I have so many scattered memories of you, just bits and pieces here and there, because you and I weren't one to make long conversations (though there were some). You and I were not close, but we did love each other.
I remember how you played catch with me in the backyard one day. It was Mom's idea, I think, and it was awkward at first. You couldn't see very well because of your bad vision. We were awkward with each other too, because we didn't know what to say to one another. But I remember how you tried to catch the ball and you always sent it back to me. I remember you smiling. I remember you really tried that day to make me happy.
I remember how you volunteered to be the one to stay up with me the night before my sleep study test. I remember we watched cartoons all night and in the early morning, while everyone was still sleeping, you and I walked to Duncan Doughnuts. I remember being so sleepy. I also remember being scared of the night, the darkness, the quiet. I remember you made everything better by breaking the silence by laughing at the cartoons. And I remember thinking, "Dad likes cartoons???"
I remember you teaching me to make the Sign of the Cross. You corrected me one day after catching me make the Sign of the Cross sloppily. You told me, "Becky, you look like your swatting damn flies!" Then you made me make the Sign of the Cross over again. I had laughed at the time, at your choice of words and you probably think nothing special happened there, but it did. I am very careful about making the Sign of the Cross now. And I make sure that none of my kids look like they're swatting flies.
I remember how you used to lecture us. I remember thinking you should have become a priest. Your lectures were so full of wisdom, so deep. And even though I would sigh and roll my eyes, I would still listen. I remember being surprised one day, thinking that you didn't know I was listening because you couldn't "see" me with your bad vision, and even Mom said to me, "Becky, listen to your father when he's speaking to you" and you said, "She is. I can tell." I was so surprised that you knew I was listening even though I wasn't giving eye contact, and being disrespectful. I remember being surprised that you knew me so well.
I remember you coming home with a cast on your arm one day from the doctors. I asked you how you broke your arm and you said, "I broke it by smashing my fist on the candy machine because I wanted to buy you guys some candy, and it wouldn't work." I remember my eyes filling with tears and saying, "You mean we don't get candy??"
I remember the day when our dog Scrappy died. He got loose and even though I chased after him, I couldn't get to him on time and he got ran over by a car. I remember how we were home alone at the time and how Jerry was brave to pick up our dead dog off the street and cover him with a blanket. I remember you walked all the way home from work--about 5 miles away in the hot sun because you couldn't drive because of your vision. I remember how we saw you walking up the driveway in your suit and briefcase and we all ran up to you and you hugged us. You made a really bad day a little bit better.
I remember growing older and becoming a teenager and we stopped talking. We didn't understand each other. You told me you didn't understand me and I sure didn't understand you. I remember how it was awkward just to pass by you on the stairs. You would step aside as though I was going to run you over. I remember feeling hurt almost all the time and knowing that somehow, I was hurting you.
I remember your lectures got harsher. They were punctuated with sorrow, hurt and disappointment that I caused you. Looking back, that hurt was just truth speaking out. I thought you were just trying to hurt me but I didn't realize you were trying to save my soul.
I remember the day you told my mom you wouldn't tell me that you loved me. You said that I would have to say it first. I was so hurt and angry and confused by that. So I never said it again.
I remember the rift between us becoming so great that you didn't want to dance with me at the Father/Daughter Dance at my wedding. I remember you asked me if it was okay to skip it. I said it was, feeling mixed emotions of relief, confusion and sorrow. I knew then that we would never really have a Father/daughter relationship. Looking back, I thought you just didn't want to dance with me, but maybe you just didn't want anything to spoil my special day.
I remember the day I yelled at you. I really, really, yelled at you. I thought it was okay, because I was now a grown woman with kids and I felt you needed to hear the "truth". I don't even remember what I said or what the truth was. I just remember being so hurt and angry. I remember being shocked that Mom stood by your side and told me I needed to leave. I didn't call you guys for two days but all that time, I felt guilty. Somehow, despite my anger, you taught me well enough to know that a daughter always respects her father. I called you and apologized and you forgave me in an instant.
I remember praying about us. I prayed for you and for me all the time. I prayed that I would learn how to forgive you. I prayed that somehow our relationship would be healed before you died. Because at this time, you were getting older and sicker. You were having more strokes and you were becoming more ornery and difficult. I knew we would never be close but I didn't want things to end without you knowing that I loved you.
I remember when you became so confused you didn't know where you were half the time. I remember walking you to the bathroom and you wouldn't know what to do. I remember I tried to make up for all those times I was a bad daughter; I wanted you to feel safe with me, I wanted you to somehow feel the love without me having to express it. But I also remember always feeling hurt when you kept asking, "When is your mother going to get home?"
I remember the day before you died. You had one more stroke and became comatose for a day where you didn't wake up. We thought it would be the end, but then, you suddenly woke up. You wanted us to pray a family rosary together one last time. I remember how so many people kept stopping by, visiting you and Mom, and how I could never get a moment by myself with you. I remember wanting to let you know that I did love you and that I was sorry but that moment never came. You kept asking for other people or else I was told to let you rest. I finally went home to find comfort in my own family.
But as I stayed with my family, a strong "pull" that I couldn't ignore made me eventually come back. I decided I would stay until you died, even if you didn't notice me or ask for me. I wanted this for myself or I knew I would never forgive myself for not being there for you. I sat in the living room and visited with all your friends that were in the house. And then Mom came out of your room and surprised me by saying, "Your father wants to see you."
I remember sitting down and you clasped my hand tightly in your own. You couldn't talk because you were too weak but I saw tears in your eyes. I suddenly knew what you wanted to say, and so I said it for both of us:
"Dad, I know that sometimes when a kid is little, it's easy to misunderstand things, and grow up thinking things about a person that aren't necessarily true. I know that I haven't always understood you for who you are, and I'm sorry for everything I've said and done, and I know you are sorry too.
And I love you."
Then, when I wasn't expecting you to say it back, you did. Even though you couldn't talk, you gathered up the strength to say, "I...love...you...too!" And then we sat there smiling and nodding to each other, forgiving and forgetting and becoming father and daughter. It was such a gift that day, an answered prayer, that our relationship was healed the day before you died.
Dad, I'm a parent now, and I get it. I understand a little bit more every day why you were so "grumpy" when you were actually tired, why you were so hard on us, when it was actually worry and love, why you reacted angrily when really you were hurt, and why you "never let it go" because you were consistent. I "get" your tough love and how expressing love was hard for you because I am the same way. I understand your passionate lectures because I lecture too! I am cut from the same cloth you are, have the same passion and fire you did, have the same desires and hopes for my kids as you did for us.
And you were right, Dad, that some day we would thank you.
Thank you for being my Dad, not my friend. Thank you for working so hard to be the very best father you could be. I didn't see it then. But I see it now.