You came to our house for dinners weekly after that. Each time you pushed me on the swings or built Lego towers—each time you showed me that I was worth your time—I felt a piece of myself come back to life. My first dad erased me when he left, but I reappeared every time you walked through the door.
You were different from my first dad. Your arms were not as strong, but they hugged me longer. Your laughter didn’t lift us quite so high, but neither did your anger crush us. You were gentle when my first dad had been intense. And I never had to wonder if you would be home when I woke up in the morning.
One night when I was 7, I couldn’t sleep. You came into my room and sat on my bed. Rubbing my back, you asked what was wrong.
“Daddy, do I get to keep you?” I asked. You laughed and said, “No, do I get to keep YOU?”
It has taken me years to understand why those little acts of kindness meant so much to me. Here’s what I’ve realized: Children crave their parents’ attention because it makes them feel known—deeply and intrinsically. When a parent abandons a child, it communicates that the child isn’t worth knowing.
You didn’t just know me—you delighted in me. Your attention communicated that I wasn’t broken. In your eyes, I was dazzling. You freely gave of your time and energy, and that restored my dignity.
Over the years, we struggled to bond. I wanted a father, but had no idea how to be a daughter. I pushed and pulled. I stretched your love thin. You remained steady, but sometimes I could see that you were tired.
People talk about the virtues of adoption, but they rarely talk about the hardships. You never hear about the difficulties that step-parents and children face on a daily basis. You lived with my first dad’s decisions, too. Even after years of being my parent, you had to fight away his shadow.
When I was little, I thought God sent you to be my knight in shining armor. But the truth is, there were times when you let me down. And I’m so glad that you did, because you used those times as opportunities to point me to my heavenly Father. You knew how important it would be for me to encounter the One who will never leave me nor forsake me.
And that’s the greatest gift you could have given me. It’s more precious than having my biological father in the picture. It’s more valuable than having a perfect step-father. And I can never thank you enough for that.
I hope this open letter lets you know that I love you Dad. And I’m going to keep you.