“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.” ― Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
This past weekend I celebrated my thirty-third birthday, which was filled with family, friends, flowers, and lots of love. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever received so many flower deliveries in one day before– so much so that my husband mentioned he was having a hard time keeping up with my fans/friends. Anyway, they were all lovely surprises. But, I also received a surprise of a different kind, one that has undoubtedly rattled me…
The day before my birthday I heard my phone ring and when I picked it up I saw my father’s name pop up on caller ID. We hadn’t spoken, really, since my Grandmother died, a year and a half ago. I’ve written about our relationship, or lack thereof, here and here.
It was so unexpected to see his name that I couldn’t bring myself to answer. What did he want? Was something wrong? Not now, I pleaded to no one in particular. Not now. My life is sooo good. I worked hard to get to this place…
He didn’t leave a message and I didn’t really think much about it until the following day (my birthday) when my phone rang again. This time I answered.
“Happy birthday,” he said.
“Thank you,” I replied, honestly surprised he remembered.
“Are you at home now?”
“Well, I rang your doorbell a little bit ago and no one answered.”
I had no idea he knew where I lived.
He proceeded to describe the house and vehicles out front while I remained mostly speechless. I explained that I was home but that we were about to go to lunch and he asked where at. I told him and he said that he’d meet me there because he had a birthday card he wanted to give me.
In 33 years, this is probably the second time, third at max, that I can recall my father giving me anything for my birthday, including a phone call.
At lunch, I sat there halfway paying attention what my husband was saying, anxious about how awkward things were about to get. And I’m not one who routinely gets anxious over much.
Part way through lunch I turned to see my father walk in. He looks good, I think. Like he’s taking care of himself, like maybe, he sort of dressed up for the occasion. I watch him walk past a girl in a booth, turn, and really focus in on her, before finally realizing it wasn’t me. How sad I thought, not to be able to recognize your own daughter. In fairness, she did at least look a little like me. I turned to my sixteen year old and felt crushed when I saw that he’d noticed too. How lucky my kids are not to know what that’s like, I think in that moment.
Long story short, he came over to the table, handed me the card, said me he’d at least wanted to get me that, told me happy birthday, asked if I was 33, made some small talk, then told me he loved me, and walked away.
I sat there stunned– thinking about the card and wondering how one goes about picking something out for this kind of occasion. I wondered what it might be like standing in the greeting card aisle choosing a card for a daughter you don’t know. Then, despite the fact that I’d planned to wait until I was at home, in the solitude of my bedroom, alone (by this time the kids were arguing over anything and everything) to open the card I didn’t make it through lunch without my curiosity getting the best of me. As I opened it, the first place my eye was drawn to was the signature.
He had signed his name, my brother’s name, and my Grandmother’s. I realized that must be painful for him, too. And boom just like that I was crying in the middle of a Mexican restaurant. The three Benjamin’s tucked inside didn’t help matters much.
I smiled a little through the tears. As if, a few Benjamin’s could solve it all…
I put off calling to thank him for as long as I could, ultimately, though, knowing it was inevitable.
Today, I dialed his number and said a silent prayer I’d get the machine. Please don’t answer. Please, please, please don’t answer, I pleaded to no one and everyone.
I had no idea what I would say when and if he answered. Thank you, ok, bye–was kind of the plan.
Instead, I found myself inviting him to lunch once I return from taking my oldest to college.
He accepted and made me promise to call.
I hung up and sighed, knowing there are at least a few people out there somewhere who would probably be proud.
I’m not there yet.
My Grandma just might get one of her last wishes after all.