I haven't seen my father in 20 years. (Oh no, here she goes again. I've found Mary and her new Witness Protection Identity is my blog.) The last time I saw him was for 5 minutes in the Vice-Principal's office at my high school when I was 16 years old (no, I was not in trouble). And that was the first time in 3 years. Up until I was 13 we had seen each other fairly regularly since my parents' divorce when I was 5.
About 5 years ago, I contacted an aunt and uncle (on his side) I had been close with as a child. They gave me occasional news of my father. I had pretty much written him off, going through phases over the years - anger, indignation, sadness, disappointment, detachment, relative indifference, although not necessarily in that order. Then I had kids.
It didn't bother me that my children wouldn't know him, his loss, I thought. My sweet mother used to say that to me. When he didn't (ever) call or when I didn't see him for years she would say, "It's his loss." I remember thinking, yeah sure maybe, but it's my loss too. When Boy1 was old enough to start asking questions, I began to wonder how I was going to be able to explain all of it to him. And what my attitude would tell him about relationships and family.
I have a dear friend who makes bridges for a living. Once, years and years ago, he wore a t-shirt that said "Build bridges not bombs." Or maybe it was, "Make bridges not bombs." Anyway, those words have stayed with me all these years and I never knew why (I'm neither an engineer nor a bomb-maker person nor a peace message sign carrier) - until Boy1 started asking all those questions about family and feelings and forgiveness for wrongs, real or imagined. I realized that it was my responsibility as a parent (only speaking for myself here, please find no blanket statements where there are none) to build bridges. To show him an example of forgiveness and to let him watch me learn to love someone again.
So, while pregnant with Boy2, my aunt and uncle told me that my father had cancer. Maybe it was that, maybe it was Boy1's questions, maybe it was hormones - anyway, I sent him a birth announcement when Boy2 was born. He wrote back. And a tentative correspondence began. Let me be clear. My father is not someone, in any other circumstances, I would choose to correspond with. We are thousands of miles apart in every way possible. Seriously. And yet.
I have forgiven him for all those wrongs I felt so strongly about, real or imagined. I love him again, but differently, without the expectations and conditions I guess. Because, quite frankly, he would only disappoint me again. He cannot give what he does not have. So I love him, simply as my father. Not the father I always wanted, not the father I would've like to have, but as the father I had. Straight from the heart, bypassing the head, as a gift. For my kids, for me, and for him.