Right after my father died, I made an upsetting comment to my Mom. I told her that I had never really talked to Dad. She promptly told me I was crazy, and that we talked all of the time. I clarified my remark by pointing out that though we often reminisced, spoke of the Packers or the then Milwaukee Braves, or about my grades in school, we never really talked intimately. She was appalled at the suggestion. I was certain I was being honest and accurate. She brought up her resentment of my remark at least once a year for the remainder of her life.
Still, I WAS telling the truth. We just never spoke of feelings or thoughts or beliefs, all of the stuff which makes us so wonderfully and painfully human. We stayed on the surface. Except for the sentiments he expressed concerning his homeland, England, I never knew what he actually felt about anything. His face and voice were a blank slate. Like the sky on a simmering one hundred degree day in August, his soul appeared to be a pale sickly grey lit only by a small lemon drop of sun. I am not sure there was all that much in there. He was spiritually, well, empty. He was full only when remembering, or when absorbing the love of his family or a few good buddies.
I regret this fact. I wish my relationship had gone much deeper. That our conversations had been longer and fuller, and filled with intimate details. I wish our talks had created tears in my eyes, or ignited gales of laughter. No such luck. It was just a steady drone of data, never anything of substance. There was certainly nothing of any eternal dimension. Ours was a chit chat relationship. It killed the time. Effectively, I might add. I do know I was guilty of never asking him a really good question. I wish I had known to do that back then. I may have known, but I never did it. I have no idea why.
I know now that I will never get that time back. Not ever. I will never recover the chance to get to know my Dad, or for he to get to know me. There will never be a long stroll accompanied by a tender thoughtful stream of words. I will never go on a car journey with him, and be forced to talk for hours on end. I will never get to tell him how I felt about him -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. And, likewise, I will never unpack his heart as to how he felt about me.
These black holes in our lives are damn tough. They are holes where starlight once shined, and a bright possibility flickered against a black velvet backdrop. It hurts to know inside when something is really and totally gone, has vanished, disappeared without a trace. We feel cheated. Empty. We sweat with the burden of an absence often larger than the presence had been. There is a sharp piercing ache of longing, and though it will not leave a scar, we feel punctured, as though we had paid a visit to really bad acupuncturist. That is how the soul feels – almost exactly.
I yearn some days to tell my Dad a good story about my life, my ministry, or his grandson. I have a deep desire to let him know I knew he loved me. I saw it when he wept when I got off the plane my freshman year for my fall break from St. Olaf College. I was so stunned. He pretended to be sneezing or something, but we both knew. I have little clues like that. A few morsels which have helped me locate fragments of my father’s heart.
Still, it is damn hard to admit your father never really knew you, and for the most part, remained anonymous to his son. It is a sad fact but true. That is just the way sometimes. In Life there are no real do overs. No mulligan second chances for the lousy golfers. No instant replay. There is just a shadow slogging by, leaving not a trace. Then it is gone.
There have been times when I have hoped I could follow the shadow down the path and into the woods. But, I know I would lose the trail as quickly as one loses sight of a scampering deer. Then I sigh. So it goes. We will never get it back.
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.