His Mistakes

April 30, 2010
I kicked a pebble across the stone path in front of me. It bounced across about five or so stones before landing to rest next to a tree. The blazing rays of the sun beat down from up above causing sweat to drip down my forehead and at the base of my neck. With a sigh, I looked at my watch. 3:00. Two hours late. I leaned my head against the stair railing next to the steps I was sitting on. Closing my eyes, I pretended it was winter and snowflakes were whirling around rather than the UV rays that were burning me. Reaching into my pocket, I took out my phone. I dialed my mother’s cell.

“Hello?” I heard a click on the other end as my mom answered.

“Hi, Mom.” I finally opened my eyes.

“Is he still not there yet?” my mother asked angrily.

“No. I tried calling him, but all I got was his answering machine.”

“Where the hell is he?” My mother was on the verge of screaming. “It’s been two hours!”

“Mom, calm down.”

“I am not going to calm down. Is there anyone else there?”

I turned to look behind me. The rooms were dark, forming eerie ghosts across the room. There was only one sign of life: the haggard old janitor with headphones vacuuming. With a hint of despair in my voice, I meekly replied, “No.”

“That’s it. I am sending someone to get you.”

“Mom, no it’s okay. He’ll be here, I think, but he hasn’t seen me in weeks.” I could hear my mom talking to my stepdad on the other end. Tim was trying to calm her down. I caught only faint whispers of their conversation. “It’s okay…” “No..it’s not. I am so sick of this…”

“Joann, I know your dad hasn’t seen you in six weeks but this is ridiculous. I am going to call Aunt Mary to come pick you up. Just wait for one more hour.”

“Wait, Mom, I am getting a call.” I put my mom on hold and went to the other line. “Dad? Is that you? Where are you?” Despite the anger boiling beneath the surface, I talked in my sweet “Daddy’s little girl” voice.

“I am so sorry, Joany. I got held up at work and left too late and then there was too much traffic…” My father continued to roll excuses off his tongue like candies on a conveyor belt. I just didn’t care anymore.

“Dad,” I interrupted, “when are you getting here?”

“I am about two blocks away.”

“Okay, let me just get Mom off the other line.” I switched over to my mom, who was waiting but obviously using all her strength to keep herself from exploding.

“He is two blocks away. Please, just leave it alone. I will talk to him.”

My mom sighed. “Fine, but you better talk to him, and I mean really talk to him. Don’t just tell him it’s okay, and you just wish he’d be on time when he has to pick you up again. If you don’t, I might have to take more drastic measures.”

“I know. Bye.”

My dad’s old, beat-up Jeep came rattling down the drive. I climbed up off the burning steps and headed toward the car. With his night black hair and beat-up Nike shoes, my father stepped out. His face widened into a grin in front of me.

“Joany! It’s so good to see you. I’ve missed you.” He pulled me towards him in a burly hug.

“Hi, Dad. “ I was smiling, in spite of myself, even though I wanted to punch him, hit him in the gut, and make him realize what a crappy Dad he was being. Guilt always made me forget his faults. Guilt over the divorce. Guilt over the little time he saw me. Guilt of not trying hard enough to be the perfect daughter. My guilt didn’t make sense; it just was.

“I’ll get your bags.” My dad reached down and picked up my two suitcases, my backpack, and the black garbage bag with my toiletries. I carried my purse and flute.

“Phew, Joany, you sure have a lot of stuff. Did you pack your whole room?” He laughed, crossing the stones towards the car.

I managed a fake smile. What I really wanted to say was, “Maybe you would’ve known beforehand how much stuff I had if you had come to my recital.” But, of course, I didn’t.

Once the bags were loaded, I climbed into the front seat and my dad and I drove away from Yale University and New Haven towards his house in New Jersey.

My dad was tense, driving nervously, his eyes focusing on the yellow lines blurrily passing by on the road. Hand prints from sweat could be seen on the steering wheel. He never sat up that straight when he drove. He knew he had screwed up big time.

“So, how are your mom and Tim doing? Are they having fun in Rome?”

“Yeah.” I just stared out the window.

“I talked to your brother yesterday. He said he’s having fun in France. He loves studying abroad.”

“That’s nice. “

I could feel my Dad’s eyes on me, pleading.

“How did your recital go?”

“You would’ve known if you had been there.” This time I glared at him, right in the eyes.

My dad heaved a sigh. “Joany, I told you on the phone, I was sorry.” His eyes continued scanning the road ahead even though practically no other cars were near us. “It just wouldn’t work out. I would’ve had to go to your camp early and stay for a couple nights because it wouldn’t make sense to go back to New Jersey just to come right back here to pick you up. And you know, the company is in a rough spot, and I can’t afford to skip that many days of work.”

I was biting my lip, gripping the handles of my flute case so forcefully that my hands were screaming, and I could taste bits of blood in my mouth.

“I know, but I was the principal flutist in the orchestra. I had a solo, not to mention I worked six weeks for that concert.” I was doing my best to hold myself together, but I knew if I unclenched my hands, all the bitterness inside would rip its way out of me and strangle my father.

My dad didn’t know what to say. He never did. He never learned either. He just kept making the same mistakes over and over again as if a part of him was stuck being a three-year-old who just didn’t comprehend what he was doing wrong.

“You know,” I said, breaking the silence. “If you had come then, I wouldn’t have had to wait for you for two hours.” I let those last words drop out slowly, one at a time, like the first few raindrops falling from the sky before a storm. I didn’t say it angrily, just monotonously, unsure of how he would react.

My dad didn’t even look at me.

“Dad!” I let one little cry of anger slip. I wanted him to talk, to admit his mistake. I wanted him to answer me.

“What?” He turned to me. “What do you want me to say? I already said I was sorry. I can’t do anything else about it now.”

Never in my entire life have I yelled at my dad. That stupid guilt was always eating away at me, but years and years of disappointment finally burst.

“I’m sick of your stupid ‘sorry’s’! Dad, you showed up two hours late! I was sitting out there alone on the steps waiting for you! I was a girl with a father who didn’t care enough about her to show up on time!”

“Joann. Do not yell at me. I got held up. You know I care about you.”

“If you really cared, why do you never call just to ask me how I’m doing? Why don’t you come to see my concerts? Why the hell, can’t you be where you say you’ll be when you say you’ll be!”

“How dare you say that I don’t care. How dare you yell at me like this!” My dad finally raised his voice.

“I am going to yell if I want to yell. Obviously, it’s the only way to get you to listen. God, I’ve always been so scared to be angry at you, but honestly, I don’t care anymore.”
“Joann,” my dad interjected.
“Listen.” I cut him off. Too shocked to say anything for a few minutes, my dad sat quietly while I continued. “I am so sick of you making the same mistakes and then showing up, saying sorry, as if everything will be okay. I am sick of wasting whole days waiting, wondering when, if ever, you’ll show up. I’m sick of you saying you’ll come to see one of my debates or come to one of my concerts and then calling to cancel at the last minute. I’m sick of you making me the parent, making me make the plans and keep track of you to make sure you keep your word. I’m just sick! I really am!” I threw my hands in the air in exasperation. My heart was pounding, and I was out of breath.

My dad lost control. “Shut up!” He knew he couldn’t attempt to deny what I had said because what I had said was the truth. Worst of all, he knew that this time, I wasn’t going to forgive him so easily.


“Joann, I mean it.” His words were threatening, sharp, but I wasn’t backing down.


My dad slammed his hands against the steering wheel. “God damn you.”

“You know what? Take me to Aunt Mary’s.”

“What?” My dad was beyond stunned. His little girl was refusing to stay in New Jersey with him.

“Take me to Aunt Mary’s.” My voice was stern, unwavering.

“Fine, if you want to, I’ll take you. I am so disappointed in you though, Joann.” My dad thought with those words, he’d change my mind like he always had before. He knew inside that I would break down and forgive. Normally, he would’ve been right, but not today.

“I’ve been disappointed in you for a long time,” I said quietly, gazing out the window.

We rode the rest of the way home to Boston in silence. Not a word was spoken. When we reached Aunt Mary’s, he simply unloaded my bags, weakly told me he loved me, and left.

I watched the car drive away until it was out of sight. I listened until I could no longer hear the rusted metal clang against the pavement. I knew and he knew I’d eventually forgive him. He was my father and that’s that. But today, I was strong. Today, I was going to be angry.

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