My father died Saturday night, or early Easter morning. Heart attack. He was a man of impulse and appetites. Between the raging volcano of anger and violence that covered my youth in ash and the weathered old mountain my daughter climbed to reach the wind chimes, he was a lot of things.
I don’t know how I feel. I see the whole event receding from me, on some distant coast I can’t reach, where other sons mourn other fathers. I’m not one of them, and people who love their fathers unconditionally won’t understand. I’m sad, yes. But also indifferent. Relieved. And extremely guilty about not feeling how I’m supposed to feel. How other people would feel. Normal people.
My father loved me, his oldest son. He’d been sorry and I’d forgiven him. Mostly. I remember too much; I believe too much in the power our pasts hold over our futures. No. I don’t believe that. I know that. Dad thought time was a line. Things happen, you mark them off, the line moves on. He couldn’t accept that every mark shifts the line inalterably, permanently. He refused to see the spider-veined temporal reverberations of his misdeeds on his four sons, his four functional but deeply damaged sons. I don’t believe in straight lines, and I’m skeptical of bygones.
Because of my father, I can throw a baseball. Because of my father, I can duck a baseball. Because of my father, I didn’t pick up a baseball or step onto a basketball court for years. I think now that I purposely rejected the games he’d played and coached. I eventually became a swimmer. I liked the long, languid silences, pushing back against the water’s resistance, my only competition my body’s limitations. Just me. No team. No one to let down, no one to disappoint me.
I think I loved him. I didn’t hate him anymore. I’d moved on from that. I wasn’t even angry, but I still held a trace of resentment. Not bitter or acidic anymore, no edge to it, but just enough to maintain a distance between us. I feel bad about it, truly. But I think I’m entitled and I think he deserved it. It was all the feeling I could spare for him. I can honestly say it was the most I had left to give. I let him know my daughter. That was our reckoning.
Now, I go on. I’ve a clear conscience, if a troubled mind. I’ll be haunted, true, but we all have our ghosts. I’m sadness without tears, regret without rebuke. I want to love my daughter and have her never feel this way about me. I want to be responsible for more joy than pain, to be the breath that starts the journey and not the grumbling along the way. I resolve to be better, more, and present, while time enough is left.