An Open Letter To My Father On His 70th Birthday

Dear Pa,

I cannot believe how much love I feel for you today, how much pride. Happy Birthday.

I want you to know what your love and support has meant to me. It’s been the difference between a person who goes through life pretty sure of herself, and a person who is totally sure of herself. I know, I know. Most people hate cock-sure people, but, as you would say, ‘THAT’S TOUGH.” Your confidence has never had an air of superiority attached to it, as a matter of fact, just the opposite. You have always been a servant to your fellow man. You were always the first to help the ladies on our block without husbands or sons when it came to shoveling, or other man jobs. Yeah, I think shoveling is a man job. I’m not ashamed. Because I was raised with you and my brothers doing all those things; lawn mowing, trash removal, building additions to the house, I do have a feeling for what is ‘woman’ and what is ‘man.’ Not to say I couldn’t do those things, I’m sure I could, but why would I want to? I love watching you do them!

I started early. I actually remember being in my crib, I was probably just over a year old,  holding on tight to the side rails, rocking it hard, back and forth, like the beast I am today. I was laughing and “feeling my oats,” while watching you build cabinets in our kitchen. I loved wearing your work boots, and scuffling across the floor in those scuffy, brown, giant boats. Holding your thick finger while you wobbled my arm up and down, singing “HYBERNETICALPOSTULATOR AND A MAGNA CARTA WITH A STICK POP PIMPLY BOCK FORCE FORLORN, AN ANTIFICILICOOM DOE RAMMY DOOZER WITH A GILLY GILLY HOSSENFEFFER CASSEN NELLA BOGGEN BY THE SEA” What the heck did that all mean? Where did it come from? Did you make it up? I have no idea. But you sang it to me when you were in a good mood, when you were done working, and when it was time for me.

As an artist, you see so much beauty in everything. I took that for granted as a child, and I want to thank you for that right now. You would help me see faces in clouds, scenes in the plaster on our ceiling, (“Do you see the clown? Yeah, yeah right there! He’s riding a bike, and there’s a doggie right under him, uhuh, he’s smiling, well, it’s really more of a grin.”) You would outline these little pictures with your fingers, and if I couldn’t catch it right away, you would jump right up to show me. You were always active, always ready to go at a moment’s notice. I loved when you would trace my face with your painted up fingers, telling me what a perfect job God did in making me. As your finger passed over the bow on the top of my lip, you would scoop it out fast, and tell me ‘The Good Lord took his scalpel and WOOP, there’s Mary!’

Seeing you open our home to strangers, whether it be for dinner, or for a summer stay, created a generosity in all of us. I knew that you would take care of them as you took care of me. I remember one Thanksgiving, you came  into the house with my brothers, fresh from “The Huntin,” into mom’s beautiful lace and crystal clad dinner table with a stranger from the road. Your hands were full of Snow Geese, Blue Geese, and Canadians, which you laid, tongues hanging out, into Mom’s clean sink. Your boots were full of snow, and you introduced the stranger. “This is Joe.” We all said “Hey Joe!” Mom set another place. This type of “unusual, usual happening” taught us, in a way that nothing else could, not to be afraid of anything or anyone, and how to integrate all people into our lives.

How can a person put a price on things like these? To me, you are the embodiment of the great commandment: “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” You have done that, not only for me, my 4 brothers and sisters, and our Mom, but for everyone who has been lucky enough to come into contact with you.

Thank you for being such a stand-out individual, thank you for being someone who really cares about people, but mostly, thanks for being my pa.

All my love, from your First Born,


About James Patrick O’Keefe, Sr.

Omaha born and raised, “Jim” is a commercial artist with RON’S CUSTOM LETTERING.  He has an impressive body of work around the City of Omaha, including work at Joslyn Art Museum, and the ceiling at The Durham Museum, among other area attractions. He is a life long water-fowler, a champion duck-caller, and is active in area wildlife conservation groups. Jim and Karen O’Keefe are members of St. Bridget Catholic Church, where Jim serves as an “altar boy.”


2 thoughts on “An Open Letter To My Father On His 70th Birthday

  1. Mary,

    The open letter for your father’s birthday was delightful to read. Your father gave you the gift of confidence and self assurance. Honestly if a girl can get those virtues from a father that’s really all she needs to survive in the world. After all, your earthly father is the representation of your heavenly father and Jim knew all about what that meant. Whether he was conscious of it or not doesn’t matter. I’m not a Bible beater but it sounds like he took people in and helped people and did many things Jesus did in the Bible stories. The letter was beautiful and made my heart swell and my eyes well up with tears (of joy). You paint a very colorful picture depicting the O’Keefe household. I especially liked the part about being cock-sure. Ha! What a wonderful tribute. I would love to know what your mother is/was? like and Bill asked me if she was Italian because you said something about Sugu on your FB page. Thanks for sharing Mary.

    Be Well,
    Chris B.


    1. Chris…Thanks so much for reading me! You’re the best. No, I’m not Italian. But practically everyone else I love besides my family of origin is….My husband, who is 1/2 Italian, made the sugu…and is a fantastic Italian chef.
      My mom is…well, a beauty queen. She’s pretty much all girly girl, but with a real ornery streak, and she is hilarious. She’s a great hostess, and a great home maker…when she wants to…but most of the time she’s content to rock in her la.z boy next to my dad and let him paint her toe nails.
      XOXO LOVE YA!!!
      Tell Bill HI!
      I listened to some Fusion Force on the interwebs the other day through Tom Hartig’s youtubesss…and I was sayin the whole time…look at that left hand of Bill’s! YEAH MAN.


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