Most of my life, I kept a safe distance from my dad. I loved him. And I thought I hated him. In his later years, he needed an aortic transplant when he developed an aneurism that could not be repaired in the ordinary way because of his osteomyelitis. I traveled from my life in Oregon to Baltimore where I sat by his bedside for 5 weeks that changed my perception of him forever. I wrote something in my journal on the way home from that amazing time. Now that my father is dead, I wish I'd shared what that time with him meant to me. Each day, he told me a story from his life. I'd listen and then at night I'd return to the motel room I'd rented on the campus of Johns Hopkins and write about what he'd told me that day. If my father cried the following morning when I read it to him, I knew I got the important things right. I wish he could have known how I changed as result of hearing his life story. Perhaps understanding is all we really need to find forgiveness. This is what I wrote on the plane.
"From the other side of the country, the other side of my life, I came to that place--The Johns Hopkins Hospital--to be with my father. And each day, for more than five weeks, we greeted the morning together.
It was in those moments that I came to understand, I mean really understand, how far my father and I had journeyed together and how much I was able to reconcile the separate truths of that voyage. My father is a man I came to love in an intricate and irreversible way and I can no longer conceive of his absence from my life.
But if time could magically cease for my father and me, I know that is where I would stop it--in that place, at that unlikely time in both our lives. That time when our roles reversed and I became the parent of my father. It was a wondrous, unbelievable time, especially the way we were in the morning.
And that is what I want to remember. To remember always. The two of us, father and daughter, shadowed by the first light. Momentarily alone together, our breath rising into the morning air and him, lying there, telling me for the first time, the story of his life. The story of the man who was, after all, my father."
And so on this Father's Day I go back to that time, as I knew I would, and I remember him with love and respect for everything he endured. For how hard he tried, despite the wounds, to rise above his circumstances and love me and my brothers. My father taught me tenacity. And it has helped me in this elusive pursuit of the writing dream. My father never gave up and he became a pretty good one-handed carpenter. I loved you, Dad. And now, when I can no longer say those words to you, I wish I'd said them more often.
An afterthought: It occurs to me now that, in a way, I did stop time by writing about those weeks with my father. And now I can go back to it whenever I want. Sometimes it's a wonderful thing to be a writer.