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I had to see him. I just abhorred the thought that we had been apart for so long for reasons only God knows. I was fifteen when my mother died, and ever since then my father and I had never been on the best of terms. We were always disagreeing about something, whether it was a minuscule affair such as what shirt I was wearing to school, or if it was about a very important matter pertaining to something as major as moving halfway across the country. I turned 29 years old three weeks before, and for these reasons I had not spoken to my father in six years.
So there I stood on this placid Sunday afternoon, while the ever-changing leaves of fall swirled around my windows as if they were earth colored feathers that were being caressed by the gentle breath of someone without a care in the world. I watched as the small children in my neighborhood were galavanting around the silent street corners, and my dog whined at me from the doorway to take him out. No matter how badly I wanted to move from my spot-whether it was to let my dog out, or watch the kids, or to sit on my front porch inhaling the sweet smells that were left by the passing summer-I just couldn’t do it. Instead, my feet glued themselves to my bedroom floor and forced me to stay standing in front of my mirror looking at what I had become. My auburn hair was the same as it had always been: thick and slightly curled. My emerald green eyes and tall stature had not changed since I was a teenager. To anyone on the street I looked like the average exuberant person that I always tried to portray, but beneath my shell I felt broken. It was as if realization had hit me like an oncoming train, and suddenly I knew that in order to become my true self again, I had to see my father.
I felt the pressing urge to see my dad again when I woke up the next morning, only this time the feeling was stronger and all I could think about was him. Even after my pondering the afternoon before, I just couldn’t figure out why because my father had not been on my mind in years. For a few hours I was able to put off calling him by doing completely menial tasks around the house, but at around noon I finally gave into the need to hear his voice again. The first time I called all I got was voicemail. I wondered if he even remembered my phone number. I tried a few more times, and on the fourth call I think he finally got annoyed and picked up. I had planned out what I would say in my mind so that our conversation might not be as awkward, but as soon as the ringing ceased I was rendered speechless.
He said hello a few times and waited. I was still trying to catch my breath from the feeling of my heart pounding in my throat. He obviously didn’t remember my number.
“Hello? For the love of God will you just answer me?” he almost shouted, making no attempt to hide he was fed up.
“H-hello? Is this Rick Mabon?” I tentatively asked, completely flustered.
“Yeah, who’s asking?” he replied, still annoyed with not knowing who had the gall to call him.
“It’s Kathryn. Kathryn Mabon.”
There was silence on the other end for what felt like the time it took the seasons to turn a full cycle, but was none other than a few mere seconds. Finally, he spoke again.
“Oh. Uh, hello. H-how are you?”
His tone intimated his complete shock at hearing my voice.
I replied, “I’m good, I’m good. I just called to ask if you possibly wanted to join me for dinner tonight. I feel like we haven’t spoken in quite a while.”
To say we hadn’t conversed in a while was a complete understatement I thought, stifling a chuckle at the obvious misinterpretation. I waited a bit for a reply, and at last one came. He only asked one question:
“Do you still live in the same place?”
I replied with a yes, and he said he would be there at eight, then he hung up. Maybe there was still a smidgen of hope to redress our tattered relationship.
Just moments after I hung up the phone in utter amazement that my father even agreed to come to dinner, I feverishly started cooking and cleaning. I am not one to keep a messy home, but everything had to be perfect. I dusted the maroon curtains in my modern living room, and I vacuumed the tile floor in the kitchen. I even organized my cluttered office just in case. For the meal, I vaguely recalled what his favorite dish was: honey glazed ham with a thin zesty lemon reduction sauce. I took out the best wine I could find-I brought it back from previous trip to Paris- and set out some small appetizers including nuts and other small edibles. By the time everything was finished with the ham was seasoned and in the oven, I was a nervous wreck. All I could do to keep from hiding under my bed from anxiety until this night was over was to sit outside and stare out into the stars. My mother always used to do this with me when I was feeling overwhelmed, and I figured it might still work. Eventually, I found myself just staring blankly into the shimmering star-blazed sky subconsciously searching for an excuse to cancel, wishing for the constellations to whisper the perfect pretext to my mind. I even felt like I was looking for some small omen that told me not to follow through with this terrifying dinner. To my dismay, yet somehow to my excitement, I found nothing that would allow me to back out.
A few minutes after I ventured back inside, the doorbell rang. The sheer thought of my estranged father standing on my front porch made my knees go weak. As I slowly opened the door, I barely even recognized the man standing in front of my face. He appeared to be aged beyond his years, and he was wrinkled and balding from what looked to be stress and overwork. From what I remembered, he was much thinner than he used to be and seemed much too feeble and fragile for such a strong willed man. This wasn’t my father-it couldn’t be. I wondered what he had endured to leave him like this. Despite all the shortcomings that had happened between us in the past, if truth be told I felt a bit sorry for him. In the end we just stood and stared at each other for five minutes, both of us violently grasping for the words to fill this void of silence, but neither of us succeeding. Finally I asked him to come in. I knew that deep down in my soul seeing him made me feel happier than I had in longer than
I could remember, but my pride wouldn’t let me be the first to admit it. From his facial expressions as he crossed the threshold into my home, he appeared to feel exactly same way.
We exchanged humble small talk over the hors d’oeuvres and when the ham was cooked we were both relieved to be able to dig into the meal, giving us the perfect excuse not to be forced to make idle conversation. Halfway through the meal he told me it was like he remembered, and I felt completely elated. I couldn’t recall the last time I had gotten a genuine complement from my father, even one as vague as that. The moment passed though, and things returned to the uncomfortable silence that had decided to hang over the dinner table like a thick woolen blanket. After a while he attempted to start up any possible conversation. The small talk from earlier seemed to be a good first step, so he asked me how work was going.
“Good, work’s been good. Nothing too new though,” I said.
“Okay, so then no opportunities lately?” he asked, seeming curious.
“No,” I replied. “Every time I send in an application for a new position I get declined,” I informed him.
“Oh, well then maybe you just need to be a better worker,” he muttered under is breath.
“What? You mumbled I didn’t catch what you said,” I said quizzically.
“Look, I just think that maybe if you work harder you could get a promotion. Even when you were in school you never seemed to apply yourself,” he answered defiantly.
“Rick,” I was definitely not ready to call him Dad yet, “I always have and always will continue to work as hard as I can in everything I do, especially in my career. Maybe you would recognize my passion for what I do if you cared enough to visit occasionally!”
Our conversation was starting to get heated. This was definitely not going to end well.
Defensively, my father countered my statement with, “Well, maybe you would understand where I’m coming from if you either called once in a while or listened to a word I say!”
We carried on like this for fifteen minutes, before he’d had enough and left the dining room. In his rage he knocked over the water and nuts and ended up pulling back the table cloth causing more of what I had so carefully arranged to fall off the table, but I was so blinded by my own anger I barely even noticed it.
“Why can’t you appreciate anything I do? Why is nothing ever good enough?” I asked.
“Because,” he said. “Because nothing IS ever good enough. You can do better. You just choose not to!”
“I’m sick of listening to you, get out! Just leave!” I almost spat out at him.
There was silence for a few seconds before he calmly picked up his jacket and sauntered out the door without another word.
My mind was blank and what limited thoughts I could muster up were rushing around in a blur as I quietly cleaned everything up. I couldn’t think straight, and the last thing I wanted circling around in my head was the blowout, but at the same time it was the only thing running through my mind despite my pathetic attempts to think about anything else. I went to sleep feeling numb, as if I was watching myself from somewhere far off, and the next morning I woke up feeling the same way. It was as if all emotion had escaped my mind and my nerves had suddenly stopped working. I was constantly walking in a dream.
Maybe it was just my exhaustion getting to me, but I called my father again before I could fully process the idea in my mind. He let the call go again and I was extremely disheartened. Later that afternoon I tried again a few more times and left somewhere near a dozen apology messages before he picked up again. I explained to him how sorry I was about the night before and how I needed to talk to him again. As I was pouring out my heart and soul to him over the phone, he interrupted me.
“I’m so sorry for everything. I can’t believe that it took so many years and almost a complete fallout to realize that I haven’t been there for you. There aren’t words to describe how I feel, and I hate that it is all becoming clear to me now. You’re right, but we are both wrong if we think that we can do this over the phone,” he said, his voice unusually gravelly. He inhaled and then said very fatherly, “I’m coming over. No objections.”
I paced around my living room awaiting his arrival, and when he came to the door, it was as if he had not even been there the night before. I felt as if all the memories of past years had been erased in that one loving look of a man who simply wants to start over. He wrapped his arms around me and we stood there like that for what must have been ten minutes, making up for far too much lost time in a single hug. I really did miss him, but up to this point I never truly knew how much, and I didn’t think he did either. I had no words that could express the magnitude of all the colliding emotions swirling inside me, so without breaking our embrace I murmured into his wrinkled shirt what I had been yearning to say ever since I was 15:
“I love you Dad.”