“You think behind every chance there’s another one, and then another one? It’s the worst kind of extravagance – spending chances.” Movie quote from Hope Floats
Less than 24 hours after receiving the phone call my sister and I were sitting on a plane bound for Austin, Texas. I felt empty and hollow and could barely process a thought. Earlier I pulled a suitcase out of my closet and although I’ve packed a thousand times before – in this moment my brain was foggy and confused. I stood over the open suitcase trying to figure out what was supposed to happen next. Robbie literally had to walk me through the steps.
A few hours later my sister and I were up in the air with our hearts in our throats and on the verge of tears. Instead of allowing our minds take complete control over us we decided to take turns sharing happy memories of our dad. Our flight was a little over three hours so there was nothing else to preoccupy us. It was the elephant in the room (aka cabin) so we choose to deal with it the best way we knew how. I was surprised to learn she didn’t remember many of the stories I shared of our childhood. She was the baby and was either evidently too young to remember or simply wasn’t there.
I knew her relationship with my dad was different from mine – I just didn’t realize how much. I’m a parent to 3 sons and unfortunately the truth is your firstborn is typically the guinea pig. Lots of trial and error and learning though mistakes. I’m the oldest sibling and my experiences with my dad was vastly dissimilar in so many ways.
My little sister wasn’t shy in expressing her love and affection towards our father. I on the other hand rarely outwardly showed it. Not because I didn’t feel it or want to – I absolutely did. The truth is I was afraid. Family members took advantage of my lack of power and naiveté and forced their sexually assaults and emotional abuse on me. It took place when I expected it and least expected it. So I was continually on guard. In my mind IF my dad’s relatives could do this to me then maybe he would too? There were never any signs he would do anything inappropriate, but I was always frightened and tense. I stayed away from him during what I considered opportune times. Like when my mom went to the grocery store, or when my brother and sister played outside. I would either go outside and find something to do or lock myself in my bedroom.
I watched from the sidelines as my sister showered him with hugs, kisses and cuddled on his lap. I just couldn’t bring myself to do these things. It was a rare moment when I’d kiss my dad on his cheek. Even then it was internally painful for me. The abuse I’d been subjected to ruined all forms of appropriate touch for me. I believed if my dad ever crossed the line with me – I would be like humpty-dumpty and never be whole again. So at a very young age I decided to keep my distance. Maybe my lack of affection when I was a child played a factor in our life long bumpy road of a relationship – I really don’t know.
Just thinking about it creates a new level of anger towards my abusers. Not only did they steal my sanity, innocence and peace, but they unknowingly left me without years of precious moments between my dad and I. Listening to my sister share these types of special memories of him is bittersweet because I realize I have none. I desperately want to reminisce about sweet and loving exchanges between us, but I struggle to locate those memories. Nothing to now help soothe the fact he is now gone. This realization ushers feelings that could easily spiral out of control and ultimately stonewall my healing.
Pedophiles spent my chances as a young child with showing affection with my dad. I must take solace in knowing that from the time I was born until the age of 4 it probably looked different. I imagine as an infant and toddler I was uninhibited in expressing love and emotion towards him. I just can’t remember it and now hurts to know that I can’t ever ask him to confirm it.
Before the plane landed I thought about how we both spent so many chances to fix our broken relationship. It was the one thing I truly desired to happen before one of us left this earth. He would hurt me and I would retreat from our relationship. Then he’d take offense when I set a boundary and stop talking to me altogether. It went on and on. I kept the door of reconciliation open for decades hoping to one day see him standing there. One day I was driving down a major street and I saw him walking on the sidewalk. My thoughts immediately went back to when he asked to come see me before moving to Texas.
During our conversation I asked why he couldn’t love me. With tears in his eyes he said “I want to feel joy when I look at your face but I can’t”. Even after this happened I tried once more to reconcile but he became angry and defensive and blamed me once again for the abuse that took place in my life. More wasted chances. I cried as I treated my dad as a stranger and drove past him that day. It was hard to accept that we had actually reached this place.
The last time I ever saw him he looked me in the eyes but we never spoke. This final wasted chance will forever hurt the most. My sister informed me the following day he had left Arizona and returned to Texas. I told her I had a gut feeling that one of our parents would die soon. I don’t know why I felt this way but it wouldn’t go away. Exactly 7 weeks later I received the horrible phone call from my mother about my father’s death. Even though he couldn’t tell me he loved me I just didn’t believe it was true. I honestly think that pride held his tongue from saying those three words. He taught me the importance of not spending chances. When my time on earth is over I want my loved ones to know how exactly how I feel about them. I never want them to wonder about it or feel cheated.
I do want to end this by saying that no matter what happened or didn’t happen between us that I love my dad very much. I always will. Did he have to endure spent chances growing up? Did he (like me) hope that the significant people in his life loved him even when they didn’t show it? I hope not. It is through my faith in God that I know one day we will see each other again. Disappointment, pride, pain and wasted chances will no longer exist. The relationship God always intended for both of us will finally begin.
Will we remember the details of what happened here on earth? Will our hearts explode with love for one other – so much so – that we’ll embrace each other for hours? Will apologies be necessary or do they even exist in heaven? I’m not sure. What I do know is our chances will no longer be stolen, hindered or squandered, and I can’t tell you how much I anticipate that marvelous day.