I had so many phone conversations that it seemed the phone was permanently attached to my ear: Mom, my sisters, Chas--my brother-in-law, Dad & Jo... All good conversations that made me feel warm inside.
I've gotten to the place where I call my dad every Sunday now. It's a relatively new tradition as it wasn't too long ago I was lucky to talk to Dad once a month. And even then, the conversation was stilted, difficult. Neither of us knew what to say or what to talk about so I would have a mental list of conversation pieces before I called.
My dad and I have had a tenuous relationship, built on hurt feelings and misunderstandings. It started when I was just 14 years old and traded him in on an Adventist school model that left him feeling betrayed and alone. He quickly married Jo who had a daughter just my age and she became his "new" partner in crime, leaving me feeling baffled and rejected. And so began years of pain and loss and heartache that I managed to stuff inside and pretend didn't exist for 51 out of 52 weeks. But when we would go home for Christmas, all of that anguish would rear its ugly head.
My parents live a whopping ten miles apart from each other. In fact, my dad goes to church directly across the street from my mom's house. And so we have juggled our visits, tinged with tiptoeing and stomping and never really knowing what anybody wanted in terms of balancing things just so. Unless you're a child of divorce, you can never fully understand the dance. Add to it the complication of religion and it becomes a tango of bitterness and pain.
And so that is how we have played this game, my dad and I, for the past 32 years. I've missed out on so much...and so has he. But until recently, I've never really seen his pain. I've only seen my own. It's been an "us vs them" game I've played--we've all played--for far too long.
Lack of communication and misunderstandings have built a mountain unsurpassed.
But Dad and Jo came to visit this past summer; they stayed 4 days which is unheard of for them. Typically you're lucky to get 24 hours, no matter the distance they've travelled. And in my 26 years of marriage, I can count their visits on one hand. So this 4 days? It was pretty spectacular! It was filled with conversations on the swing over coffee and rides on the golfcart and touring the mountains. It was filled laughter and honest conversations and barriers broken down.
And when Dad and Jo pulled out to head back to Oklahoma early Thursday morning, I waved goodbye, and I didn't even try to contain the tears that streamed down my face.
My dad is something special. I know he's my father and we all love our dads, so I'm fully aware of that when I say this; but my dad is wisdom and wit and amazing. I respect him more than anyone else on this planet.
When I was 17 years old, I had never heard my dad tell me that he loved me. Not once. He wasn't a warm and fuzzy kind of guy. I mean, of course I knew he loved me but...he just wasn't one to share his feelings verbally. One of my teachers knew this fact--Mr. Reidenbaugh. And every time I spent the night with dad, Mr. Reidenbaugh would encourage me to tell him that I loved him. When I would come back from a visit, Mr. Reidenbaugh would say, "So, did you tell your dad you love him?" And I would shake my head no.
But he kept after me until finally, one day, I dropped Dad off at the state department of education building there in Oklahoma City where he worked. As he got out of the car, I said, "Hey, Dad?" He stopped, stooped down and looked in at me sitting in the driver's seat.
"I love you."
He kind of laughed one of those laughs that spoke volumes. And then he said...
Since this summer, I've called my dad every week. Our conversations have become easy. We talk about silly things and serious things. I tell him about my kids and things that I dream for my future. I tell him about the weather and what we had for dinner.
And last night, just before we hung up, without any initiation on my part, Dad said, "Love you."