I went to my mother’s house to spend some time with my dad yesterday. There was no answer when I knocked on the door, so I let myself in. As I walked down the hall, I could hear that the TV was on in Daddy’s room. His door was cracked open just a bit, so I peeked in.
From where I stood, I could see Dad sitting in his chair. His feet were flat on the floor and his hands were folded over his lap, as he stared up at the TV on the mantle. I didn’t want to startle him, so I gently tapped on the door. I said, “It’s me, Daddy.” He looked in my general direction, so I opened the door. As I stood there, looking at him looking at me, I quickly became aware that he had no idea who I was. He stood up and asked me what I was doing in the house. I could feel my heart breaking a little more each time I told him my name and that I was his daughter. It took a few minutes for him to really recognize me, or so I had thought. He seemed embarrassed and confused about the whole situation, but he finally followed me into the den to visit.
We took our seats and dove right in to an extremely awkward silence. Finally, Dad began to tell me how he missed me and asked why I was away for so long. I explained that it was a long drive and that I visit as often as possible, though I realized it wasn’t enough. He then began asking questions about where I lived and whether or not I knew someone named Ben. And…welcome back to Square 1!
Daddy and I were alone, for a change, and I wanted to make good use of our time together. I began to bring up stories and special memories that I had from my childhood. He seemed to recall a couple of things and we shared a laugh or two. I’m not sure if he actually knew who I was, or if he was just going along with me, but it was wonderful to share those things with him.
Some time had passed when it dawned on me that, if ever there were a good time to say my goodbyes to Dad, that time was then. I didn’t want to, but as I looked at Dad, I saw, for what felt like the very first time, the toll that such a long life had taken on my father. White whiskers covered the face of a man who had lived two lives, in one. The first half was wild and wicked, followed by a second act that told the story of a repentant man. Heavy lids hung over eyes that were, not so long ago, clear and sparkling. Downturned was the mouth of one who spewed both blessings and curses on those he felt deserving of either. Before me sat the aged likeness of the man who once was; taken away by Father Time’s own hand. Before me sat the only man who ever, truly, loved me.
For the next short while, I looked into Daddy’s questioning eyes and selfishly said everything that I needed to say to him. I’m not sure that he understood a single word, but I had to take advantage of such a rare opportunity. I told my father all of the things I never got to say to loved ones who’d gone in years past, so that I knew there would be no regret when Daddy’s time came. Whether or not he understood, my words fell upon his ears. I pray they made way to his heart.
When I’d finished, we gave each other a big hug, then settled in to watch the end of the soap opera that was on TV in the den. Neither of us could figure out how to change the channel…