I wrote a letter to my father when I was 15. It went something like this:
I’m traveling around Canada, meeting a lot of people and learning much more than I ever would in school.
You’re always telling me to write when I’m angry and I’m writing now, because I’m pissed off at you. The fight we had was the last straw and I just couldn’t take any more of you. Do you remember why you got mad at me? It was ridiculous! I was trying to type an essay for school and you came into the kitchen screaming that my “hammering on the keys” was unacceptable. When I screamed back, ripped up the essay and threw it at you, the look of shock that crossed your face was priceless.
It actually felt good to yell back at you; to defend myself and stand up to you for once. Part of me wishes I had stood up to you sooner. When I pointed out how awful you are to Peter – your own son – how you haven’t let a day go by without telling him how stupid he is, you looked truly surprised. I can’t believe that you were actually wondering why he’s such a fucked-up teenager!
After saying that I realized that for once you were listening to me. I left because I saw the acknowledgment on your face and the hurt in your eyes…
I didn’t know how to end that letter and never did end up sending it to my father.
I wrote it with a pen I’d stolen, along with $60 and a watch, from a nice chap who had invited me to his house party the previous night. I woke early that morning with a screaming hangover, but also with the relief one has when she realizes she is fully-clothed on the floor in a room full of snoring people. The man who owned the house was asleep in the bedroom, so I quietly sifted through his wallet, his dresser, and his bathroom, putting anything I could pawn into my pockets.
I went to a coffee shop and wrote that letter, but I didn’t know how to explain that I too was hurting; that my confidence was almost gone and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t justify my actions by telling myself that the world owed me something, because deep inside I knew that I owed the world. I couldn’t write about how the more I stole and cheated the more worthless I felt.
But life is full of change. Today as I look at my husband and son playing on the floor of our cottage, I wish so much that my father could have met them. The letter I’d write him would be so different from that one I wrote so many years ago. It would go something like this:
I want to thank you for being such a great father.
Thank you for the friendship that we were able to have. Thank you for that first time you picked up the phone and called me. I know that mom set you up to it, but I also know it was hard for you. I remember hanging up and crying because I was 22 years old and it was the first time you had ever called me. Dad, it meant a lot to me.
There are so many things that you taught me over the years. You taught me how to hold a hammer, how to use a skill saw, and a drill. You showed me that I could build things with my bare hands, and that I didn’t have to rely on anyone else. You encouraged me to write, to read, and to think. At times, when I’m struggling with some sort of challenge, I can hear your voice in my head saying, “Sarah, think. The answer is obvious.”
Dad, you taught me that I’m not always right. That looking for answers is always better than thinking I have them all.
I still remember the days and nights we spent in your hospital room. One day we spoke about life, and I was trying to picture you holding me as I child. I couldn’t remember what it felt like and realized that we had never hugged. When I got up to go home, I bent over and wrapped my arms around you. I thought you’d be stiff and awkward, but you held me tightly – we both knew that we didn’t have much time left.
If I could change anything in my past I would change my teenage years because I gave up the time I could have had with you. It’s the time, the conversations, and the way you had of making me believe I could do anything that I miss most.
You knew the importance of words; you knew their power and how to use them like knives, or like tools to build with. You weren’t perfect, but you tried to make up for your mistakes.
I learned so many things from you. Do you remember how we used to play chess? You taught me to play when I was only about eight years old, and you always won – right up until the very last game we played together, a couple of weeks before you died. I remember the moment that we both realized I had won. My eyes filled with tears. You knew I was worried sick about you, but you smiled and said, “Sarah it’s okay. You are going to be okay.”
Dad, I miss you so much…