Father’s Day reminds me that soon it will be 14 years since my dad died from complications related to cancer. Next to my desk I keep two of my favorite photos of him on a bookshelf.
In one photo, he is standing next to my stepmother, his second wife. They are smiling, standing side-by-side, his arm around her shoulder. Their marriage spanned from soon after my parents divorced until the end of his life, the day after his 76th birthday.
The second photo was taken on Father’s Day years ago. I had driven 1,200 miles to surprise him. When I got there, his neighbors told me that he and my stepmother had gone away for the weekend. Feeling dumb about not pre-arranging everything, all I could do was scribble a note telling him to call me at a local motel when he got back. (Cell phones did not exist.) And I waited for his call.
He called the next day and I was at his house almost before he could hang up the phone. That day I took a great close-up of his face. I wanted to eliminate all background clutter. As it turns out, a slight upward tilt of the camera gave the sky a halo-effect around him.
That day also turned out to be one of the few times we both felt comfortable talking about the past. He spoke with candor about mistakes. He did not rationalize. He did not seem to hold grudges or say anything negative about my mother, which was a surprise because my mother held fast to her old perspectives, continued to label him a liar, abandoner”the list was long, but mostly unprintable.
Somehow, I began the process of reexamining my beliefs about him. I had lots of memories of good times with him that no one could change. Like when I was 5 or 6, often we would wrestle on the living room floor. He would play the horse that we had to try to lasso and ride. There was a hike with him to a waterfall where we climbed over slippery boulders to reach the other side. There was the day he took me to see where he had grown up; we hiked around the small farm, finding the swimming hole he had played in when he had been my age. There were gifts he brought home after long absences. There were photos. My list is long.
I remember the first time I visited him after my parents divorced. (I did not tell my mother.) He had placed photos of each one of us around his apartment”photos of my siblings, of me, and my mother. It seemed strange that he was so willing to provide for us even though essentially, all his children, and my mother chose to erase him from their lives”except for me.
Sadly, after he was diagnosed with cancer, none of my siblings contacted him. They could not reconstruct or allow for the possibility that he was not the man they believed he was.
My dad and I were able to salvage and recreate a relationship that should have existed continuously throughout my childhood. Where my family never saw him as a devoted, caring Father and husband, this is the person I grew to know. Something in me wanted to love him enough to forgive him, forgive myself, and believe that our relationship could be. Thankfully, we both wanted the relationship.
Carol Scrol lives in Truckee.