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My father had six children from two marriages, but he wasn’t a family man, not by any traditional definition.
This doesn’t mean he was without moments of fatherly excellence it’s just that his kids had to look really hard to find them. Dad’s terrain covered grittier, less conventional ground than most: heart-to-hearts at the pool hall, belly laughs over home fries at a greasy-spoon, bear-hugs and coffee at the bus station.
And so it should have come as no surprise to me the day I got an email from my dad, saying he wasn’t coming to my wedding. Having been a fringe participant in his family’s life for so long, he was past playing the part of ceremonial centrepiece.
I’d had three decades of preparation for the let-down, but it still wasn’t enough time.
As I sat at my desk, surrounded by people in a busy office, all of them unaware of the mortal wound I had just suffered, I began to compose a reply to my father’s email. My fingers flew across the keyboard. The poison pen purge had officially begun.
At one point, the hot lava of emotion surging through me left me breathless. I took a break from my hate-mail and went for a walk near the Art Gallery of Ontario in downtown Toronto. Pausing near the Henry Moore at Dundas and McCaul, I watched as a small child played in the empty spaces of the sculpture.
There were so many voids and hollows in my relationship with my dad, so many “How could he do this to me?” moments of abandonment. It felt so silly to be standing there as a grown woman asking the same stupid question, yet again.
I eventually made it back to my office and began editing my email, putting the great wash of seminal disappointments in chronological order. The second draft was a slightly more polished piece of my mind.
It was the kind of letter that no parent ever wants to receive. The question was: to send, or not to send?
I imagined my dad on the receiving end of this annotated resume of paternal failures. He’d be sitting at the desk in his basement apartment, surrounded by a collection of worn-out electronics; TVs, computers, radios and microphones, all salvaged from second-hand stores. No doubt there’d be a sink full of dirty dishes in the kitchenette where he cooked strange concoctions with big chunks of raw onions and peppers that gave everyone indigestion.
Dad was proud of his austere, quasi-monastic lifestyle. In his mind, it was the hard-won prize of a right-fighter.
For most of my life I’d chosen to overlook his shortcomings. But with my mouse hovering on “send” I was no longer willing to see past my father’s misguided sense of righteousness to those qualities which had once endeared him to me.
I checked the time. It was 4:00. I saved the email as a draft. I would wait until 5:00, and then click “send.”
A few weeks later, when my wedding day arrived, my mother looked elegant as she walked me down the aisle. I wish I could say my father had a change of heart. I tried my best not to think about him. I didn’t scan the horizon for him, not even once.
In the years that followed, communications between us were few and far between. And so it came as a shock when, in the spring of 2005, the man who refused to travel any further than 50 miles from Sault Ste. Marie, called to ask if he could come to Kingston for Easter weekend.
He was trying to resurrect something between us and I couldn’t say no. Even the hottest lava cools, eventually. I’d come to see that an imperfect relationship with my father was better than no relationship at all.
My husband and I picked him up at the VIA Rail station. He looked older and thinner. The venues were different—no pool halls or greasy spoons—but we quickly slipped back into old routines, including heart-to-hearts, belly laughs and bear hugs.
On Easter Sunday, we took Dad to St. Mark’s, the Anglican Church near Fort Henry, where we were married. I linked my arm through his and we began walking down the aisle together, to the pew where my husband was waiting. The remarkable “do-over” left me stunned.
It didn’t happen with the pageantry that I’d originally wanted, but this symbolic piece of father-and-daughter business was happening, in spite of my dad’s best efforts to avoid it. I wondered whether or not I should bring it to his attention. Would it matter to him as much as it mattered to me? Could I risk finding out that it didn’t?
In the end I simply pulled him close, thankful for the gift of the moment. I was grateful, too, for not having clicked “send” on my angry words of years earlier and the lesson it taught me that some things are better left unsaid.
Michelle Hauser is a former professional fundraiser turned humorist and freelance writer. She lives in Eastern Ontario (Canada) with her husband Mark and their son Joseph. Please click here to sign up for her monthly Newsletter.