“Dad will be in town next month,” she said.
“Why is he coming to town?” I asked. My father and I hadn’t seen or talked to each other in years. He gets the obligatory Christmas card, but I rarely communicate with him otherwise.
“He’s never seen your son, X,” she said. “He wants to meet his grandson.”
My father has always been a mystery to me. My parents divorced when I was about four or five and I have few memories of him in our home. There are no photos or mementos to prove his existence. It’s like he was an apparition that appeared in our lives for a brief moment and then, POOF, he was gone.
The only clear recollections I have are of my riding in the back of his rig on long hauls and the sounds of the racetracks where he raced his souped-up muscle cars. After the divorce, all of my memories of my father vanished with him.
My father reappeared when I was about 10 years old. My mother had to let us know who he was because my sister and I didn’t recognize him. My sister jumped into his arms and showered him with affection. It was if time had stood still for them. I was more reserved with my emotions and tentatively greeted him.
As our relationship with my father progressed, my sister and I would spend weekends at his house. He was remarried and had two more kids. I remember not liking his wife because she wasn’t nice to us, but I did my best to adjust to this new family setting because I wanted to be with my father.
Unfortunately, I never adjusted. My father and his new family were all strangers to me. And I resented those other children’s living with my father. I soon began to dread those visits.
On one visit, I had an allergic reaction to something and my face swelled up terribly. It was so bad that my mother didn’t even recognize me when my father brought me home. My mother was furious because he didn’t bother to take me to the hospital or seek any type of treatment. After that incident, we weren’t allowed to spend the night at his house anymore. Not that we would have had the opportunity to visit anymore. Just as he had done with us, he skipped out on his new family and no one heard from him for years.
He managed to track me down to attend my college graduation and wedding then, POOF, gone again.
In 1994, my first job took me to Kentucky. I hated Kentucky especially the small town, Ghent, where I worked. Several of employees wore KKK stickers on their hardhats and wrote racists statements in the Port-A-Johns. I don’t exaggerate when I say it was a hostile workplace.
During one of our conversations, my sister informed me that my father lived a few miles away in Ohio. Although I was reluctant to call him, I figured that staying with my father would be better than staying in Ghent.
My father was married again and had two stepsons. His family situation didn’t bother me until one of his stepsons asked my father to help him change his brake pads.
“Haven’t I taught you how do that already?” My father asked.
“Yes, you have,” replied the stepson. “But I need a refresher course.”
The two of them commenced working on the car while I watched in the background. Seeing this interaction with his new son was painful because it reminded me of all of the things he never taught me and all of the time that I longed to have my father in my life.
Many years passed and didn’t see my father again until my sister’s wedding. I had two children by then and he was getting a chance to meet his grandchildren for the first time. Our visit was pleasant and he told me that he was proud of the things that I had accomplished in my life. At the end of our visit, I pulled him aside to speak to him privately.
“Dad,” I said. “You weren’t always there for me, but I’m giving you the opportunity to redeem yourself with your grandchildren.”
He nodded and said, “I’ll do better.”
I guess this recent visit was his way of keeping his promise.
My son, N, whose heart is full of love, immediately took to my father. He showed him his three soccer trophies, told him about his favorite episode of Ben 10 and rattled on and on about his many activities. Nee was more reserved. She simply said hello and gave him a hug. X didn’t know what to make of this strange man in our house so he mostly avoided him.
I’m thankful that my sister and niece were there or else my father and I would have been twiddling our thumbs and discussing the weather. She kept the conversation moving and allowed us to catch up on each other’s lives.
At the end of the visit, I gave my father a hug and wished him well. Once again, he let me know that he was proud of me. I just hope one day, he can make me proud of him.