Often we feel things in our hearts that we never say. So many thoughts and memories stay locked up inside like a deep hidden treasure. Sometimes this sea of beautiful memories is expressed to others after a loved one passes away, yet never shared with the one who should have heard it all along. I don’t ever want this to be the case when it comes to the ones that have impacted me the most. Both of my parents have given me more gifts that I can ever properly thank them for. Mamma’s story will come later, but right now, as a gift back to him – I want to share some memories with the first man of my life, my Daddy. Today is my Father’s 67th birthday. I’ve learned after all these years that buying him a gift makes him more uncomfortable than it’s worth, so I though this might be something he could truly enjoy and not have to worry about me spending money on him. Some of the earliest memories I have with my Dad are driving around my little home town of Santa Fe in his Ford pick-up truck. I remember thinking his truck was the coolest ride in the world. Nothing felt more safe or comfortable than being with my Dad in his tan colored pick-up. I remember the streets vividly. Cerrillos Road seemed like the strip of Las Vegas as far as I was concerned. From the shining lights of the Green Onion Tavern to the mysterious cross looming over St. John’s Catholic church – it all seemed like such a big magical world. As vast as it seemed to a toddler, none of it scared me. I knew that my Daddy would protect me, no matter how scary or foreign things seemed. He has proven this to be true for my entire life. Visiting Grandma was a common ritual with Dad. His love for his Mother was always very apparent and one that really impacted my value of family commitment. I always knew Dad would do anything for his Mom. He started working at the age of 7 to help support his large family of 9 children. I can’t begin to imagine what that must have been like. My free time as a 7-year old was spent reading books, riding bikes and playing with friends. I was able to enjoy these things as a child because this is the life he worked so hard to provide for me and my 2 brothers. Dad’s experience as a child was different though. He molded into the hard-working, responsible human being he is today by taking on a huge obligation as a child. Funny thing is, I never once heard him complain about it. It was just a part of his life that he accepted and took in stride. Dad seemed to always have a special bond with his Mother. Like him, she was driven by acceptance and love. She always greeted people with a smile and kindness. She had a heart of gold and it became clear to me that Daddy had the same heart as Grandma. To this day, anytime I am complimented for my “heart”, I immediately attribute it back to Dad and Grandma. This is one of the most special gifts they could have passed on to me, and one that I already see characteristic in my own children. Dad played a huge role in my educational aspirations. Before I even started Kindergarten he was teaching me to read and quizzing me on multiplication facts. Daddy was determined that his 5 year old girl would have that multiplication table memorized by the time she started Kindergarten. Entering Kindergarten with this strong foundation under my belt gave me a sense of confidence and accomplishment, two very necessary attributes for a child entering school, especially a shy girl like me. Dad always emphasized the importance of education. As early as I can remember, he encouraged me to pursue a college degree no matter what. By the age of 26, Dad was Father to 3 so although he was pursuing a degree himself, he sacrificed completion to ensure he was able to properly provide for his family. Dad always encouraged me to live my life, pursue a higher education and get myself financially stable before having kids. He never did it in a way that I thought he had any regrets about his journey, but rather took an approach that assured me that he wanted only the best for me. I’m so grateful that his advice sunk in. I did not have my first child until the age of 30.The day I received my Master’s Degree, I wanted to hand it over to Dad. I will be eternally grateful for those educational nudges he gave me throughout life. Some of my favorite all time life memories are the camping years with Dad. Sometimes we went with other family, but my favorite times were when it was just me and my Dad. I remember those times as being happy and peaceful. Those beautiful wooded forests still represent my “happy place” whenever I need to mentally escape. We would hit the river to fish all day and then sit around the campfire and roast marshmallows late into the night. Being a couple of early risers, it was ritual to be up at the crack of dawn to cook potatoes, eggs and bacon. Sometimes I make this same breakfast for my family just so I can get a whiff of that familiar, comforting smell. There was often a lot of silence on these trips and I’ve grown to realize that silence is something both my Father and I truly appreciate. We are a couple of introverts, so to sit by the fire all night and hardly speak, was like a little slice of heaven for us both. I now see the same introverted trait in my son. We can just be together without saying a word and have the best time. My relationship with my son reminds me a lot of my relationship with my Dad. We just have that very unusual connection where we can be at complete peace just being together. Some of my fondest memories were also at home. I loved playing in our grassy backyard under the huge weeping willow tree. Dad has quite the green thumb so our lawns both in front and back, were always the prettiest on the block. Being in the yard always felt safe, and a little like I was in my “happy place” forest. I loved my Dad’s taste in music when I was growing up. I would sit and listen to his ABBA records over and over on lazy Saturday afternoons. But nothing brought on the joy more than we he blasted the oldies tunes like “Chantilly Lace” in the Ford pick-up. It was Dad who took me to purchase the very first album I ever owned (and yes, it was an album) – Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. For some reason, that memory stands out in my mind. I guess my love of music sprouted from these times with Dad. My teenage years proved to be trying (whose aren’t?). As I sought an identity of my own, my reliance on my parents for guidance and entertainment became less. Even though the camping trips and times together weren’t as frequent, I always knew that Daddy’s arms were there whenever I just needed a hug. Through every heartbreak and every tear, Dad always had the right words and all the love I needed. A simple, “I love you mi hita” seemed to always makes things better. My senior year of high school, I was invited to cheer at the Aloha Bowl in Hawaii on Christmas Day. This small town girl was not only scared out of my mind to travel to this magical place alone, but I also didn’t have the funds to do it. My supportive parents weren’t going to let those minor details stop me from this once in a life opportunity, so they helped jump-start a fundraising campaign. They also took it one step further and rearranged their own finances (and lives) so they could go with me. My Dad spent time coaching me on how to fundraise. He taught me the importance of looking people straight in the eye, and asking for exactly what I wanted. Low and behold, it worked like a charm and has been a skill I’ve carried with me through many sales and management jobs.Thanks to their love and support, we all enjoyed a wonderful time in Hawaii during the Christmas of 1991. By the time I went away to college, I had a solid foundation in knowing how much I was loved by my parents. I went through a lot of difficult times those years and so did they, but since I was only about 65 miles away from home, it was easy to just hop in the car and head back to the home front for a little TLC. Dad & I did some special bonding my first year in college. Sometimes I needed to be comforted, sometimes he needed it. But one way or another – we always found a way to help lift each other up. We had deep talks during those times, both trying to figure out our next step in life. There was something extremely comforting in knowing that we were both just trying to find our way. Something about struggling together took away the zing of the uncertainty. I got married at the age of 25. Walking down the aisle with my Father was emotional, to say the least. Knowing that my Daddy was going to hand me over to another was not only scary, but somewhat sad. How could another take the place of the one who had always been my #1 guy? Before making our way to walk the aisle, Daddy squeezed my hand and asked me. “How come I love you so much?” My reply was the same as it always has been to this common question he’s asked me ever since I can remember, “because I’m your daughter.” This was the first time, however, that I replied behind a massive amount of tears. We later danced to the song “Butterfly Kisses” and I realized that even though he had handed me off in marriage, he was still there – the same solid rock he had always been. Some big challenges hit in my 30’s. The experience of a miscarriage shook my world like nothing ever had. Going into and coming out of that surgery would have been an entirely different experience had my Daddy not been right there holding my hand. His presence made me know that everything was going to be ok. I was blessed with a healthy baby boy the following year, but my marriage had taken a turn for the worst. There I was, in the middle of a divorce and facing life as a single mom to a 9-month old child, simply devastated. Frankly, I had no idea how to cope with this unexpected life experience. I remember sitting in my parents arms for hours just sobbing. Had anyone else witnessed this scene, they may have called the psych unit, but not my parents. Mom just held me in her arms while Dad rubbed my back, both crying with me. It was like I was falling off a cliff not knowing if I’d survive the fall, but something made it ok because Mom & Dad were holding my hand the entire way down. To date, it was the toughest time of my life, but guess who was right there to provide the strength I needed to carry on? Yep, my #1 guy – Daddy. As they say, after a hurricane, comes a rainbow. Just a couple of years later, I met the man of my dreams. A kind, gentle man who has many of the same characteristics as my Dad. At the age of 33, I was finally ready to spread my wings and really fly. Mom & Dad had moved to Albuquerque to be close when I first became pregnant, so it was a tough decision for me to pack my bags and move to Arizona. But I knew it was what I needed to do and Daddy supported my decision 100%. It has always been evident that Dad wants what is best for me, no matter what. He has never let his own feelings stand in the way of supporting what I need to do to be the best version of me. I married my soul-mate three years after moving to AZ and am finally living my happily ever after. At the age of 40, I’m only now tapping into the concept of how much my Father truly loves me. Having two children of my own, I now better understand all of the sacrifices he made, all the heartache he endured in watching me face difficulties, and all the joy he experienced in watching me grow. It’s fun watching Dad be Pampi to my children. He’s one of their favorite persons in the whole world. I guess they take after their Mom in that way. My adult years seem to be flashing by much quicker than those childhood years. There has always be comfort though, in knowing that I can still go to Dad for anything I need. Although I am now fully capable of putting air in my tires and fixing things in my home (ok, maybe I still turn to my husband for such things), I now appreciate more than ever that my Father knows way more about life that I do. People often tell me that I’m just like my Dad. I always knew it in the more obvious ways, but I’ve now come to appreciate it in the more subtle ways too. I like to think that like him, I would do anything in the world for my children. Like him, I have an open mind to religion, politics and people’s choice in life. Like him, I strive to accept people and things for what they are. And like him, I try to love with an unconditional heart. I don’t think we have just one soul mate. I believe that our souls can be bound to other special souls for eternity. I believe this to be true with me and my Dad. At the end of it all, we really are just two peas in a pod, trying to enjoy this particular life – together. I love you Daddy. Happy Birthday!