I have been remembering a moment in the past a lot lately. I know why. It is because even 13 years later, I am still searching for the conclusion to the story. It used to be that I was hopeful for a happy ending, but these days I am not, and I wonder if I will ever be able to just let him go.
It was the week of my 26th birthday and he had come to town. Not to visit me, so much as to visit his father and that hurt a little bit. We had taken a drive in a car he had borrowed from my aunt and he was doing his usual “memory lane” type of tour, driving by his old haunts, past the berry fields he worked in as a teen, the Catholic church where his family once attended, the newly renovated home where his family lived years before. He seemed to be lost in the activity; I was just along for the ride.
Our visits were not very regular or frequent. We hardly even spoke on the phone anymore and I was hoping for a change with all of that. So much water under the bridge… I had been in counseling for the previous few months attempting to sort it all out, with him, with my husband, with my future. Ignoring the past and ignoring the pain was not an option anymore. I was desperate to move on and trying to collect the courage to do it.
The sound of the rain and the windshield wipers filled the uncomfortable silence in the car as he drove the winding back roads of rural Clark County. I stared out the window, watching the evergreen trees flash by, trying to gather my thoughts and summon my nerve. You can do this. You are a grown woman with two babies of your own. He has no power over you. It’s not like it can get any worse. The intensity of the rain was unrelenting, it seemed as if even God was nudging me on.
“Dad,” I began. I stared hard out the front windshield of the car and began again.
“Dad, I need to tell you something. I know it’s been a long time coming and I need to make peace with it, with you.” I continued to fix my gaze on the soaked pavement of the winding country road. “I know for a long time I’ve held onto a lot of hurt over you not being around for my childhood. I haven’t been fair. I’ve taken my anger out on you by not letting you be a part of my life. I was hurt really bad by you, and I’m sorry I’ve been so distant with you.”
Hot tears spilled down my cheeks and I continued on, “I wanted you to be my dad and pay attention to me. It hurt when you didn’t call or you paid more attention to Dan than me. It hurt when you said on the night when I graduated that we would start anew and then we didn’t…” I bowed my head and sobbed out all of the pain of the previous 19 years. “I know you haven’t asked for it but I forgive you.”
The car slowed to a stop at the side of the road. I looked through the raindrops on the window to see a little house on the side of the road and I felt the arm of my father come around the front of my shoulder. My insides leapt for joy as I felt the brush of his arm coming around me. A still calm came over me, and it felt like everything around me slowed down. I wanted to savor every second of this moment. A moment I had yearned for over so many years. Maybe he too, would apologize for his part in all of this pain. Since my childhood I had dreamed of this moment and it had finally arrived, complete with a compassionate hug!
And then he spoke, and I quickly realized that I was mistaken, as he pointed to the little house on the side of the road and said in an unemotional tone, “I think I had a girlfriend who lived in that house right there.”
I wish that I could say I pulled myself together and quickly realized that I was dealing with someone who was incapable of giving me what I need, that I was able to easily move on from that day, but I cannot. I continued to languish in those feelings of inadequacy and abandonment for longer that I would like to admit. Eventually I have come to realize that I am worth more than he has shown me and I have come to understand that I need to let my father go, but sometimes my thoughts turn to him and I wonder if there is any hope that he will ever be anything more than that man in the car on that old country road or if he will always be an emotional illiterate.