After sharing a large pitcher of beer, my father said as delicately as he could, “Your mother was a loose woman, and you’re not my daughter, but after spending time with you tonight, I will always wish that you were.” I was neither surprised, nor upset, that he had denied paternity. In my heart, I knew that he was my father.
As I got up to use the restroom, I looked under the table for my other shoe, and I saw that this man—this stranger who had adamantly denied paternity—was also barefoot under the table. As I lifted my head from beneath the table, I teasingly observed aloud, “Well, I see neither of us is into wearing shoes.”
At that moment, our eyes met, and as God is my witness, I knew that he knew, without a doubt, that I was indeed his daughter. I also knew, in that instant, that I was free from my obsession of needing anything else from him. Our ease with one another (after some initial awkwardness), in sharing pitchers of beer, with laughter stemming from a mutual sense of humor, and coupled with his sweet tenderness, was deeply satisfying. I no longer had any doubt that I could finally let go and release this man from any further expectations I might have felt I deserved. He had given me enough.
Hours later, he drove me back to where I was staying for the night. He asked me if he could please drive me to the airport in the morning. As we sat in the driveway, I looked at him and said, “It’s the alcohol talking, and you’ll feel different in the morning.” He insisted and I relented to his request, but in the morning I got his phone call begging forgiveness since he wouldn’t be able to drive me to the airport, after all. I understood. Even knowing that I would never again see my father, I flew back to Florida feeling deeply content.
I would never again speak with either my grandmother or father. I don’t regret any discomfort that I may have caused my father by my persistence in our meeting. He had long ago set circumstances into motion, and I was now merely playing out my part. His mother and I were the collateral damage, as it were, of his choices. Althea and I had entered into a covenant that should never have been necessary.
In my self-centered desperation, I held my grandmother emotionally hostage for some fifteen years prior to the eventual meeting with my father. I deeply regret all the distress that I caused her. She was, after all, only trying to protect her son and her grandchildren. I would have done the same. Wisdom sometimes comes only after humiliation and contrition.
Both died long ago. I can only trust that wherever my grandmother rests, she somehow understands and forgives me my trespasses.
I believe that even reluctant deeds count somewhere in time. My grandmother did a good deed every time she placed tiny nuggets, disguised as icy words, as bounty into a child’s empty pan. I so want her to know that even if each phone call was nothing more than a handful of fool’s gold, every minuscule amount panned from her unwilling, stiff words helped bind me to my image of my father. Someday my pan would be filled up enough so that I could separate the gold from the mud and sand of life.
Four years prior to meeting my father, I had a therapist who believed deeply in genetics. When I would say things like, “No, I will not give up, no matter what,” he would respond, “You must get that trait from your father.” Whether true or not, his opinion was relevant. I needed an idealized image of a strong parent to propel me forward through life, to affix me with a seal of authenticity. The image itself gave me hope.
After the meeting with my father, I came away feeling that he was proud of me and that if circumstances were different, he could and would be my father. That was enough confirmation to last me until I was eventually able to endorse myself.