I just got back from a visit with my Dad.
Here are the facts:
About 3 1/2 years ago he was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis. The prognosis is not good. After diagnosis, life expectancy ranges between 2 – 6 years.
My dad has been a golfer for most of my life and retired to a golfing community. I want to visit him as often as I can while he is still healthy enough for us to play golf.
But the other thing is that I don’t want to have any regrets after he’s gone.
So in the last two times I have visited him, I’ve felt a shift…a releasing of all that old baggage.
My Dad was put in a home for orphaned boys when he was 8 (maybe younger). His mother had died. His father was a drunk. His baby sister was adopted. And those were the facts. That’s all I grew up knowing about my father’s family.
When I was a kid, it seemed, my father was angry most of the time. He was a perfectionist. So my Mom and baby sister and I formed a small island that could weather those storms.
He wasn’t home much because he was out playing golf, or bowling, or coaching, or working.
When I was about 10, my Mother and Father had a baby boy. Though he was adored, even the baby boy couldn’t alter the fate lines that were determined before any of us were ever born.
So we kids grew up and grew away from our Father.
And, truth be told, from my perspective, our Father didn’t seem to mind.
I took all the pain of not really having a Father, of never being good enough to get his attention…to have him sit me on his knee and tell me that I was beautiful, and smart, and loved…I took it and folded it all up and put it in a tiny little box and placed it up on a high shelf that never got looked at. And that little box was only ever taken down and unpacked when I was in a therapist’s office.
During these last two visits, I pulled that box off the shelf and opened it. I looked inside and had the wondrous thought, “I don’t care anymore.”
He’s got a few more good years. That’s the good news. Because this disease is relentless and it will hunt you down until it has put you down. That is a fact.
But you know what I learned at this last visit? There’s so much more to the story than those facts and my Father has been, slowly and surely, uncovering it all.
And that process has transformed him from the angry young man I remember from my childhood to someone who is still there for me after all these years apart. He loves me for me. I am good enough.
And I learned that I can be there for him. Because just like me, he never had a Father to hold him and tell him that he was handsome, smart, and perfect and loved just the way he is.
At least I had a Mother to do that. He didn’t.
So I can be there for him now. I can be there to listen to the stories that haven’t been told.
I can listen to the story about how my great-great-great Grandmother was kidnapped by the Indians when she was just a little girl. And was raised by them and eventually married one.
Or read the letters Hershel Henry Davis wrote to Dorothy Elizabeth Wade (I finally know their names!)…when he called her, “His Dearest Darling on Earth…”
And I can hold my Dad’s hand and tell him that all that stuff, all that pain and anger I had towards him for not being a good enough Father, has fallen away and that he is loved.