• Katherine Dudley Hoehn

Dad: Honoring the big fish

Updated: Jun 21


Dad at summer camp in Petoski, Michigan, 1930's

Dad was a gentle soul with a love for travel and food, who was thoughtful and giving, and the best letter writer I have ever known. I’ve often written about his encouragement of my craft and the deeply meaningful letters he wrote. Today is his day. He's the big fish in my sea, even 20 years after his passing.

Dad and Mom with the boys

It's Father’s Day and I miss him. However, I have two amazing sons who are loving and thoughtful parents, with many of the good qualities he had.

A few of the collection of Dad letters

I have have thousands of his letters, including ones from his childhood and those written during WWII. Some were attacked by rodents in my grandparents’ attic, but many survived. It has been a 20-something year project to read and organize them, in hopes of someday making them into a book.


Recently I realized that the book I am writing isn’t all about Dad but about the lessons he shared with his legacies and how they have affected, and sometimes paralleled, my own life.

The last letter Dad wrote before he boarded the ship to leave Europe in March, 1946, was to his Auntie, who lived with his stepmother and father. He listed the food he would like to have upon returning home, beginning with “lots of milk and homemade chocolate cake, lemon pie…”. Dad has his priorities straight and I am sure that, after three years in Army barracks, he was ready for good home cooked food and the desserts he craved.


Dad’s arrival in New York Harbor was less of a celebratory one than he had dreamed about, and I am sure it was some time before he got his chocolate cake. His father had died of a massive heart attack only a few days before the family was to leave to meet him. Aboard the ship when it happened, Dad was unaware until he was greeted by family friends who broke the devastating news. He rarely spoke of that time, but when he did the grief was apparent even dozens of years later.


My Dad was determined and resilient. With health issues from an early age, he was never an athlete, but always ready for an adventure, a good book, a story at bedtime, a cup of hot chocolate with extra whipped cream, a trip to the bakery, a swim in the pool, or a great hand-written letter. The latter came from him regularly, whether I was away at summer camp, on a trip to Europe (he made sure I had letters at every stop), at college, or at home. He comforted me with words of encouragement and support during the best and worst times of my life. And he stepped in and helped me with my own sons when I became a single parent, developing special bonds with them over pastries, teddy bears, books, and fire engines. He was the best.


As I watch my sons become amazing fathers to my five grandchildren, I am proud and happy that they carry on his legacy and develop their own creative parenting habits. While neither got the letter writing gene, they are good communicators (and appreciate my letters, too). Their kindnesses and thoughtfulness remind me of Dad and his ability to know just when you needed a call or a note that simply said, “I love you.” He is alive in them, and me, and my siblings and their progeny, and that is as sweet as milk and chocolate cake.








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