All who love me have asked me about my father’s visit, so how are YOU doing? As much as I adore that question, I found it hard to answer. (And then Boo got sick and had a high fever and ear infection…and now I’m coughing….) I wasn’t really that sure what to say. The first time we went to visit my mother, I brought Boo with me to meet him at his hotel. I introduced him as my dad and my father introduced himself as “grandad”. Boo was a bit confused of course, that title is already taken and so we settled on Grandad #2. He eased himself off his lap quickly and clasped my hand. I thought it was nice though that my dad considered himself to be a grandad to my son, but realistically he wasn’t really going to have a relationship with him. I’m not even sure when or if I’ll ever see him again. Oddly, the kid did not get the $20 my dad is so famous for doling out. It was his standard gift for all occasions. Mmm, whatever. I made arrangements to drop Boo at a friend’s so we could have some privacy. As we walked to the front entrance of the building, I was all business-like. I told him directly that he probably wasn’t going to see her alive again and he had better get things off his chest right away. Mother had always wanted an apology from him for all the things he had done wrong in the past. He started going on about how when one person thinks one thing and the second person has another side to tell…I cut him off. I told him that I had been there for many of those “things” and I remembered. He didn’t have anything to say to that.
Mum has been doing amazingly well, bright and focused as she could be given her dementia, and he was surprised to see her doing “so well”. She recognized him. I knew she would. He kept asking her to say what his name was, but she can’t do that, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know. She usually can’t recall a name on demand. She’ll usually just say it on her own when it comes to her. He started his apology with this: ”If I have done anything wrong – ” I cut in sharply, “IF?!!! IF?!!!” Then he said, “I have done wrong and I’m sorry.” It was brief and to the point. I really wanted him to say a lot more but at least I was there to witness that much. I think I saw his eyes moisten.
There is so much history to my “IF?” response but I was unprepared to list all his transgressions at the time. If he had started to argue with me, that would not have gone so well. I really wanted to make sure that he apologized. For what it was worth. So we stayed and chatted for a long while. She sang and sang, remembering the words to Harbour Lights when my dad prompted her. Her voice was strong and it was like she was trying to prove to him that she could still sing. He was blown away. She repeated back to him all the favourite Bajan foods she liked and she was excited and animated. He remarked that my mother had always been strong willed. She replied, “Oh, you’d have to take a hammer to my head!”
Eventually, I took him back to his hotel and I went to pick up Boo. Of course my sister was already texting me to find out what had happened. She thought I should have chewed him out for saying, “If I have done you wrong.” It’s funny how others view how I should handle this situation, projecting their own feelings into it. She has her own karma with my dad and I’ve got mine.
On day 3 of his visit, I brought my son with me to visit mum again with dad but left for a brief bit to drop him off at hubby’s office. When I returned, we had a regular visit and then I told dad we should go and have a coffee or something. It was time for a talk, but I was really hungry, so we went for Greek food instead. He told me about his hip operation, his prostate cancer and radiation seeds which kept him from coming sooner. I listened. No empathy, I just nodded. I had never asked him to come, never wanted him to come. He had broken my mother’s heart, what use could he had been? He certainly had not informed me at any time that he would be there for me. Then I took a deep breath and tried to open up my heart and speak the words I needed to say. I had mulled over what I wanted to say but there were too many thoughts in my head, too much past ground to cover, so I just told him that the causes he made in the past still had effects in the present. Since becoming a mother, I realized that I needed to change some of my behaviour so that I would not carry on negative karma. He had seriously traumatized his daughters in the past and we were forever changed. This could not be undone, so what was important was the causes he made in the present. I told him he had no right to assault my mother and when he recalled some random “event” and I cut him off to remind him that he had put his hands around my mother’s throat and choked her. He said he never intended to - again I interrupted his excuses with, “your fingerprints on her neck were your intention”. I can’t believe I uttered these words so calmly. Like I was talking to a child. I wasn’t sure if I had just slipped into one of my classic coping mechanisms by just shutting down emotionally, I just knew that I wanted myself to be understood. I wanted to be heard crystal clear without the victimization part. No tears, no plaintive cries because I was a grown woman, not a little girl begging to be heard. I know there was so much more to that defining moment when he had erased my childhood, my trust in men, black men in particular. Every male relative or close friend of the family simply turned a blind eye to domestic violence or participated in it. No matter what I said, no one helped or did anything. My voice did not matter. Do you remember what it was like to be 11 years old? Your view of the world is very black and white. You know in your gut what is wrong and what is right. You feel that anything is possible – including that you will be acknowledged and rewarded for telling the truth. In my case, nobody acknowledged what was obvious. I told him not so much of my private thoughts but what I expected from him.
It was clear that he did not understand that when he did that to my mother, he might as well have been doing it to me. He could not make the correlation. He apologized, damping tears from his eyes. He excused it as stupidity and selfishness. I gave him no absolution, I just listened. I kept talking and let him know that I had no time for foolishness in my life. It was time for the truth. My sisters and I barely tolerate him. We are polite but removed in his presence. But in our hearts, we were tormented for years for his stoic response to our pleas.
I don’t know if forgiveness is the right word. I don’t think that is what I had on the table. It seemed too lofty a goal. Instead, I settled for just being heard. For once, I felt like a grown up in my father’s presence. If that’s not human revolution, I don’t know what is.