The thoughts that fathers must have
Ever get my messages? It’s been a while, but way back when– I remember praying and asking God if he could take a message for me and pass it along to you. I think I even asked Him once to just put you on the line, like there was a phone line up in Heaven that he could just pass around.
I have no clue if anything works the way like I assumed it did. Maybe it does and that’s just the very definition of childlike faith. Maybe not. I don’t really have a way of knowing. Even back then I knew I was basicaly just taking a stab in the dark– in the off chance that prayer and taking messages worked like that, I figured I had nothing to lose. If those messages did somehow go through, then I guess you already knew all of this.
Either way, I think it was fifteen years ago when I gave that a shot. A lot of time has passed by since. Now I’m trying letter writing, still not having much of an idea if or how any of these words can reach you… or if anything works like that. But again, I might as well try. There must be some element of faith deep within me that knows your love is still with me many years after we said goodbye.
To be honest, I’ve kind of been thinking about you a lot lately. I think it must be because I’m at this huge moment in my life of transition that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about where I come from and where I’m going.
I asked mom to send me some photos from childhood- a little something to include as part of a slideshow at my wedding this upcoming summer. She sent over a shoebox worth of pictures, plus three discs that took some time to go over. Most of them were from those years we had together. The ones I only have a fragmented memory of. Philadelphia and ailing health and 70s furniture and a family of three.
It’s funny, as a toddler, that life was all I ever really knew at the time. To me, that was as good as it gets. But to you and mom and my aunts, man that must have been so bittersweet. To realize one life was slowly ending as another one was just beginning.
I wonder what that must have been like for you. Was there some solace in the fact that the people you loved would continue on ahead even though you couldn’t? I read one of your prayers… the one dripping with authenticity towards God, capturing the fullness of anger and sorrow and eventual peace.
You mentioned the sadness of not being able to take me out to ballgames or circuses, and the comfort of knowing that my mom and aunts were there. Years later, I’ve gone to my share of games. I can’t say I’m a big fan of the circus, but either way, it’s been a good time. I know you would’ve loved to see the person I’d eventually grow to be, and that’s why I hang on to the hope that in some spiritual way I’ll never understand during this lifetime, you’ve been an engaged audience member to all these years. They’ve really been an adventure.
First of all, you were absolutely right about how even without you around, I would never suffer from a lack of care. If anything, mom never failed to make herself as involved as she could be, to the point where I often wished that weren’t the case. And Auntie Ella and Auntie Fely… the term aunt sounds way too distant to reflect the tremendous contribution they made towards my life and growing up. If they told you they’d be there for me, the absolutely meant it. They’ve given me more than I could ever repay- the best I’ll be able to do is to take on their lifestyle of generosity so that it doesn’t end with me.
And then there’s been Rob. Did you ever wonder if one day I’d wind up with a stepdad? It was a totally different experience than what I expected, and there was a huge learning curve when it came to us figuring out how to live with each other, but that whole process might have been one of my greatest teachers in life.
It’s been a really good life. Not always the easiest, but in the end, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I really do hope you’ve been able to keep tabs in some way while it’s been unfolding because I often find myself at a loss for words for the beauty of the process of life. It has always felt like there have been new things to learn, new places to visit, and new people to connect with. Years of learning how to have healthy relationships have led me to being months away from getting married, and the whole thing has been breathtaking.
I’ve been reading the book Gilead by Marilynne Robinson lately, and I suspect that’s what sparked my interest in writing this. My mom’s never told me if you were much of a reader, but even if you only ever read ten books, I’d hope that Gilead would’ve been one of them. It’s a simple story of a family told through a series of letters from a father to his son. The dad in the story is in his seventies, and I think the kid is only seven– that makes our pretty big age gap look like nothing in comparison. Anyways, the father is a retired minister, and in the process of him telling stories about his first marriage, his friendships, and family dramas, he also passes on words of wisdom about faith and life and living well.
There was this one quote that really popped out at me. The father was watching his son play, and it occurred to him that he wouldn’t be alive for much longer, and that he wouldn’t be able to see very much of the kid growing up. And although he knew he wouldn’t be there for those moments, the thought of them alone brought him joy.
He wrote: “Why do I love the thought of you old? That first twinge of arthiritis in your knee is a thing I imagine with all the tenderness I felt when you showed me your loose tooth. I wish I could help you carry the weight of many years. But the Lord will have that fatherly satisfaction.”
It makes me think of what thoughts must have occurred in your head that connected you to my life in the present day.
I know that when you have a small child you’ve come to Love, it’s only natural to let your imagination run wild with that kid’s future. Maybe you do imagine them growing old and taking on arthritis and the other marks of a body used well. Maybe you just zoom ahead and imagine them on momentous occasions- in a cap and gown, in a uniform and cleats, in a wedding day outfit. My mind goes there from time-to-time with my soon-to-be nephews. You get a certain thrill from those thoughts. Like the old man in Gilead.
That book, that quote, make me wonder if my life has already occurred in some way in your imagination before I had the chance to live it. I wonder if when I stand in front of the crowd at our wedding in June, if you would’ve seen me there, in your imagination, back in 1991 when I could barely stand at all. I wonder if my first steps must’ve made your heart and your mind race ahead to all the journeys to new countries and other territories that I’d one day take. I wonder if you got to experience that bittersweet tenderness.
I’ll take it a step further- I hope you got to experience that. In all of its fullness. I like to think that the fact that your mind and your imagination has gone ahead of me and blazed a trail means that in some way, you’re here with me now, with me as I prepare myself for marriage, as I figure out this process of growing up, and as I take on evolving challenges of my own. I like to think that it connects you in the early nineties to this time twenty-something years into the future. I like to think that this is part of the inseparable bond of fatherly Love.
I mean, think about it, even if for just a little bit. Isn’t that just amazing?
Our lives might’ve had only five years of overlap. My first five with your last five. My physical growth and development crossing paths with your sickness and deterioration. It might not have been very much time, but there’s no knowing just how much future, how many momentous occasions, how many milestones and triumphs occurred within your own imagination.
From five years of age, I’ve known what it’s like to have been Loved by someone who I couldn’t immediately see or touch or be with. I’ve had an idea of what it’s like to have Love continue to reach you and impact you in a way that isn’t bound or restricted by time. It’s a Love that laid to rest over twenty years ago and yet it continues to burst forth in random pockets of life.
There have been times where God has been easy to believe in, and times when that wasn’t the case. But I think having experienced being Loved from beyond the confines of time and a lifespan has helped stretch my vision and understanding for what is possible.
All I’m saying is this… I still think about you. I look at our old photos and sometimes I wish you were here, even though I know I’ve had a very, very good life since I saw you last. I’d love to exchange a conversation, and to share a moment. But when I think of the possibility that these moments have been shared in ways I couldn’t even imagine, my heart bursts with peace.
I Love you and I hope you get this.