The other night I went back there. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been back. It might have even been the night I shed some tears.
My father was around for the first three years of my life, the most important years of my life as far as relationships are concerned. His nurturance and love during those years were crucial, as our strong bond was formed. Yet, no one could predict how tested that bond would become years later.
I think mom and dad divorced when I was five. Dad moved away to Massachusetts and my sister and I stayed with mom in Ohio. There were a few visits in there, mostly a summer road trip where he would drive 10 hours one way to pick us up and 10 hours to take us back then repeat. I can only imagine his drives home, alone. We tried to talk every week but after a while, a week became every few weeks. Every few weeks became once a month. And before I knew it, I’d become a teenager who only talked to her dad two to three times a year.
It was a lot of things built up inside over the years that just couldn’t take staying in my body any longer on the night I decided to go for an easy 4 miles on that bike path in July of 2009. After the run, I hopped in my car and jotted down what I had just experienced on a napkin:
Running has a way of taking us to a place we thought we never could go. Last night I went back to my childhood. I am saying goodbye to my dad as he leaves for Massachusetts. He gives me a hug and holds me for a while. We both cry. And he says sorry but I am not sure why. After he leaves I run to the bathroom, slam the door, and cry for a little bit more. However, I know in a few hours that I will be fine and ready to go back to the life I am used to living.
My pace is picking up…
…Tears start to form…
I am more than just sad. I’m mad! I’m mad that you left me. I’m mad that you have a new life in Massachusetts. A new wife. And four daughters who get to grow up with you! I’m mad that we only talk two times a year. One time at Christmas and one time at my birthday. Ok, maybe three, when it’s your birthday. I’m mad that so many others who have a dad in their life hate their fathers. I really love you! I always had fun with you and I never felt that kind of love before.
…I am bawling now…
…And somehow running faster…
I never told you this because I was afraid of making you mad. I only experienced the happy times with you: laying on the grass and looking up at clouds in the sky, running around on the beach and playing in the waves, driving for hours on end in the car and listening to music. How could I ever be mad at you?
…Someone is approaching me, I must wipe away these tears…
I was mad. All these years I was mad but afraid to tell you. I didn’t want to hurt you.
…It feels so good…
…The pace is somehow even faster…
I love you, dad. Apology accepted.
I immediately went home and typed up what was on the napkin. I sent it to him. Eight, long days passed before I got the courage to ask him if he received my email.
Patience was a virtue, a virtue so bittersweet.
This is my sixth attempt at responding to your email, and again a large lump is forming in my throat, a lump that has been hidden deep down inside me for a very long time. I don’t keep a journal, don’t blog, if I send a text or email with more than twenty words it’s a novel. However you deserve a reply. The question for me is how do I reply. Do I place blame, do I tell you how my life was torn apart….our life. Or should I be the better person again and just say ” it’s okay I know how you feel because we had similar childhoods”. Still not sure which way to go as I type now but the music is loud, the door is locked and my beer is cold. Hey I’ve never cried with my glasses on before. Do you know they fog up a little bit?
I guess I’ll take the high road. You are my daughter, I love you and would/will do anything for you. I tried to keep our family together but I guess I failed……….long pause cause it hurts to see that last sentence on the screen as the memories come rushing back. The funny thing is, they’re good memories. Memories of driving all night from North Carolina to Cleveland knowing that when I arrive at 3 am, 4 am or 5 am I’ll be met with out stretched arms. Not the out stretched arms of a loving wife but the out stretched arms of an eighteen month old baby girl who some how knew Daddy was home, and the wagging tail of that damn dog that always pee’ d when I came home from anywhere. Memories of all the little things that fathers and daughters do as they grow up together, the things that were taken from us…….the lump is ready to burst now but I won’t let it. Push it back down! Cause now I’m mad, besides men don’t cry, they don’t share their feelings, it’s in the rules.
Jinger, we have a special bond, that bond can’t be broken by miles or time. You feel it, I feel it. If we didn’t we would not be having this conversation. We have no control over the past but we can take charge of the future. I want you… I need you in my life so now we have to figure out how to make that happen. Don’t feel that you are an interruption to my life, you have no idea how proud I am of you and how often I talk about you at home and at work. Lets start with more than just a text on birthdays and holidays, let’s get caught up via text, email and even the telephone. If you need someone to talk to I’m here for you any time day or night. Lets plan to get together here or there cause I could really use a hug from you!
I love you Jinger, as a dad you may always be that little girl with the out stretched arms, as a man I know you are a successful young woman who has overcome the set backs of a broken home and I take pride in that. Lets take charge of the future because as I am finding out life is too short and I could really use that hug!
I still cry every time I read his words. Instantly, I called him after reading his reply and instantly, he answered. It was a happy conversation. Two days later, I booked a flight to Boston.
We met up at Christmastime, the first time we would hang out in my adult life. I won’t lie, at times it was awkward. At times I felt more like a visitor than a daughter. But as soon as it was time to say goodbye at the airport, just a little too late, I felt comfortable in his arms. Like I did when I was kid, even though his hug hurt, his sniffles signaling the flood that was about to happen.
I went back to that bike path the other night to see if the same thing that happened three years ago would happen again. The eyes watered up as I crossed over the bridge about 1.5 miles out. But I noticed that the bridge was replaced with a new set of plywood. Such a sweet metaphor for our relationship.
We talk more than we ever have but it’s still not that often. Texting has become our little friend. And I’m not scared anymore to just pick up the phone and call him, even if I am crying. I’d like to think that even if he was around for my childhood and teenage years that by now, we’d be in touch this much anyway, as it’s only natural for an adult to slowly separate from their parents over time. That’s an easy rationalization, but the pain of the past will never go away.
Damn, I want to qualify for Boston so bad.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.