“You’ve got a perfectly good room upstairs so why the hell are you looking for an apartment?”
Dad’s words thundered through our small kitchen and Mom was visibly embarrassed. I didn’t know how to respond. I was 21, a college graduate, and at the end of the summer I would embark on three years of culinary school in New Orleans. I only had to find a summer job in the right restaurant that would hopefully turn into something full time. Then an apartment and roommate would follow. So why on earth would I want to move back home?
Dad was flummoxed by my silence and he stormed off. And within a week I had found a job in a fine restaurant and moved to New Orleans.
On this Mother’s Day of 2016, our church honored our high school seniors. They sat up front, they made up the bulk of the altar participants and one even gave the sermon. My own son wore my cassock and wooden cross as he performed his chalice bearer duties, sharing bread and wine with our parishoners. As the service ended and the priest and acolytes processed out of the church, I couldn’t help but stare at the empty altar.
At that moment, I should’ve felt a Father’s pride and a sense of honor yet I felt as empty as that altar. And I saw my own Dad walking up the stairs of our small south Louisiana house and hesitating at my empty bedroom. How many times did he stop and gently push that door open and see me, all of three or four years old, running into his arms and excitedly screaming “Daddy”? How many tears did he wipe away after I left? Dad was a man of the law and he rarely dealt with me in areas of gray, it was usually black and white, right and wrong. And for whatever reason, as I was growing up, we didn’t have enough of those Father and Son talks. That summer, instead of gently telling me this would be our last chance to spend a lot of time together and perhaps make up for those missed opportunities, he issued a guilty sentence and stormed off the bench.
In our church, on Mother’s Day, with everything I hold dear within an arm’s reach of me, I had a terrible sense of misfortune. My son is a good kid with a strong sense of right and wrong and a desire to help others yet at that moment I felt nothing but regret and loneliness. My heart felt as empty as our altar. I should’ve felt pride and a strong sense of accomplishment and instead all my sins felt as fresh and raw as a hornet’s sting on a pretty summer day. Had I properly cherished each day? Had I taken every opportunity to show him the ways of the world and the movement of this earth? All those moments came rushing back at me and I saw my own four year-old son waving goodbye as I went to work.
You’re not ready. It’s too soon. We haven’t had enough time together. You don’t understand the complexities of life as I do.
Please don’t leave me son because I’m not ready to face the world without you in the house.
And in that moment I understood my Dad and his inability to counsel me. It all made sense. In his time, Dad parted ways with his family and went off on a grand adventure, then school, then law school. And his own family, first generation immigrants, were very proud of him.
When it was my time to leave the house, I couldn’t sense my Dad’s heartache through his boisterous pleading and it all felt so confusing and nonsensical. He didn’t know how to say “You’re not ready and you still have a lot to learn.”
He was right. I know that now.
I forgive you, Dad, and I miss you terribly. And you’d be very proud of your grandson.
And if you enjoy my writing, perhaps you would enjoy my novel, Doughnuts for Amy, published this year by Winter Goose and set in Greenville.