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Dear Dads, Thank You For Who You Are

We see you doing those hard things, those honoring things, those I-love-you things, even though it's not easy, just so they'll feel your love and not just hear of it.
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Dear Dads,

We see you working all day at those jobs that put food on the table for the ones you love, and we see you coming home and still pouring out love into those children who missed you and your wife who needs a break and the home that saw better days before all those destructive littles came along.

We see you with that pressure on your back, pressure to make sure they're cared for, doing whatever you have to do and wishing you could somehow, some way, see him dance at his end-of-the-school-year dance party and pose for that picture with a swimmer for reading 100 books and race the field on his field day.

We see you choosing presence with your family over all those phone and computer and voicemail distractions.

We see you passing over a promotion for the time it would steal from your family.

Your hard work, your intentional choices, your sacrifices are not in vain. Take heart. Keep on. These days you push through the monotony, leading your family on through the lean times and the enough times and the more-than-enough times, will shape who they become, because they will learn diligence and contentment and victory from you.

We see you taking them to school, dropping them off, sharing duties so your wife doesn't have to get all those other ones dressed, because some days it's all she can do to dress the one.

We see you braving the grocery store with all of them wrapped around the basket and hanging from your legs.

We see you cooking dinner for your family while the littles run wild at the end of a day, how you keep your cool while stirring that hot tomato soup.

We see you cleaning up those shoes they took out for the millionth time, because you know their mama likes a tidy house when she walks in the door.

We see you struggling through the bath, struggling through the teeth-brushing, struggling through the put-kids-to-bed, just so your wife can have some uninterrupted time with her girl friends.

We see you crumbling under the can't-do-this-anymore and then choosing to do it anyway.

We see you stepping in with grace and patience and love as soon as you can see their mama just can't take it anymore.

We see you trying to be the greatest dad to those kids you love.

We want you to know that you are. You are the greatest dad these children have ever known, because your hands hold love and your voice holds safe and your arms wrap adoration tight around them, and this cannot be underestimated. Take heart. Keep on. These days, you push through the haze of overwhelm, leading your family through the madness and into balance, through the messy and into beautiful, through the shaky identity into the sure one, will shape who they become, because they will learn stability and hope and individuality from you.

We see you teaching how to hammer a nail and how to clean up a room so it looks like no one's ever been there and how to be a man who loves a woman with his actions.

We see you doing those hard things, those honoring things, those I-love-you things, even though it's not easy, just so they'll feel your love and not just hear of it.

We see you letting them climb all over you during storytime, and we see you wrestling with them on the floor, and we see you letting them ride you to their rooms, even though your back felt achy when you climbed from bed this morning.

We see you creating stories about your childhood, about places in their past, about nothing true at all, and we see the way they sit, enraptured by a good story that holds within it pieces of you.

We see you doing art with them and writing songs with them and running laps with them.

Your presence speaks of love and honor and, and this, the gift of your presence, cannot be undervalued. Take heart. Keep on. These days you push past the world's standards, leading your family on through society's war so they grow up knowing what it really means to be a dad, will shape who they become, because they will learn be-there and pay-attention and stick-around from you.

We see you bending to his level, talking calmly when you ache to yell, because he just hurt his brother to get what he wanted, and this is not the way you do it, and he must learn from this mistake in a gentle way, not a harsh one.

We see you holding the one who cries, patting his back, squeezing his shoulders, not letting go until that sadness leaks all the way out his eyes onto the corner of your spring sky shirt.

We see you crying in the hard places, in the disappointments and the deaths, those physical and emotional and dream ones, and in the proud times, too, proving to your boys that being a man doesn't mean hiding your emotions behind a stoic face.

We see you naming those emotions so they will learn to name them, too.

We see you biting your tongue when there's so much you want to say to his disrespect and his attitude and his disobedience, because you know that nothing good ever comes from angry words.

We see you learning about them, knowing them fully, forging that relationship with them so they will know surely that yours is a big, deep, wide love.

You are teaching them to feel their emotions and express them in healthy ways, and you are teaching them grace, and you are teaching them what it means to choose life in relationships and conflicts and all the places that feel too hard. Take heart. Keep on. These days you push through the dark, leading your family through the shifting sands and raging waters and blackening skies will shape who they become, because they will learn brave and strong and vulnerable from you.

You are sowing seeds into their future, and you know only one side of this story, but the whole world will never be the same because of your words, because of your wrestles and stories, because of your hugs and kisses and mercy.

Thank you for what you do. Thank you for sticking around and giving them a soft place to land when they trip and fall.

Thank you for being a dad, and not just a father.

A version of this essay originally appeared on Rachel Toalson's web site. Find Rachel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.