I can’t describe how it felt.
At first it was a bit like a kick in the stomach. The wind was knocked out of me without the physical blow.
Then it became a dilemma. What was I supposed to do? How was I to proceed? What was the protocol here?
After over twenty years of silence, I was eating lunch at a Chinese food restaurant when my estranged father walked in.
As it turns out, it was his favourite spot for lunch. As it turns out, he would order a lunch special… Talk to the waitresses like they were garbage. As it turned out, he did it all the time.
But this is not information I was privy to.
Two options. Walk away, or… Don’t.
Walk away or don’t.
Which do you choose?
I guess I figured it was worth a try. I guess I figured that if it went badly, I was no more worse off than I was before. I guess I thought that it was now or… Never.
I’ll never forget the way he looked at me when I pulled up a chair. There was a very brief moment before he recognized me, but I saw the reality hit him square in the face.
Me. In the flesh. This was not what he planned.
The conversation I wanted to have was one where I leveled with him. I wasn’t after anything in particular, just the opportunity for a face to face conversation. After agonizing over his choices for two decades, I had earned at least one face to face conversation.
He told me that I had no idea the pain and heartache I had caused his family. He sought pity and I wouldn’t bite. His sob story wasn’t working. He switched the track. He became more aggressive. He was angry. With me. But I wouldn’t own that.
It wasn’t mine to own.
“I ….. I was a child.”
One day, he told me, we could sit down and have this conversation. One day he would fill me in and I would understand his journey.
But, daddy…. When?
His big thick fingers were yellow with nicotine stains. His skin pocked and swollen. His body ached and he looked tired. But his eyes… Oh those eyes were my own, staring back at me. And his voice. It was exactly the voice I remembered.
The voice that’s now fading from my memory, no matter how I try to hang on.
When and where was this conversation going to occur? Were you planning on calling me, I asked.
“In all seriousness, dad, you don’t have much time left.”
“What do you mean??”
“Look at you! You don’t exactly take care of yourself.”
“…. You have a point there.”
He told me so many times that I could never understand. And I don’t… Isn’t that the point? He made no moves to help, or to explain away the unexplainable. And don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t looking for the answers in a Chinese food restaurant…
Just something. Some hint of regret. Some kind of apology.
It was quickly becoming apparent that wasn’t going to happen.
“Look. This conversation isn’t going anywhere. The bottom line is that at the source, I’m just a little girl who loves her daddy.”
I finally threw him.
See, I think he expected anger from me. I think he expected hate. I think he expected me to be the dramatic troublemaker he had made me out to be. But I wasn’t then and I am not now… Just a heartsick kid, suspended in time, waiting for her father.
Tears. There they were. So I wrapped him in my arms and he tried to pretend he was fine while I did.
And then I turned and walked away.
Six months later, my father passed away quietly, alone, in his chair.
Some say to talk about my experience is dramatic. They’ve said I’m dwelling. The truth is that after all this time I am finally working towards accepting the way things were and the way they are. Sharing my experience helps me with that.
My father made mistakes that I’ve dearly paid for, but I never stopped loving the man who I remember. The man who turned his scruffy face to me at the last minute for a kiss because I didn’t like the prickles. The man who brought me a basket full of teddy bears. The man who told me that dirty joke about the white horse? That one? You know… He fell in the mud.
This is my life and he is my father.