93: Seven Minutes

93: Seven Minutes

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Seven Minutes

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.

~Paul Boese

I inhaled the cool autumn air, heady with the aroma of ocean brine off Long Island Sound. I was on my annual “Girls Fall Weekend Away,” a few days of indulgence after my non-stop schedule of teaching and caring for a demanding family. My plans included wine tasting along the coast, fine dining and most importantly, sleeping in until I felt like getting up. Ahhhh, I breathed a long sigh of contented pleasure as I slipped into my friend’s car, feeling the pleasant buzz of a pre-dinner martini at the hotel. This weekend would be a carefree getaway from the worries, big and small, of my everyday life.

As the car pulled up in front of the restaurant, my cell phone vibrated. “Who could be calling me?” I wondered out loud, fumbling for my bag. I only used my cell phone when traveling, much to my teenage daughter’s chagrin, to check in at home or have phone access in an emergency. I had spoken with my husband before leaving the hotel and he reassured me everything was under control. So who could be calling me on a Saturday night at 7:00 PM?

“Hello,” I answered, relieved to have caught the call before it went to voicemail, but also slightly miffed to be disturbed.

“Lura, hi, it’s Dad. “ His voice was rushed and gruff, as if reading from a prepared script. “I just called your home and Peter gave me this number to call you. Do you have a moment? Everything’s fine here, everything’s fine with your mom, but I’d like to talk to you about something important.”

With these words, my pre-dinner buzz dissipated instantly and I was fifteen years old again, caught in irresponsible pleasure seeking, instead of being a good, selfless Catholic daughter.

“Dad, just a second.” My hand cupped over the phone, I discreetly waved my girlfriends on into the restaurant. While my initial reaction was sheepishness, I knew the call was serious and wondered if it had to do with his ongoing health problems. Along with the daily struggle of living with an amputated leg due to diabetes, a recent checkup had shown he had major blockage of the arteries and was a “heart attack waiting to happen.”

An uneasy apprehension clouded my carefree mood. Despite his health concerns, my first reaction was, “What have I done wrong?” I’d never had a real conversation with my dad before. The only times during my childhood he had sat and talked with me one-on-one involved discipline. Most of the time he avoided his children, staying long hours at work or hiding in his workshop at home. My mom and the maid dealt directly with the demands of eight kids.

I do not have one childhood memory of playing with my dad, reading a book with him or curling up next to him to watch a TV show. Once, in a rare moment of camaraderie, my father took my hand to walk along the beach on a Pacific Coast camping trip, just the two of us for no more than a few minutes. We both shared a profound love of nature and must have instinctively joined together in our awe of this stunning wild coastline. My level of discomfort at being alone with my dad would have erased this memory but for my sister, Mary, mentioning it many times as an example of how I was the “extra special” daughter. It was unthinkable to go to him for solace and guidance when I was hurt or sad. The few times I tried, he’d make short, dry, cutting comments on how I needed to be tougher, put hair on my chest, do things better. His irritation at being forced to interact directly with me was palpable and scorching.

Long ago I had accepted this status quo. He sat at the head of the dinner table every night, led the family to church on Sunday, but was not personally close to any of us except our mother. I hid my disappointment behind the stock phrases for men of his generation. That’s how he’d been raised. Dads from that generation weren’t expected to play with their kids. He was a good provider.

Now here I was on the phone, forced to talk with him. “Lura,” my father continued, as if reading a script, “I’m calling all the kids tonight to ask for their forgiveness. I’ve finally decided to go ahead with the heart surgery. They’ll operate tomorrow. I don’t know if I’m going to be alive soon and I want to make amends with each one of you.”

“Dad, you don’t have to apologize for anything,” I hurriedly interrupted, a little disingenuously as I was already feeling an urgent need to end this awkward conversation.

As if he didn’t hear me, Dad plowed on. “I’m asking every child’s forgiveness for not being the kind of father you needed when you were growing up. I loved all of you very much but it was difficult for me to be close. I know I left that role to your mother. I’m sorry I didn’t spend more time with each of you, talking with you and getting to know you. I was a good provider. I gave each of you what I consider to be the foundations of a successful life — faith, moral values, education. But I didn’t provide you with the warmth and love a father should give. I want to ask you for your forgiveness.”

There was a pregnant pause, and then he added, “Lura, do you forgive me?”

Without hesitating, more in an attempt to end this painful conversation than out of any deep reflection, I answered, “Dad, of course I forgive you.”

For the first time, I acknowledged to my dad a lifetime of disappointment and emotional neglect from him. And inexplicably, with that simple direct phrase of forgiveness, much of my bitter disillusionment at having an emotionally absent father began to vanish.

Our conversation was fairly brief. I reassured him he didn’t have to go through with the surgery if he didn’t want to and he reassured me he felt it was necessary. We ended with an exchange of I love you’s. I thanked him for the call. Afterwards, I glanced at my cell phone — the call had lasted a little over seven minutes.

My father did not survive the recovery from his heart surgery. Within a few short weeks, he gradually slipped into a coma from which he never resurfaced. I flew home to stand by his bed in the ICU, amid the maze of wires and tubes that kept him going one labored breath at a time. As I held his hand, his eyes opened and rolled about the room, before fixing themselves with great effort on me. I felt the faint squeeze of his hand and then his lips moved, “I love you.” Thanks to his last attempt, so long overdue, to forge a loving bond with me by asking directly for my forgiveness and letting me grant it, I was able to accept those parting words and return them with sincerity.

~Lura J. Taylor

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