I’ll leave it to other people to talk about how swell their dads were, how their dads taught them to fish and play ball and inspired them to be honest and hardworking. I have a different story to tell. It’s a story of how my father mended me, how he stitched up an old, tiny oozing wound, how he held open the screen door after ten years and told me to sit down while he finished making dinner for me and my family.
I sat down in the chair I’d always sat in and I watched him put a bowl of instant mashed potatoes in the microwave and take a turkey loaf out of the oven. One of those cheesecakes out of a box with cherry pie filling on top sat on the counter. He had gone all out.
We ate dinner. After ten years of not seeing or speaking to each other, we simply ate dinner. He asked about the drive. We told him it was fine. He asked my kids about school and sports and whether they liked someone special.
He never asked me where I’d been. It was if in some other life that didn’t include selling appliances at Sears or running a dime store or playing the trumpet in dance bands he had sat at the feet of Rumi and heard these words spoken for the very first time.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing or rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.
We were meeting in that field. Six months before, I’d gotten a letter from him. It sat on the dining room table all afternoon while I waited to open it, thinking that such a rare letter probably carried the news that my mother was dead. Why else would he be writing a letter to me?
I opened the letter. His handwriting, his penmanship learned in the last century. He would have been in third grade in 1920. Isn’t that when people learned penmanship? His writing was neat but manly, with sharp edges instead of the graceful loops of my mother’s. What did he have to say to me after all this time, after ten years?
I am so sorry.
I was dumbfounded. I held the little notecard in my hand and stared at the writing, my father’s writing.
What was he sorry for? He had never done anything bad to me. He had never raised a voice or a hand to me. He’d never let me go hungry or unsheltered. He gave me my first job and sent me to college. He let me hold the screwdrivers and wrenches when he fixed things. He watched from the far end of the rowboat while I learned to put my foot on a northern pike and take the hook out of its mouth with a pair of pliers.
What had happened to cause my ten-year estrangement from my parents really had nothing to do with him. Why was he was apologizing? Or was he saying he was sorry about something else? Was he sorry that he didn’t know my children? Sorry that he didn’t see his granddaughter graduate from high school and college? Sorry that my mother was so close to the brink of not knowing who I was because of Alzheimer’s Disease? Sorry that he worked seven days a week while we were growing up? Sorry that he was preoccupied and tired and obsessed with his business all the time? Sorry that he raised such a sorry daughter who couldn’t find it in herself to say ‘I am so sorry’ after all these many years?
I don’t know. He never said. I just know this.
My father pointed to a field and asked me to go there. And I did.