I was thinking about Father’s Day this morning and about my dad. He passed away December 2005. I miss him.
But that got me thinking about people who don’t have fond memories about their dad. And then I remembered this short story I wrote years ago. Hope it will encourage someone who reads it sometime.
By Trevor Lund
Stopping his car a short distance from the house, Tom sat. It was the perfect place to look and remember. The trees had grown considerably and their branches now hung densely over the road. The noonday sun shot shafts of light through the trees onto the streets making beautiful patterns of dark and light. The shadows played in the breeze.
Peaceful, thought Tom. He watched some local children running with their puppy, as they passed an elderly couple out for a summer’s stroll. They both smiled and waved as the children enthusiastically continued on their journey. Tom caught the couple’s profile and for an instant, and wondered if he knew them those many years ago.
His sight and his thoughts returned to the white house at 123 Elm Road. He was surprised. For years he had pushed this encounter out of the realm of possibility, fearing what he would feel when he saw the house.
Tom was drawn to the little gate in the picket fence, which always squeaked when closing. In his mind’s eye he saw his mother on the veranda, standing on her toes as she yelled after him, “Tommy, make sure you are back in time for dinner!”
“Ya Mom!” He said, not looking back. The gate squeaked as it returned to its resting place.
On this side of the house he could see the kitchen window and could almost smell his mother’s delicious pies cooling in the summer breeze. The aroma always seemed to draw him and a few of the other neighborhood boys back to his house well before it was time for dinner.
Tom didn’t think he would remember his mother’s smile when he returned. He also didn’t think he would remember the tire swing his father put up. That silly swing was still there. He chuckled with amusement. What a time that had been! It didn’t look like it could still hold weight, but it was there, the branch having grown around the rope.
Tom remembered his mom on the ground next to him, trying to convince his father that the first branch was too small to climb. That stubborn old coot was convinced it would hold, but gravity ended up with the final say. That man is as tough as nails, Tom thought, smiling. Didn’t even stop the bleeding before he went back up.
His father found another branch in a more awkward place. Still, the tire was up within the hour. The older man used the suspended tire to teach Tom how to throw a football. He was so young that at first he had to heave the ball like a shot put. They spent hours out there, his father celebrating his every attempt. That was so long ago, thought Tom; it must be forty or forty-five years.
It was before the funeral, before the house seemed empty, before his father began drinking more than just on social occasions. It was before the constant criticism and before the beatings. Tom had left this now peaceful neighborhood when he was sixteen. He was as angry and as bitter as the drunk who beat him. He even changed his last name to disavow any association with his past, leaving both he and his father alone.
Tom had some unfinished business with his father. He left in a fit of rage and had no contact with him these past 35 years. Up until last year Tom would not allow himself the slightest chance of ever being so close to this house. But last year changed things. All of Tom’s attitudes either immediately or over a period of months were different.
He learned about forgiveness. He experienced the freedom it brought. It made his “on the brink of disaster” marriage exciting and new. He never dreamed he could have such great relationships with his son and daughters and even their spouses. Eventually even the mistrust about his business partner faded. Still, Tom had unfinished business with his father.
As chance would have it, Tom ran into a childhood friend at an airport while he was on a business trip. How they recognized each other Tom would never know. Years before this friend bought his parents’ home, and now he lived just a few doors up from Tom’s father. This friend mentioned that his father was still living there and was always out taking care of the garden. Tom knew then that he had to finish the business with his father.
The place did look great. The sun was shining and the blue sky and cumulus clouds nicely outlined the A-frame roof. The yard looked immaculate. Tom had no idea how someone who drank as heavily as his father could even keep this house, let alone make it look so good. He had to admit he knew very little about the man after having completely isolated himself for so many years.
The shadows from the elm trees played with the breeze as the sun lowered to meet the horizon. Tom had sat there a long time summoning up the courage to venture forth. In the past there was so much hate, so much anger. Tom was relieved that he did not have to push past these feelings, but the hesitation remained.
Tom would have phoned ahead, but about a year ago he tried the old number and discovered a new unlisted one had taken its place. He was actually relieved at the time, but now he was changed. He could have written his father setting something up, but words on paper seemed so inadequate.
What if his father wasn’t home?
What if someone else answered the door?
What if he was home? What if the old, dark feelings awoke when they met face to face?
Tom swallowed and, saying a quick prayer, reached for the door handle. Just then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone coming around the house with a big sunhat blocking the face. Tom waited.
The skinny little man hobbled as he dragged a watering hose behind him. With his head to the ground and his back to the road, he first watered the plants next to the house. Then the hose was turned onto the low-lying shrubs closer to the tree with the tire swing. While watering the shrubs, the old man limped over to the swing. He ran his fingers over the grooves. When he looked up to check the fraying rope, Tom saw his face.
That hard face, that face that cursed him and put him down, that face that mocked him and ridiculed him and called him stupid, that face… had tears in its eyes as it surveyed the handiwork of so many years before.
Perhaps it was because Tom was a father; perhaps something more, but in that moment Tom knew what his father was thinking. It was the furthest thing from his mind when he pulled up here a few hours before, but something overwhelmed him and seconds later he found himself running to that little picket gate calling out, “Dad! Dad! It’s me, it’s Tom, Dad! Dad, it’s Tom! I’m here Dad!”
The old man was at first startled. But joy overtook. He threw down the hose and made for the gate as fast as he could. “Tom, my son!” he rejoiced, tears streaming down his face.
It was a miracle. Years of heartache and pain were erased with a single embrace. Tears flowed freely from eyes once hard, offering unspoken confessions and refusing to reserve forgiveness.
The lengthening shadows played in the breeze and the gate squeaked as it returned to its resting place.
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