It seems like he was always leaving. My dad, I mean. He left when my parents divorced, but he came back. He left again when they divorced again, and that time pretty much stuck. I saw him a couple of times after then but never for long, and it always seemed he wanted to be somewhere else. When I saw him a few years ago, my dad wanted nothing more than to be somewhere else.
My Happy Memory
It seems like he was always leaving, but my very first memory, my very earliest recollection from the years recorded in sepia images and black-and-white home movies, is him coming home. I was around two years old, and he had been far away. My little brain couldn’t really understand all the details, but he had been far away for what felt like a long time. I was playing with my little red tractor digging in the dirt while presumably someone was watching to be sure I was safe. There’s little guarantee anyone was really paying attention. I mean, it was the 1970’s, and parents had a lot more trust in their toddlers back then. Plus, my mom had three other boys in case wolves dragged me off into the woods.
Nevertheless, my dad was coming back from Waco, thousands of miles away, and I joyfully tossed my little red tractor into the upstate New York dirt when I saw the old station wagon pulling up the driveway. He brought us cowboy hats and big news. We were moving, and everybody was excited.
That is the only happy memory I have of my father. One happy memory over more than 40 years. My others were tainted with regret…or more like homesickness. Our house stopped feeling like home when he got his own apartment across town. When he moved back in six or seven years later, I had fully expected that feeling to go away. I mean, the idea of my dad represented home, so naturally I expected to feel at home when he and my mom remarried. We didn’t have time to settle in. He left again within the year. He was always leaving. He always had somewhere else to be.
A Strange Call
I got a very strange call a couple of years ago. It was from my step-brother. Not only had it been around 30 years since I had seen him, I was amazed he got my phone number. I still can’t be sure how he found me, but he asked me to come see my dad. It was mysterious and strange, and I almost didn’t go, but I went over to his house…my dad’s house, the home he made with another family, the place my step-brothers still call home. My dad wanted to be somewhere else.
My step-mother and her sons were caring for him, feeding him, giving him liquid morphine for his excruciating pain. My dad was dying. He couldn’t speak and could barely move other than occasionally moaning and writhing in pain. I wasn’t sure he could even understand me when we talked to him. When we got up to go, he tried to stand up. He couldn’t stand, and they hadn’t been able to move him in days, but he wanted to walk us to the door. He wanted to be a good host there in his home. In that moment I understood why missing him felt more like homesickness.
My step-brothers were devoted to him. Their children came to see my dad because they loved him too. While we visited my dad’s death bed, I watched his grieving family care for him tenderly and so very kindly. He had raised my three step-brothers. He stayed with them.
He Had Always Been A Good Dad…Just Not to Me
All my life I had assumed my dad was no good for always leaving and that I was damaged goods and could never be a great dad because of it, but the truth was so different. He had always been a good dad…just not to me. You see it is entirely possible to be an amazing dad, to do all the right things, and in the end your adult children might still resent you. It is, however, impossible to be a cruddy dad and have your adult children love you and be tenderly devoted to you. In that moment when I finally understood, as he lay there longing for Heaven, I forgave him for wanting to be somewhere else – I forgave him for wanting to go home.