Father’s Day is almost here. Sons and daughters will stand in line with cards and gifts in their hands. Cards that tell their dads how much they mean to them.
Others will barely make it through the day, thinking about how they no longer can give their dads a Father’s Day card. Just wanting the day to end as well as their grief.
There will be some people who never had a dad they could remember. Year after year they endure the day and basically wish it never existed.
And there’s yet another group. A group that had a dad, but didn’t. He was there. but not in the way a dad should be.
Our Dad was absent though present. I have memories of him sleeping in his chair in front of the television set. My more vivid ones are of him whipping out his belt and taking off after us. I’d him yelling things no person should ever hear. My siblings would be crying in their bedrooms and I cried knowing I was next. It never occurred to me that he had a problem. He was a rage-aholic. I honestly thought we were bad.
Then our mom died when I was sixteen years old. That’s when our family fell apart. She was the glue.
One month after mom was gone my brother Gus sat having lunch with my dad.
“Dad, did you know the night Mom was sick she called Anne and Anne didn’t go?”
I froze as my father’s eyes narrowed. With his finger extended he said, “It’s your fault your mother’s dead.”
And at sixteen, I believed him.
It’s hard living with someone who blames you for your mother’s death. Impossible really. Eventually my guilt was too much to bear. I left home and lived with an aunt.
Then months later, maybe even a year, my sister called.
“Anne, you need to come and see Dad. He’s got cancer.”
I managed to get the words out,” I can’t come.”
“Anne, you already regret not going to Mom. Don’t do it again.”
As impossible as it was to imagine seeing my dad, she was right.
So the next day I walked the long hall at Veteran’s hospital. What would I find when I got there?
The years had not been kind to him. He looked a lot older than fifty-two.
“Annie” he said with a smile when I walked in his room. ” You came. But why do you look so mad?”
“It was not my fault she died,” I stammered.
“I know,” he said quietly.
He knew? He knew but didn’t bother to tell me?
I let him talk and was surprised when the words came, “I’m sorry I wasn’t a good father to you.”
The images of him chasing us with his belt, his eyes wild with rage flooded my mind. But instead I pushed those images out and instead saw the man before me.
There was no belt in his hand now. And he was beaten himself, by this cancer.
At that moment, God softened my heart.
I looked at my dad and responded, “You did the best you could.”
Words I had not planned on saying. But words that nonetheless needed to be said.
Reaching down I kissed the cheek of my dad. The one who said to my sister and me when we were little girls, “Make your legs stiff,” as he lifted us high into the air. With our dresses tucked in out underpants we felt like we were beautiful ballerinas that owned the world. With arms out to the side we smiled so big.
I wish things had been different. I wish I felt loved and nurtured by this ballerina lifter, but I didn’t. And yet, God gave me an opportunity for reconciliation.
My dad apologized for the first time ever. Our last conversation was our best.
The next day my father died.
So on Father’s day I hold onto the memory of me lifted high in the air. And like others I miss my dad. The dad I never had.