Walking around the lake with my friend Mary one afternoon, the idea came up in conversation that I should visit my dad. I had a problematic relationship with him since my 20s, and had tried every which way to insert myself into his life – from showing unconditional love by being a ready ear to his troubles, to directly communicating my true feelings in a loving way. I even tried shutting him out of my life if things didn’t change, but that only made him do the same to me. Nothing worked.
But I couldn’t give up.
So, when we started talking about this idea, it made me stop inside. Strange thing is, I don’t even know who brought it up first, me or my friend. I knew that if I thought about it even for a minute, I’d miss an opportunity to change things – I didn’t know what would change or how I’d do it, but I knew it was worth considering.
“OK, I’ll go. I’ll go see dad in person,” I said half shocking myself hearing the words out loud.
Without hesitation Mary responds, “Good. How about next Friday?”
“Next Friday works,” I say. Is this really happening, I think to myself.
“Good. It’s settled. I’ll pick you up at 9:00am and we’ll drive up together.”
At this, I’ve stopped breathing. “Sure Mary. Sounds good,” I say taking a breath in.
Next Friday comes fast, and true to her word, Mary is at my apartment at 9:00am sharp. The drive to Sacramento takes twice as long no thanks to travelers heading North for the weekend and unusually bad commuter traffic. Plus, it’s hot – in the 90’s to be exact. All of this, however, is made bearable with a combination of stimulating conversation, a sense of personal mission and the tinge of adventure that a road trip with a good friend will bring.
Hours later we’re just a few miles from dad’s house and I start to tremble. Mary pulls over, “What’s wrong,” she asks with concern.
“I don’t know but I can’t control it,” I sob. It occurs to me that I’m putting myself in the same situation I went through as a teenager so many years ago when dad locked me out of the house late one stormy night for being 15 minutes past curfew. He wouldn’t let me inside, so apparently I walked to the safety of my best friends family’s house on the other side of town miles away. I say apparently because I have no memory of what happened between standing at the door of my house and arriving at my friend’s house later than night.
I realize in that moment that the same thing could happen to be all over again: Being abandoned by someone I love. I shared this with Mary whose quality of presence helps me find a little bit of stillness inside.
After a few minutes she suggests that I call him and let him know that I’m on my way. I had decided before coming that I wouldn’t call him in advance because in the past that gave him the chance to come up with an excuse as to why he didn’t have time for a visit. So I had to come up with a story as to why I was nearby so that it would be harder for him to say no.
“Dad, hi, it’s Robin,” I say with a shaky voice.
“I know who it is,” he says, not unkindly.
“I was in Nevada city for a dance workshop and thought I’d come by to say `hello’. Can I stop by?” I say hastily finishing the question in the hopes he won’t have time to think of a way to say no.
“Well, this is a surprise,” he says with a long pause before continuing, “You may as well stop by, but I don’t have much time.”
Hearing the words, you may as well stop by, was like witnessing the opening of a treasure chest that only happens after years of toiling for the secret key. Ten minutes later, we pull into his driveway. I gather my courage and take a deep breath and approach the front door. I’m ready for any outcome.
“Hi there, mate. Come on in,” dad says with a boyish grin. He’s originally from England and even though it’s been many decades since he lived there, his accent is easy to detect. The word “mate” to him is a term of endearment, much like American’s use the word “buddy.”
After introducing him to Mary, we stand awkwardly in the entranceway. Dad leans over to give me a hug and says, “It’s good to see you.”
It was the beginning of a new start.