do it alone.  As stated by Dr. Pruett, those children with TWO loving, involved parents benefit from the wealth of each parent’s life experiences, different parenting styles, and approaches to dealing with life.  Though my parents divorced long ago, they both remained a large part of my life.  I know that this fact had many positive affects on my own happiness.

My hope for this writing is to inspire us all to respect and embrace the importance of fathers in our children’s lives so as to help ensure the happiness and overall positive development of those children.  I know that I am extremely grateful for having a father that loved and cared for me.  I hope that all of you fathers and mothers realize how important you are to your own children.