Because I Knew You: Inaugural Post by Elise Stephens

This post launches my brand spankin’ new guest blog series Because I Knew You in which I invite people from all walks of life to tell us about someone who has changed them permanently, how they’ve been changed, and what they would tell this person now.  I begin this project with a post on a very special person who changed my own life.

Following this post, each Thursday you will see a post from other thoughtful individuals reflecting in their own ways on this prompt.

As the musical WICKED sings, “Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?  But, because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”


Dad reading out loud to me


He was born in another country, he speaks English with an accent that I don’t hear anymore, and he loves his family more than anyone I know.

I was the firstborn daughter who he loved dearly but couldn’t fully understand.  This was in part because I took after my mother with an extreme abundance of verbal expression and hot feelings that morphed quickly to laughter, tears, or shouting with only a hair’s provocation.

My father is steady and quiet in his emotions, so quiet that I incorrectly read his difficulty to express himself as a lack of interest in me.  I worked my way through most of school, wishing I could impress him with my perfect grades, my physical accomplishments in dance and martial arts, my artistic expression through painting, you name it.  I was the over-achiever.

One evening when I was about twelve, I came back from a homeschooler’s competition and he met me and my mother in the garage with a Cadbury chocolate bar especially for me. 

I don’t remember most of the details about that convention, but I still remember him handing me that chocolate bar and saying, “I’m proud of you.”  Why forget the convention and remember the little chocolate bar?  I’d wanted and needed those words badly.

Similarly, when I received an academic award at the university and my father framed a picture of me receiving it on stage, I burst into tears when I saw the frame.  The message was getting through.  He really was proud of me.

Put an expressive storyteller with a flair for the dramatic in the same room as her electrical engineer father, and there’s bound to be things that get lost in translation. 

Dad and me dancing

He had a massive challenge trying to understand my fast-moving emotions or how to give me the praise I craved.  He felt he couldn’t keep up with me, and a lot of the time I didn’t bother to slow down for him. 

In my teens I decided that since I couldn’t understand his reasoning and his logic, he was wrong, bad, and out of touch. 

In college I wrote and published an essay exploring my frustration with my father and how he didn’t teach Arabic to his children.  The provocative piece earned me a lot of attention.  Several girls with Middle Eastern fathers told me they could relate.  But my father wished I shown it to him before it went to press.  I’d gotten some of the details wrong, but was too afraid to show it to him. 

I remember spending most of my school-age life silently demanding my father’s affection and attention, not knowing how to reach into his world and speak his language.  We both spoke English, but things were infinitely more complicated than that.

The more I learned about him, the more I realized I wasn’t being rejected.  The more I learned about my father, the more I respected him.

I love sad stories (a penchant for tragedies runs in my blood), but I can’t share them with him.  These stories are too depressing, so I’ve learned to weave notes of redemption through my pieces, and to take a more hopeful stance on my messages.

Volunteering together in Mexico last summer

My father gave me his steady faithfulness that doesn’t let tasks slip by undone.  He demonstrated his devotion to his family by spending so many evenings home, clearly showing his wife and kids that we were all he really cared about in the world.  I caught some of that myself, and I hope to be as faithful and thoughtful of a mom as my dad was to me.

Dad, any mistakes you made in raising me are water under the bridge.  I forgive you for the times you were absent and didn’t know how to reach me.  I’m sorry for the times I was impatient and rude with you.  I know now, more than ever, that you love me and treasure our times together.  I know that you’re proud of me, and that I don’t have to run myself ragged trying to prove myself to you anymore.  I’m so glad that you’re someone I can tell my friends about with a smile on my face.



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