You are, notoriously, the worst person to buy gifts for.
You don’t have a specific taste, and you hardly buy anything for yourself aside from expensive motorized vehicles I could only dream of affording. I’ve tried taking you to dinner at your favorite Spanish restaurant or buying you slippers that’ll last past the winter, but you always end up paying for dinner, and the slippers are almost always the wrong size, and despite having the gift receipt crumbled up in the change pile on top of your dresser, you never exchange them for the right ones.
Every year, I’ve watched you carefully open your gifts and waited for your usual heartfelt “thank you” and hug as if it’s the best gift you’ve ever received—even when it was just a keychain and drink koozie from my elementary school book fair. You accept graciously, despite constantly reminding me that there’s nothing you want (or need). Still, I feel the need to step it up this year with something extra sentimental and from the heart.
So, here it is: a letter. Not to complain about how difficult it is to find you the perfect gift but to explain exactly why you deserve the most perfect gift.
Though I’m feeling grateful for the maturity that comes with this whole aging thing, I’m realizing that as a thirty-year-old adult, I’ve never properly thanked you for all you’ve done for our little family over the years. This reflection is timely, as I’m at an age where I find my friends are stepping up to be there for their own children in ways their mothers could not, or are now just learning to live a new reality without their fathers. You were a young, blue-collar, single father whom my brother and I only saw on the weekends since we were about five years old, and when we were old enough to drive ourselves, we’d opt for weekends with friends instead.
You probably never wanted or planned to be a “Weekend Dad,” but you did the best you could and always made the most of it. I remember that you’d take your vacation the same time every summer so we could ferry all the way out to Block Island beaches and get buried by our cousins in the New England sand. You’d coast down the big hill in town in Ol’ Betsy (the ‘96 red pickup you still own) and the three of us would take bets on how long we could coast before having to hit the brakes. I think I had my eyes closed the entire way.
As a child, I was afraid of everything, so I rejected the new things you tried to teach me—from riding quads to skating half-pipes to shredding waves at the shore and taking piano lessons at the music shop. You were always ready and willing to invest in your kids’ growth, especially pushing us to learn new skills, which I’m finding is much more difficult to commit to as responsibilities increase with age.
Living entirely on my own since the beginning of a pandemic, I realized firsthand just how difficult it is to balance all life throws at you amid the resounding loneliness of being single, especially when there’s a never-ending mountain of dishes glaring down at you after a long day of work. You made things easier though, coming up to keep me company after hours of being alone, or stopping by on the weekends after taking your new motorcycle out for a leisurely spin across the Bear Mountain bridge.
I got to show you around my new Hudson River home, taking you to all the best spots: Whiskey River, Little Cabin Sandwish Shop, and your new favorite, Taormina, to name a few. I got to learn more about you and your life during these outings. You told me that when we were growing up, you usually spent your last twenty dollars at the end of every week on pizza and a movie rental for us. Your full-time job left you with just enough time to take care of a house and yourself by yourself just so you could entertain us on weekends. You became used to making sacrifices to make the best of the time we had together.
I can look back on all of those years of being dragged to watch my older brother race dirtbikes or play in his band at some local bar, and I sometimes think you were accidentally raising me to be like him. While I was too timid to engage in the same hobbies he enjoyed, I was still able to learn about myself, — about bravery, and about how to try new things. It wasn’t until way later on in life that I found that inner confidence you always knew was there, when I pushed myself onto that stage to sing alongside him. Inadvertently, you both helped to teach me when to push myself when I felt like giving up, and how to fight for what I wanted.
I am proud of all of those experiences growing up because you provided everything I needed to be able to grow into myself, and though it may have taken a few years, I’m finally confident enough to try new things that I never thought I’d be able to do—like surfing in Hawaii, longboarding down the river path by the Hudson, or actively training in martial arts.
You’re still my number one fan. I feel your support when you show up to my Jiu Jitsu competitions and take photos, or when you buy me new gear for my birthday (complete with attached YouTube tutorials on how to skateboard). When I waded into the ocean with a surfboard for the first time on my own, I heard your voice in my ear, telling me to breathe and have fun with it.
So, thank you for granting me the independence to figure life out on my own while still being there for me whenever I needed you. Thank you for all the flat tires you’ve changed and for the movie nights that inspired me to pursue filmmaking. Thank you for never letting your burdens become my burdens.
You deserve the best, and you deserve to be recognized for all that you’ve done and continue to do for your children.
Thank you for everything.
Happy Father’s Day.
Casey O’Connell has been living in Peekskill for two years. She currently works for the Woodstock Film Festival. More of her writing can be found here.