Eight years have passed, and I still wonder what the last thing he wanted to say to me?
Maybe he was going to apologize for being so psychologically cruel to me (no physical scars, my father never hit me) after my Mom left. Although, perhaps not; for years after the divorce, he was hurting too. Was it a natural release of, if inexcusable, frustration that was his way of dealing with the primary responsibility of raising a son? (In any event, as an only child, I welcomed the relief from the constant bickering between the two main combatants in our family – especially with me caught in the middle.)
Or maybe, he would was going to say how proud he was of the man that I had become. (I knew he was; but he never said so.) Over the 25 years of his 2nd marriage, his natural grandchildren almost never knew him – a choice of his which I could never understand.
However, before he died, he said that the reason he kept his distance was for fear of him inadvertently meeting my mother. Stunned, and knowing how they felt towards each other, I told him that I would never have allowed that to happen. Sadly, it proves the opposite of love is not hate; its fear. (He was finally confiding in me for the first time in his life.)
Pondering this, I looked out our upper bedroom window to the stillness of a cold February night that made the stars stand out in icy brilliance against the velvety black sky. Almost instinctively, as when I was a child, I look for the ‘little dipper’ – easier to find than the ‘big dipper’ – but I can’t see it tonight.
Several casual glances, turning into earnest scanning of the starry heavens, revealed nothing but seemingly random placements; when before my eyes, it came from nowhere – the ‘big dipper’ – so large, I had to adjust my eyes to take in the total sky. Yet, there it was. Once you saw it, you couldn’t keep your eyes from seeing it!
With total understanding, another thought came to me. I went and got the steel box where we kept important papers and open up the envelope containing the final note he gave me. I had kept it … precious few words with which to plumb the mysterious depth of a father I had never really known … re-reading it now, all these years later, for any missed clues from a dying man. And, I remember the mental effort it took for him to write it. Desperately trying to squeeze out the last drop of time, when there was almost none left, as he collapsed back on his hospital bed.
Remembering that supreme effort now, I wondered who I was to judge? No one is perfect. Am I to minimize someone’s life who was trying, in one last desperate act, to bridge the gap between father and son? To him, at the moment, I was the most important person in the world; and as I realize now, must have always been.
Was I worthy of such a love as this … these few pitiful written words … all that separated us from eternity? A lifetime of no communication came down to this awkward-sized jumble of words. For a man who wrote poetry throughout his lifetime, this struggle to communicate must have been Hell.
You can just make out the initial question he poses: “are you late Fred?” (He knew I was on route to a job interview in another city.) So here then was his final legacy … a man with just barely hours left to live (which he kept to himself) worrying about me!
Of course, I appreciated it when I first read it, directly from his hand; but now the weight of that gallant effort was just sinking in, after all this time. He didn’t want me to go; but he didn’t want to see me miss out on life either … even if that meant dying alone … without his only child – a son he had kept at arms length, all these years.
As I close my eyes to and try to go back to sleep, it seemed like the end of our own personal movie … all of our stars that once shined so brightly, fading to black … like the father I (almost) never knew. But now, all these years later, I realized he was really saying goodbye … and that, he loved me.
I couldn’t help but recall a song off the Déjà vu album by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young:
‘Don’t you ever ask them why? If they told you, you would cry.
So just look at them and sigh; and know they love you.’
A final look at the sky, morning is about to dawn and the big dipper is visible no more. Good night Dad … message received loud and clear … over and out.
Love you too!