We were rocking in the porch swing last time I was visited my parents, doing what came naturally to a defiant, grown up daughter and her world-weary father: I was talking, and he was listening. It was a far cry from the days of old, when he was the storyteller and I, the captive audience. But it had been the pattern since I'd been old enough to get in the car and drive away.
Something I said must have sparked a memory, because suddenly he said, "Do you want to know what I think about that?" And possibly for the first time in my life, I said, yes. Suddenly, I found myself enthralled by his story and thoughts, none of which I'd ever heard before.
And not quite as suddenly, I realized my dad had a whole life about which I knew nothing.
How could this be? I thought. Of course I know him! I've been with him all of my life, right? Wasn't he there watching football on Sunday afternoons when I was a toddler? Wasn't he shoveling snow after the storm that blew the roof off? Wasn't he at my First Communion, sitting there with mom and looking so proud?
And it started to dawn on me that yes, he was there. In all of those photographs. My recollections of my father have been assigned to pictures taken through the years, because I simply don't remember much. Maybe I was too young then, and too old now, but for whatever reason, there is only film where my father should be.
I couldn't understand how this happened. Maybe it's because when I was little and my dad had my undivided attention, I simply couldn't comprehend his life. As the smug self-centeredness of puberty set in and I assumed I knew much more than he did, it just didn't matter to me.
And when I got older still, a little less selfish and more aware of life around me, gradually acknowledging the error of my ways still did not inspire me to make time for him. I was too busy with the other people in my life. By then, I may have forgotten he had a life, anyway.
But he does have a life, and he does have a past, and it involved way more than walking twelve miles to school barefoot in a blizzard uphill both ways. He has a history that I somehow, all of these years, deemed unworthy of exploring. He has thoughts and opinions and ideas and theories. He's been in the service and overseas and seen and done things that I will never, ever see or do.
But his life was a rocky one, and I think that's partly where I went wrong. I realize now that he tried to share it as an explanation, not an excuse, but after a while I didn't have much sympathy for him because I thought my own life was hard enough. It's as though I was involved in a tragic "I can top that" battle with my own father, who knew -- as did I, eventually that I couldn't.
By the time I realized the childishness and stupidity of my game, my dad had long since stopped playing.
And now here I am, wanting to be able to share my history with my husband and children and knowing nothing. And more grateful than words can say that I have a chance to make things right.
So I'm going home again to sit with my dad on the porch swing and rock for awhile, and I'm going to start listening. Because right now there is nothing more interesting to me than the story of his life, this man who held me as a baby and picked me up when I fell down the stairs and who never once let his trust in me waver no matter how hard I tried to shake it.
I've got all the pictures, but I need the words. So please, dad... tell me a story.