I read once that a good father prepares us for our relationship with our heavenly Father, God.

My father may not realize it, but one thing that shaped my life was a conversation he and I had sitting on a hill overlooking our home the summer I was 18. He probably doesn’t even remember it—so simple and yet so typical of him and his wise and loving way of guiding me without overtly giving advice.

We talked about everything that day, and I found myself telling him about a boyfriend, the problems we’d encountered, and what our friendship might lead to. I don’t remember how I explained it all, but I do remember how awkward I felt. After I’d gotten it all out, I looked at him and asked plaintively, “What do I do now, Daddy? Tell me what to do.”

“That is a tough decision,” he began, “but you’re 18. You’re an adult now. I’m not going to tell you what to do, because you already know what you should do.”

I looked at him blankly. No, I wasn’t an adult yet—or at least I didn’t feel like one. I was only 18, and I didn’t have a clue. Wait a minute—yes, I did. In that situation I knew exactly what I should do. Not that I wanted to do it, but I knew. And I ended up doing the right thing largely because Dad believed that I would, that I had the capacity to do it.

Not every decision that I’ve made from that point on has been the right one, but that conversation helped me onto the path to independence and got me believing that I could succeed at life. Knowing that someone believed in me helped me later when even harder decisions came my way.

Dad has always made it clear that he not only believes in me, but he loves me unconditionally. No matter what choices I make, I will always be his daughter and will always have his love. Of all the gifts I have ever received from him, I am most grateful for that assurance.

It took me a while, but eventually I realized that my father’s love and trust mirrors God’s.

God teaches us to walk and then lets us run on our own, believing we can succeed but always being there for us when we fall or need help. “You are a special person,” He tells us, “who can do something wonderful for Me and others.” And when we mess up, as we often do, He whispers, “Whatever you do, I will always love you,” and He helps us do better.

Thanks, Dad, for the gift of God’s love in flesh and bones!