Letters from My Father
My father died 10 years ago this week.
Thirteen years ago, he began sending me weekly letters. I never read them while he was alive. I saved them all in a file for a later day. Then in the ten years that followed his death, I could not bring myself to open that file of letters from my father.
But this Saturday for some reason, I was finally ready. I think I finally found the courage to face the fact that he is no longer here.
My dad was the pastor of a small Baptist church. While I was away at medical school, I asked him if every Monday he would summarize the sermon he had preached the day before and send it to me in a letter. These were the days before emails. So he did. He would write on one side of a legal pad page and most of the other side, rip it off, fold it, and mail it to me. He used long hand and wrote it in our native Arabic language.
His whole life (as long as I can remember) he stood primarily for two things: providing for his family, and God.
The one piece of advice he repeated over and over again was simple. The same three words never changed regardless of the question. Even when I asked him, “What kind of doctor do you want me to be? What would make you proud of me?” My dad paused for a few seconds, and offered me the same three words of admonition (though it did not seem to be a very appropriate answer to the question).
Love the Lord, he told me.
That was it. I remember thinking, “I know you want me to love the Lord, but my question was about residency.” It was not until years later that I began to understand the answer to that question. I think he was telling me that nothing truly mattered but God. That was Dad. God was his companion.
So when I told him that I did not have time to go to church and I wanted to hear about God, about his weekly sermons, he did not hesitate to oblige me in writing weekly letters. In my mid-twenties, overworked and overstressed by my medical training, I think I only read one letter. I always felt guilty about it. I would get his letters and I would save them in a file. I remember clearly that I felt that these letters were special. So I saved them, thinking I would read them someday.
I never knew that someday they would be my link to him 13 years later. He never knew that he was writing for me 10 years after he would be gone. He just wanted to deposit seeds of what truly mattered into the life of his youngest son.
This weekend, as I read a few of these letters from my father, I could not help but feel profoundly grateful and blessed. I was sad, but happy at the same time. I felt proud to be the son of an honorable man.
So fathers, what you tell your children, and what you deposit in their lives will stay with them forever. If you deposit love, they will love. If you deposit anger, they will be angry. If you deposit God, they will seek God.
And if you write them letters, they may keep them in a file. But one day after you are gone, your words will always be with them.
…like my father, Habib Saade, did with me.
PS: It is my desire to take these letters, which neither I nor my father thought would be read by anyone other than the two of us, and translate and publish them. I know they will be a blessing and encouragement to many (and when I do, you will be the first to know).