It was a summer night. There was a ball game on our neighborhood street. My dad, as always, was the star. He was energetic, empowered, and the center of action. On the other hand, I played poorly and was an outsider. Soon I dropped out of the game and slowly made my way home -- alone -- while Dad was still actively in the midst of it. After I reached home and crawled into my bed, I didn't have any clear definitiion of my identity. I wasn't exactly my father's son.
Not long afterward my parents separated and divorced. My mom was given my custody. Soon we moved from the east coast to Colorado. I'll never forget my first Christmas there. A large box addressed to me appeared in incoming mail. It was a huge box. I realized it contained my Dad's Christmas present. I wondered: did it communicate that my father cared a great deal for me? Yet when I opened the box I was instantly stunned. It contained a book I wouldn't read. Also pants and a jacket I would never wear. So the Christmas box carried a stark message: my Dad didn't know me!
My next big task was getting used to this reality. My Dad had remarried. I met his new wife whom I instantly liked a lot. Soon I was given a fresh chance to get to know my Dad because of his close proximity. Now a graduate theological student in New York, I could visit him in New Jersey. When he had dropped oult of my life years before, he was a "practicing" alcoholic. Now he hadn't taken a drink in years. We decided not to seek any traditional role as father and son. I found him charming, warm and authentic. There was no trace of bitterness or sharp pain between us. We enjoyed a fresh experience of newness. I liked him -- and his seemingly brand new sense of humor about life.
I graduated from seminary and was ordained an Episcopal priest. Soon afterward Dad suffered a heart attack and died. It seemed only natural when I was asked to preside at last rites in burial ritual.
Forgiveness, I find, is more an act of acceptance than volition. Isn't it a gift? We can say "Yes" or "No." However, if we say "Yes" we need to substitute the words "work for" in place of "desire." In other words, what sense could I make out of the way my life had progressed? Slowly I came to realize that a pivotal moment in my life had occurred -- startlingly and realistically -- when I was eight years old. I could remember how my Dad held me on his lap.
"Your mother and I are separating," he said. "That means we won't be living together anymore. Do you want to live with your mother or me?" Now I can see that my heart simply broke in that moment. There was nothing I could do about anything, it seemed. Issues loomed as huge and threatening creatures. At risk was not only my basic relationship with Dad but also any sense of a healthy or happy childhood. When (if ever) would it be my turn to know a sense of familial happiness and security?
My memories take me back to my Dad. Can I sum him up? Make some kind of lasting peace with him? I remember how I took a kind of welcome shelter in his strong masculinity. I was happy when he held me close. I desired to belong to him. Yet he was an enigma to me. Dad was different; so was I. I never fully understood him. Nor did he understand me.
Did I love him? Trust him? Share life with him? Yes. No. Maybe. Sometimes.
Always I remember that night when I was eight and my heart shattered. Later did I heal? Yes. No. Maybe. Sometimes.