In a previous article I wrote of my estrangement from my father as a child and of the resentments I held against him into adulthood. We tried to form a relationship in my early twenties, but that ended one night in a nasty argument when I told him I hated him. I resolved to never speak to him again, and for a number of years as a young adult I refused to even acknowledge his existence. I did this to hurt him, because he hurt me first.
One time my mother gave my telephone number to my father so he could call and wish me a happy birthday. I missed the call, but was outraged when I heard the message he left on the answering machine. I lashed out in anger at her afterwards. She admonished me to, if not make peace with the man, at least let go of the anger. Holding onto the anger was poisonous, she told me—unhealthy. I didn’t listen then and held onto that anger as tightly as I could. Nurtured it, in fact. I was proud of my ability to hold a grudge—I could hold one longer than anyone else I knew. This was how I meted out my punishment against the man who’d let me down too many times as a defenseless child.
Years later I was in the midst of plans to wed the woman I had met and fallen in love with. At that point I was approaching age 30. Maybe I was maturing or feeling my own mortality, but the idea had occurred to me that I was getting too old to continue to harbor such harsh feelings for one of my closest blood relatives. That maybe there wasn’t really much to be gained from nursing my disappointment and disgust for this man who wanted to reach out to me. People change, and people (hopefully) grow wiser with the passage of time and gaining of experience. I was starting to realize that I didn’t want to carry the baggage of my childhood traumas into middle age. It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to work through that emotional pain and leave it, or as much of it as I could, behind. I started to see that it really was unhealthy to carry that burden around. And I thought it childish to continue to want to hurt someone who was attempting to make a connection and to offer me affection.
I decided to extend an olive branch and invite him to my wedding. It was awkward, but I had seen how my soon-to-be wife had reconciled with her father (we’re both from broken homes) and so I knew it could be done. We met, made up, and he came to the wedding. We agreed to jettison any past disagreements and start with a clean slate with no expectations. And we slowly, but surely, built a solid relationship with each other. He took me out to lunch, gave me tickets to baseball games, and even helped me out of a financial crunch or two – just like a real father would. He was supportive and encouraging, often making the effort to come see my band perform. We never did become real close or bond the way fathers and sons do at an early age. It was too late for that, but not too late to make up.
Recently, I had a chance to see the photos he took on the day of my wedding. In one in particular that someone took for him he poses with the bride and groom, smiling. He was so happy he was beaming. That photo was like a message from the past affirming that I had made the right choice in making peace with the man.
I came across these photos while cleaning out his home. Suddenly stricken with fatal maladies apparently nobody knew of, my father languished in a hospital ICU for a few days before succumbing. Family members had been there for him, holding his hand, talking to him, praying. On his third night there I decided to stay with him overnight. Even though the nurses said that they would administer medication so he would sleep, I wanted to stay. I sat down right next to his bed and tried to rest. But there would be no rest as he took a dramatic turn for the worst in the early morning hours and I had to call my half-sister and let her know that she, and the rest of the family, needed to come and say goodbye.
A few hours later his room was filled with relatives, and together through tears we all watched him draw his last breath.
Our estrangement over the years was still very evident in the fact that I was standing in a room full of blood relations yet knew very little about any of them. It had been so long since I had seen most of my aunts and uncles from that side of the family that I had difficulty even putting faces to names. His children were charged with making all the final decisions for his care and estate, but I never got to really know my half-siblings and so didn’t know how that was going to work out. I can now see that my half-sister is a sharp woman with enviable strength and resolve. It’s too bad we never got to know each other before.
I suppose it’s the natural order of things that parents should die before their children do, but the realization that I’m now an orphan (my mother died several years ago) has left me with a void. It’s a cold feeling to know that I’ll never be able to call a parent for advice or to wish them a happy birthday ever again. It’s a lonely feeling knowing I’ll never get a call from them checking up on me. It’s so…final. In the midst of this period of grieving there is something that brings me solace. I spent my father’s final day on Earth with him. I told him I loved him. I was there for him. There is a measure of comfort in that that I would have robbed myself of had I not made up with him years ago.