Dear Dad, You Were Right.

By: Jen Shoop

*My Dad with my six-month-old daughter.

I was at an event recently where a reader approached me and said, among other lovely things, “I just have to tell you – I love your dad. I had tears streaming down my cheeks reading what he said.”

I wanted to ask which essay she was referring to, but quickly decided that it didn’t matter. Instead, I nodded: “I know. He’s the best.”

Earlier this week, I listened to the section of Anne Lamott’s book in which she talks about writing as a gift for people we love. Of a book on her father’s diagnosis with and death from brain cancer, she says: “I first I wrote down everything that happened to us, then I took out the parts that felt self-indulgent. I wasn’t writing the book with my thumb stuck out trying to hitchhike into history. I just wanted to write a book for my father that might also help someone going through a similar situation. Some people may have thought that this book was too personal, too confessional, but what these people think about me is none of my business. I got to write books about my father and my best friend, and they got to read them before they died. Can you imagine? I wrote for an audience of two whom I loved and respected, who loved and respected me. So I wrote for them as carefully and soulfully as I could, which is needless to say, how I wish I could write all the time.”

I’m not sure if I realized, before I listened to Lamott, how much my writing takes the form of love letters. I mean, I know that my writings about Elizabeth and my grandfather and other deceased are elegiac. They are conscious expressions of remembrance. I’ve elsewhere described them as “paper boats: something slight and hand-formed that still, against all odds, float.” I also observed: “When I write about the past, and particularly those beloved deceased who belong to it, I am able for a moment to unstrap myself from the present. I find things lost. Sometimes these unearthings are only shadow and dust: there are details, for example, of my friend Elizabeth that have atrophied to the point of disintegration. I mourn those degradations intensely. I wish I had written them down when the grief was keener and the memory sharper. It is, I realize, a mad task, to believe that I might somehow resurrect her in her entirety through language. But it can sometimes feel that way, when I am sitting at my screen, and she appears on the page wearing my own words.”

But I did not realize that when I sit down to represent the advice and lessons I’ve learned from the still-living, I am also writing directly to those mentors: “You were right,” and “I listened,” and “I love you.”

I sometimes feel that there are no easy places to say these things in real life. You are sitting in the dining room over bagel sandwiches, or unpacking groceries, or listening to Siri on the car navigation system, and it doesn’t feel right to interject: “You know all those times you told me, on the eve of a big decision, to move forward anyway? And you did this by insisting, ‘You’re gonna love it,’ even though you had no idea whether I would? Thanks for that. And while we’re at it, thanks for telling me to pursue something I was passionate about, for insisting I carry petty cash, for taking me to the Kennedy Center symphony when I was little, for saying “Oo la la” when I wore that dress you brought me from your trip to Mexico, for never trivializing my writing or my academic pursuits, for introducing me to Sibelius and Schubert and Puccini, for paying for my education, for taking me seriously when I said I wanted to start a technology business, for always answering your phone — even when you are huffing and puffing on mile nine of a long run, for flying to Rome to listen to me stumble through a piffling academic paper at a conference, for teaching me to avoid making jokes at the expense of anyone but myself, for reminding me to give people space, for offering me the benefit of the doubt, for letting me tag along fly-fishing in Aspen, for singing me “Ghost Riders in the Sky” before bed, for insisting that life is too short to hold grudges — especially within the family, for loving Mom, for stopping halfway up the driveway of my childhood home to point out the blooming forsythia bushes for the twentieth time–which is to say, for showing me how to live.”

Dad, you were right. I listened. I love you.


+More (recently-captured) lessons from my Dad.

+On the reference to Sibelius.

+From another essay on (ahem, love letter to) my parents:

““But isn’t it beautiful?” he’d ask, gesturing at the forsythia, harbinger of imminent thaw, and we’d murmur or nod in bewildered or shrugging assent, shifting in our seats, anxious to return to play. Or the way he’d drive the back way home from Church and put his car in park on the far side of our home, at the foot of the hill on which it sat, and point out recent plantings from Johnson’s on Wisconsin Avenue, or the growth of the boxwood hedge he’d installed at the property’s perimeter. At the time, I could neither fathom nor feign their interest in such things. But now I see When morning schedules have limited give, and time for tending to the plants in our own yard requires elbowing around plans, and entire months hurtle by in a blink, their care and nurture, their marking of the seasons, their every admiring comment at the blossom-then-fade a reminder that time is a gift.”

Shopping Break.

+If you’re not a one-piece gal, I’ve been seeing a lot of chic peas in this Hunza G bikini!

+The colors in this $44 pareo are fabulous.

+Have been hearing good things about this spicy peach honey. Bought a few bottles to have on hand as hostess gifts (wrapped up with crackers in cello) and one to try myself. I’m imagining it on a cheese board, or drizzled on ricotta or avocado toast, or even on pizza? Yum.

+How CUTE are these embroidered crossbodies?!

+This hand-painted birthday plate is such a treasure.

+This is J. Crew?! WOW! Fabulous for a summer event. Also love this $86 steal for a formal wedding!

+Just added these adorable “dive buddies” to my cart for my swimming-obsessed daughter. I just signed her up for an “emerging swimmers” swim team for the summer and she is SO excited.

+These chinoiserie “wavy bowls” are gorgeous.

+This bag wants to party.

+A clever way to get your children to help with the application of sunscreen. I’ve also had parents say that using these Artis-inspired inexpensive makeup brushes to apply sunscreen to children’s faces is helpful. This is still my favorite brand for the little ones — I use the lotion on their bodies (I also have the spray but have discovered the hard way that it can be difficult to get out of stone/pavement…yikes.) and sticks on their faces.

+Cute striped beach pants.

+Pretty everyday dress in a great coral/tangerine hue.

+We still have time to place orders for Mother’s Day, but perhaps a simple way out is this beautiful mother’s day bouquet.

+My daughter would get such a kick out of these “magic markers.”

+These color-blocked, TEVA-like sandals for kids are so cute.

+AWAY just released a fun neon collection.

+Swooning over this Evi Grintela investment piece.

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8 thoughts on “Dear Dad, You Were Right.

  1. Loved this, the photo is stunning (is that film?)and the thoughts were beautifully expressed! My dad has cancer and of course this hit a little different- caused me to consider his mannerisms I’ve failed to notice that bring me so much joy and steady or reassure me. Thank you.

    1. So beautiful, Ashleigh – I love the thought of paying attention to the “mannerisms” of the people we love. Sending you and your dad love and healing.

      Thank you so much for the kind words.


  2. Jen, what a beautiful and deeply touching message to your dad! What a gift to have that kind of person in your life. Thank you for the reminder to appreciate the ones we love, and to let them know that. “I sometimes feel that there are no easy places to say these things in real life.” –> I feel this way all the time! I am far more comfortable writing them down. I love sending people cards in the mail “just because”, and I wish I did it more often. I want to make more space for it, as I often feel like I’m just trying to get from point A to B all the way to Z (etc). I do find that I have to be intentional about it (e.g., noting down “send card to so-and-so” on my calendar).

    PS: You had me at spicy peach honey — FYI, your link goes to a J. McLaughlin dress, though!

    1. Hi Mia! I’m so glad this resonated. I’m also (rather obviously) more inclined to write people how I feel / what I think / how much I love them versus say it to their faces. This is in large part because I can hardly get the words out without crying. I am SUCH a softie. My mom called after I published this post to say how much she’d enjoyed it, and I couldn’t say anything in response — I was too choked up! And it wasn’t even my Dad on the phone! Yikes!!

      THANK YOU for the catch on the hot honey. Here is the correct link:

      I just used it for the first time today on a quick, non-Mr.Magpie-sponsored (hehe) lunch: English muffin, aged gouda cheese, lettuce, cucumber and it was SOOOO GOOD. The cheese with the honey is nuts!!!


  3. This brought me to tears this morning, Jen. As you’ve said before, it’s so important to ‘say the thing’ !! Writing a version of this for my mother to give her next weekend <3 Thanks for sharing and inspiring, as always.

    1. I’m so, so touched this resonated with you, and so glad it motivated you to write something for your mom! Thank you for letting me know.


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