“When I was a kid, you were a mysterious superhero to me. To me, you could have bench pressed 1000 lbs, ran 60 mph, and had a heart of gold. You made your fair share of mistakes, but I believed you were fighting everyday to make up for them. I made up excuses for you when you were late or maybe never even showed up. I let it slide that you rarely came to see me. I purposely forgot about the anger and violence you brought home. I made myself forget the hurt you brought to me and my mother. No matter how absent you were, no matter what you had done in the past, I made it a point to proudly claim you as my father.
October of 2017, on a drive home, I had a realization: you don’t want me, and you never did. When I was younger, you chose your second family over me. You chose to see them every day, and me every few months. When you and Lynn got a divorce, you looked to my shoulder to cry on. I gave it, and I remember thinking: maybe this is my chance to finally have my father. A few weeks after the divorce, after just enough time to conjure up a reality where I was a normal boy with an involved father, you forgot about picking me up for lunch. You called a few hours later and claimed you were sorry. You had watched the Nascar race with your friends instead. You were at a point where you had a choice: me or not me. You chose ‘not me.’
Every birthday you would call to wish me a happy birthday. I would cry every birthday. As soon as I heard your voice an omnipresent thought emerged: ‘I won’t hear this voice for another 365 days.’ On January 9th of 2020, I turned twenty-two years old. Six days later you realized you forgot my birthday. You left a voicemail. I still have not opened it to this day.
We have not spoken in one and a half years. I have not seen you in four years. You don’t know that I have been in a happy long-term relationship. You don’t know what I am studying in college or what my future career plans are. You don’t know me at all. Yet, every day I think about you. I think about how much you’ve hurt me. Every day I think about the fact that the person who is supposed to be obligated to love you, doesn’t. Every day I imagine running into you. I envision protecting my family from you. As you lie here, moments away from death, I want the last thoughts in your head to be remorse. I want you to feel sorry for the violence, the pain, and the hurt you have brought to others. Before you leave this world, I want you to know how you made me feel.”
That’s what I am going to tell him. After we all conduct our group visit, I am going to ask for a moment alone. Then, I will let him know everything I have been thinking about for the past four years.
As odd as it is, I have always liked hospitals. It brings me comfort to know that there are always people around. That the lights are always on. Nobody is ever alone. Here it is, room 422. Everybody is telling me he looks different now, but I have been trying to refrain from creating images of him in my head. If you don’t imagine it, you’ll be less surprised, then you’ll be more in control. No roommate, just a bathroom, a couch, and a curtain between me and him.
That’s him? He never had a beard like that. He always had more hair on his head. I’ve never seen his arms and legs so skinny. His stomach is even more bloated than the doctor’s said. Wow, there are a lot of machines attached to him.
He’s alive. He’s conscious. He’s trying to tell me something with his eyes. He’s trying so hard to speak. He’s using every muscle he can to try to get up. Yet, he can’t. This is not dad. This is not the man I came to see. This is not the man I feared. This is a desperate man, destroyed by his own actions, begging for forgiveness with the only functional body parts he has left. “Can I have the room alone with him please?”
As soon as they all leave, I will take a few minutes to make sure they are all out of hearing distance. I will make time to take this moment in and anchor it as a permanent memory in my brain.
“Hi Dad. I know this relationship did not turn out the way either of us wanted. I just wanted you to know that I love you. I know you’re sorry. I turned out great. It’s okay. It’s all okay. I forgive you.”
His next blink occurred in a slow, measured manner as if he was allowing the words to sink in. When his eyelids opened, the desperation previously rooted in his pupils was absent. He glared at me with eyes of reconciliation.
He died the next day.