I like to think of myself as a wonderful blend of both my mom and my dad. Part of it is due to just my personality… but I think another big piece is I am their firstborn. With that role comes a whole lot typical qualities – perfectionist, bossy, confident, second mother, a-type – and I am all of them. So when I look at my mom I like to think that I got her heart for others, dedication to faith, stubborn ability to love under all circumstances, an appreciation for the perfect outfit, and the importance of the perfect beverage: from ice cold water to wine! My mom is my rock, the coach that gives me the pep talk when I need to find my strength, and the one that reminds me to just keep showing up, even when I just flat out can’t. But the truth is when it comes to personalities, if you were to break open my heart – its 100% my Dad.
My Dad is one of the best perfectionists I know (and I say this with 100% admiration and jealousy). He is a good friend, he is a team player, he is emotional, he is sentimental, he loves a good list, expert notetaker, has a great laugh, loves with his whole heart, is a morning person, hates to say no, plans for the future – but appreciates living in the past, cares for how others feel, dreams, appreciates exercises in personal growth and self help, enjoys a good workout, is highly competitive, believes in following rules – and subsequently enjoys making them, has a passion for music, appreciates the feeling of something brand new, and is an openly dedicated Catholic (and not because he is better than anyone or knows that it is “right” , more that he knows he is too human to do this life without faith…. sound like someone you know?). Dad – there are no questions the more I grow, the more I learn, the more I experience life…. I am most certainly your daughter and I could not be more honored.
During the early years of our marriage Danny had to stop working full time and my salary became our primary source of income. Being the kind of person who likes a path I thought – “OK, in this moment in time, for this scenario I am my Dad”. My mom had stayed home to raise us and Dad’s job sustained all 7 of us, in the same industry that I was working in…. so I had my blueprint right in front of me. It was only a matter of time before the panic set in and I had an appreciation for my father that I would never have imagined (and I was only in charge of two people). At that time, I had been blessed with some awesome opportunities but it left me tired, stressed, distracted…. and at one point I woke up and realized I was missing out on my real life, on time with my husband and puppy just trying to keep getting ahead – assuring I would be able to find the same success my dad to afford a good life. That is when it hit me like a ton of bricks…..my dad was doing all of that at work and still hardly ever missed dinner, helped with nightly homework, coached our teams, sat at our performances ….how the heck did he do all that?
For 13 months Danny and I lived in my childhood home with most (my brothers lived on their own) of my family. During that time there was a lot of growth and experiences, many memories that really did my heart good. But there is one in particular that always makes me laugh. Shortly after moving out Danny said to me in his most earnest voice, I have no idea how your dad is so patient, and just so you know I will never be that patient. And it was not in a jerky tone or a threatening promise…. it was a statement of complete awe. Well the reason I think – 3 daughters. Yes it takes a very special man to be the dad to a daughter – but folks I gotta tell ya, Jerry Heppes takes it to another level. My sisters and I are some pretty amazing girls – but I promise you we all three are emotional, demanding, expensive, particular, different and the same, passionate, stubborn,….. the hair products we cost that man alone could probably have bought him a vacation home at the beach. Yet somehow he has just put up with it and was always our biggest fan (hint: person who has commented the most on my blog) no matter what. That, I imagine, required a lot of patience.
In addition to these two realizations, there are so many stories, so many memories – this post is actually proving a little harder than I thought. How to possibly share them all! From singing my Dad Whitney Houston songs at the age of 4 to watching him be a dance dad (a special shirt and all), to now seeing him be what I am sure is the most gentle and smitten grandfather – and not just to Lola but to his daughter that is learning to become a mom. The years of his advice that swirl around my head on how to navigate friendships, to how to approach college, to what to do when dating, and how to be a good spouse. And the so many tears and hugs – tears of anger and forgiveness, tears of frustrations and fears, and if I am being truly honest the tears to come. When I consider the road Danny and I will walk I so very distinctly picture the many pep talks my mom will be giving and tearful hugs that my Dad will provide. I am 31 years old and still one of the safest places for me is when my Dad puts his arms around my shoulder.
So as I struggle through this post – thinking of these moments, looking at the pictures, listening to the song of our father daughter dance at my wedding … five paragraphs later… I decided to boil my birthday message down to this – what is the one thing I really wish to thank my Dad for on this birthday. Now that I have come to truly understand and appreciate that I in so many ways reflect his personality…… is this:
Dad – Happiest of Birthdays. On this day I sat behind you in church instead of walking up to climb over folks and take my seat with my family. It provided the perfect setting for me to reflect on our journey as a family, on my journey as your daughter, and to pray for what has been and what is to come. You have given us so much – truly, you have given your family everything you have to offer and there will never be any words that I could say to thank you. Plus, it feels pretty odd to thank someone when the truth is – the need for your help is far from over. We have taken you on many journeys down so many paths of unknown – fatherhood for one – and you just keep showing up. The support, the lessons, the love – all that you have given is huge, but today I have to thank you for the gift I think I use the most – the one of hope.
Danny laughs at me all the time “you are such a morning person” – and quickly I will refute it. Knowing how much I love to stay up and get things done or work in the quiet hours of the night – there is no way I am a morning person. That is when he points out how loud I do mornings. Talking to the dog, myself – singing a song or humming some tune. I genuinely get up every day believing it is another chance for good, for opportunity, to be my best version of myself….and apparently I am a little loud when I do it – sound like someone you know? When I go to mass or read a good article – I truly believe I have found a whole new tool to help me reach success and I am euphoric. When I have a new project or learn of a new opportunity before I know it I am thinking of ways to dive in head first – I am truly high off the feeling of possibility that comes with each new beginning. Equipped with a newly cleaned workspace, a freshly vacuumed car, or brand new notebook – I am certain I have the world at my finger tips. And the part that I think I am most well known for – I live every one of these feelings of excitement, possibility, hope – out loud sending a wave of emotion (sometimes excitement and some times annoyance) through all that surround me. In my life this hope, the true belief in good to come is something I learned from you.
In this season of life, there are so many reasons for me to feel tired, weighed down in fear and grief. And you know as well as most, that I am having to give into it some, to feel it… but overall, I can’t stay there long because my neutral setting is hope. The power of hope coupled with the strength of faith and I am able to live this life that is so unique. Somehow I am able to really in my deepest heart of hearts believe that I will survive this and help my own family survive it – and ultmateily be better for it. That isn’t something you can teach or instill in someone. It isn’t an acquired taste and often hard to recreate – yet I have been gifted with it. Yes the stubbornness will get me through…. the determination will guide my family…. and the commitment will define who I am as a person….. but its the hope that makes it all possible.
Thank you so much Dad for giving me the gift of hope in my heart and the ability to see it lived out in life. When people say – “how do you still find the good” or “there you go again with the silver lining” or “you always make the best out of everything” – I smile and say “thank you” or “I try”…. but in my heart I know exactly where it comes from. And with the gift of this power, you have also shown me the truth: it can be lost for a moment or attacked under anxiety and fear – but for true believers it is never far away.
Happy birthday Dad, I love you.