“It’s knowing that your door was always open and your path was free to walk
That made me tend to leave my sleeping bag rolled up and stashed behind your couch…”

Dear Dad,

Ears ringing? At a meeting last weekend your name arose. (Well, not so much your name as you. It related, I guess, to this week being 26 years and all—subliminal, perhaps.)

“My father,” I shared from the lectern, “Taught me everything there was to know about life except how to live without him.”

An offhand comment, it was mired in twenty minutes of my unscripted speech. No more/no less. I went on then, to speak of the post-Albert descent and my spiritual tools in recovery.

I told them how growing up YOU were my Higher Power—that I had complete and utter faith in you. I mentioned the time Chuck Picuta was pitching for the Orioles and had hit the two batters in a row. How you assured me to just step in the box and not worry—that I’d listened, fearing no more. I mentioned how we lived across the street, diagonal from the ball yard…and how if you urged me to cross the street (“It’s OK”), and I’d feared cars no more. How I had faith in everything that came out of your mouth—and that rightly or wrongly, you were my God.

When the meeting ended a guy named Jerry approached.

“I was struck by the comment about your father,” he said. Then he asked “What did you do when you got mad at him? Did you feel guilty being angry at God?”

A little esoteric for me, but I responded. We rarely fought, I advised, recalling that once you told me you weren’t yelling at me but screaming at “the situation.”

I told him too that you never hit me—never came close. Once, I shared, in the basement on Hopkins, when I’d done something wrong, you asked me if I’d done it on purpose. I thought (at five), that meant a good thing. “Yes!”, I exulted, and you exploded. And then I told him how as you calmed down you told me it was only because you “expected better” of me.

I hadn’t seen Jerry before that night, nor have I since. His comment, though, lingers.

We never really fought, did we Dad? Remember how when truly upset you would puff your lip? Muttering a bit you’d look me dead in the eye and say one of three things. It was either: “If this is your idea of a joke, it’s not funny!” or “Why would you do something you know will antagonize me?” or, if I’d really screwed up, it was that global “Why would you do something you know has to antagonize any adult?”

I knew then, Dad, as I know now, that all you ever wanted was the best for me, and that win, lose or draw Hal and I were always the straws that stirred your drink.

I know now as I should have known then that when you forbade my playing tackle or busing in from East Lansing to play softball…when you criticized my driving or my spending…it truly did hurt you more than it hurt me.

You were not God, Dad. I know that. Truth is, though, like my Higher Power, you loved me unconditionally.

That is why…to this day, whether I’m with friends or family, or with a bunch of anonymous people listening to my story…memories surface.

You were then, and are now, oh so gentle on my mind.

Love, Bruce

“…Cupped hands ‘round a tin can I pretend I hold you to my breast and find That you’re waving from the back roads by the river of my memory—-
Ever smiling, ever gentle on my mind…”

                                     (John Hartford, adapted)

Leave a Reply