From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Daddy’s Story

The only things that count in life are the imprints of love we leave behind us after we are gone.

Albert Schweitzer

Once, when we were children, my sister said, “Daddy will be home today.”

“Who?” I questioned.

“Our father, silly. Remember, the man who’s never here?”

“So what! I’ll hardly see him anyway. How long will he not be here this time?” I said sarcastically.

“Who knows? You know Daddy,” Bette replied.

And I thought to myself, No, I don’t.

Noteworthy events of our lives are not the usual ones like birthdays and anniversaries. Sorrow sculpts us more than joy. Sorting through our lives we stumble upon the tough times—the times that teach us how to forgive.

My relationship with my father is one area of my life where I struggle to recall more than just a few happy times together. My sister, Bette, remembers good times with Dad. She was older, and I think he knew how to relate to an older child. He taught her how to play golf and gave her driving lessons. She thought he had something to do with hanging the moon. Their times together almost never included me, his other daughter. But the past can’t be changed, just forgiven.

When I really needed a father’s guiding hand during my teens, Mother and Dad divorced, then he was gone for good. Eventually, he remarried, and a great person was added to our lives: his wife, Elizabeth. Leave it to a woman to know how to rebuild a relationship with a man. And Liz did.

When he was diagnosed with cancer, I faced it knowing that the time left was precious. Deep within, I yearned to share some close, intimate time with my daddy before it was too late. I loved my father and knew, in his way, he loved me, too. But for both of us it was an undeclared love.

We asked Liz to tell us the best time for Bette and me to fly to California to see them. I definitely wanted to visit before it became a deathbed scene. Unfortunately, that happened sooner than I expected.

My heart was in my throat when I walked into Dad’s living room and saw him sitting on the couch, frail, shaking and gray with weakness. The golfer, the World War II dollar-a-year man, the successful business tycoon, had been transfigured by illness. His strength was so depleted that Liz had to help him back to bed almost immediately upon our arrival.

On and off all that weekend we spent time at his bedside, discouraged. My plans for a one-on-one talk with Dad were fading fast, and I was sorely disappointed.

On our last evening there, Elizabeth came back from Dad’s room and told us he was getting up, getting dressed and wanted to speak to us all together. I was unprepared for the man who, with good color and great strength, walked unaided down the hall toward us. His stride was sure and straight, as though some unseen power propelled him. It was hard to believe it was the same bedridden man I’d seen only hours before.

He took a deep breath, and when he spoke his voice was strong and steady. His eyes, no longer cloudy, were clear and direct as they fixed intently upon Bette and me.

Pausing cautiously between each sentence, he said, “Somewhere I’ve heard you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. So here goes. I know I’ve fallen way short of being a good father to you. My own life and desires got in my way. I owe you an apology. So, before the man upstairs lets me go home, I need to say: I am so sorry. There are so many things I should have done that I didn’t. I’d like to lay the blame on someone else—but there isn’t anyone. The buck stops here. I can only hope you have enough love to indulge me and forgive your old man for all the times he’s failed you. I know I don’t deserve it, but I need your forgiveness.” Then he paused, and for a minute tears choked his voice. “ I’ve always loved you. It’s a love you can take to the bank.” Then he whispered, “I guess that’s all.”

We couldn’t have taken more. Speechless and in tears, we hugged and patted him, mumbling our love. In the next minute, like flipping a switch, Dad again became the fragile, terminal patient. He was totally spent. I began helping him back to bed, almost carrying him down the hall, and for some reason Liz and Bette let me do it alone.

When we got back to his room, he sat on the edge of the bed as I knelt on the floor beside him. In a hushed voice he whispered, “Ruthie, did that help? Do you understand how much I love you?”

“Oh, Daddy, of course, I understand. I’ve never loved you more in my life.” And for a little while we simply sat in the quiet. Finally, the child in me was holding tightly to her daddy’s hand—an unforgettable moment.

Exhausted, he slept, and I lingered at his bedside, not wanting to break the newly found connection we’d made with each other. None of it completely answered my childhood questions of why he’d found the demands of fatherhood so difficult, but the adult daughter, mother and wife I’d become could understand what the child could not. His words had been like a medicine to me. I felt healed.

I’d had my longed-for special time with him. I wouldn’t ask for more. There was forgiveness, and there was love. It was enough.

Ruth A. Hancock

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