How often do you tell your father that you love him?
In my case, and probably yours, the answer is not often enough.
Let me explain. I was eleven. Young, immature, headstrong, and hot-headed. As a kid, I never really appreciated the existence of my father—mostly because he was hardly ever there. He was always away, toiling in the English channel as a seaman. I never really complained; He won the bread and we had enough for butter, so to speak. Yeah, I was a spoiled child, but a brilliant one mind you. I never took interest in sports, but I did love a good book. I graduated with top marks, points for over achievement, medals for winning competitions, and the highest number of suspensions and demerits teachers have ever seen. They always say the same thing:
“Bright young man, but he lacks discipline. He’s lazy, and gets into fights.”
Of course, when my father came home from working so hard, just to hear that his eldest was acting like a delinquent, you can imagine how displeased he was. You can imagine how disappointed he felt. You can even imagine how angry he became.
You can’t imagine how much it hurt when he called me a failure, though.
I didn’t have a moment to explain. Every word I said was a sign of disrespect. I tried to speak but my words were a drop of water in the ocean as the raging storm of his voice shook the seas.
They hit me first… it’s not my fault I won….
Apparently it is. He says grown-ups can’t ever be wrong.
I already knew the lesson. It was boring so I fell asleep.
I’m a disrespectful idiot who lacks common sense.
I’m sorry. I’ll do better I promise!
I’m ungrateful, I deserve to get backhanded across the face.
He left again. Went back to work. I had until he got back to fix myself. I stayed away from mommy when it was time for skype calls starting then. I gave away all my toys. I never asked for another one. I’d refuse every attempt they made for me to speak to him over the phone. I pretended to be asleep, said I had to pee, or cried and blatantly refused to.
I had to make myself better.
The next year, my teachers sang a different tune.
“He’s a smart child! I’m lucky to be teaching him. He’s joined a lot of competitions, it’s really prestigious for the school.”
My friends were impressed, but it wasn’t enough. Another year goes by. I’m in the seventh grade now.
“It’s amazing how quickly he’s progressing. I might just recommend to accelerate him.”
My mother declines, but is visibly brimming with pride. Still not enough. Eighth grade.
“Is he being pressured at home, miss? His grades are outstanding, but he seems… despondent.”
My girlfriend left me. She said my eyes didn’t have the light she fell in love with anymore. Ninth.
“Ma’am, I recommend taking your son to a psychologist. He has been completely socially inactive.”
My little sister asked me to play while I was studying. I screamed at her. She cried.
And so it went, on and on, I studied and learned and won and won and won, and won. I was set to be top of my class. A few days before my graduation, though, my father came home. A year early.
He had cancer.
He arrived at night. I locked my room and feigned unconsciousness. The next day I stayed in the library until the guard kicked me out. I took the longest route home and sneaked in through my window after dark. The next morning, my mother wanted me to visit him in the hospital. I said I had to go to school. She gripped my wrist, but I jerked my arm free and made a break for it.
I came home later that day. It was raining, and the doors were locked. I stood silently, soaked and shivering on the porch, and knowing that I couldn’t allow myself to get sick before the graduation, I went to the hospital to collect the house keys from my mother. She was at the entrance waiting for me.
“Mommy, give me the keys.”
“Oh dear, I seem to have misplaced my bag. I think it’s at your fathers bedside table. Be a dear and get it for me?”
Her voice was a mixture of sarcasm, glee, and irritation. Fine, we’ll do this the hard way.
I entered the room, heard the steady beep beep of the monitor. I saw the bag, and reached for it. He held my wrist.
“Son. What’s the matter with you? You’re mother is worried. ”
“Listen, if this is about that, please. I’m sorry. I was angry… I—I… “
Let go of it.
“… I love you son, please—”
“LET GO OF MY HAND!”
I punch him in the jaw.
The beeps get faster now. He’s crying.
“You’ve never held my hand before.”
I grab the keys from the bag.
“Not when I was bad, not when I was good.”
I walked out of the room.
“Don’t start now.”
I slam the door.
My graduation was the next day. My mother walked up the stairs with me. We got seated. One by one, our names were called. It was my turn I stepped up the stage, my mother, having just come from the bathroom, was walking to the stage when a hand grabbed her arm.
She gasped. She tried to steady him but he refuesed. He was there. A dextrose was still in his arm, he still wore hospital clothes, but he was there. We walked up to the stage. Carried his own weight. His stride was wobbly, weak, but never uncertain.
He handed me my diploma.
And in that moment, I forgave him. I let go of the turmoil I had pent up for years on end. I stopped carrying the grudge that weighed on my back like a two ton brick. I released every shred of hatred I had.
A tear escaped my eyes.
I moved to hug him, but he collapsed inmy arms. There was blood on my shoulder. We rushed him to the hospital, my mother’s and my eyes moist like the forrest after rain.
He died the next day. You can find his remains at a columbarium not too far from here.
Yeah, I regret it, but you don’t have to. Father’s day is coming up, right?
Do me a favor.
Tell him you love him, while you still can.
How often do you tell your father you love him?