He was never around. I remember after every baseball game, all my friends would grab their bags and rush over to their dads, shouting about how much they wanted to get ice cream, or watch replays of their hits that their dad’s recorded. I stayed back silently, pretending that my bag zipper was stuck, or that my cleats wouldn’t come off my feet. I waited until everybody had left, and then I would trudge back home alone.
I wasn’t the only one that hated my dad, my mom hated him even more than I did. She would always tell me that I didn’t even have a dad, because he was so useless as a father. When I was little, I would hear my mom yelling at my dad all night, telling him that he should just leave, and that he was making life hard for everybody. I never got to sleep on those nights, because I was too busy thinking about having an awesome dad like my friends. The kind of dad that made you proud to walk around with. The kind of dad that you wanted everybody to meet. The kind of dad that could make you laugh on your worst days, and lift you even higher on your best days.
One day, the week before my high school graduation, my grandmother came into town to celebrate. I loved everything about my grandmother, from the way she laughed at everything, to how good her pumpkin pies were, my grandma was truly special to me. My grandma never seemed to be a big fan of my father either, but unlike my mom, she never yelled at him or talked to him directly at all. Instead, she seemed to act like he simply didn’t exist, and me and my mom were okay with that.
The night came when it was my final day as a high school student, the day before graduation. All of my aunts and uncles, cousins and nephews, and most importantly my grandma were all at the dinner table to celebrate. My mom smiled widely as she placed the last plate down before sitting next to me. As we began to eat, the room was filled with laughter, and everybody was talking about my childhood, joking about how all my aunts used to change my diapers, and how I accidentally shaved my own head one time when I was six. I felt content and happy as I looked around, seeing my grandma playing with my little nephews, and hearing my mom tell my uncles how I had the most home runs last season. Suddenly, the room became silent, almost to the point that you could hear the dust moving across the floor. My dad pulled out a chair and placed his jacket behind as he sat down, looking down at the table, making sure not to make eye contact with anybody as he always does. The silence continued as he reached over to grab the serving spoon, and dipped it slowly into the mac & cheese that my aunt had made for the occasion. After placing the spoon back down onto the plate, he put his hands under the table and closed his eyes as he quietly prayed for his food. I glanced over at my mom who was staring at my dad in disgust. I had never seen my mom look at my dad the way she was looking at him at that moment, and for a second, I honestly felt bad for my dad. Then I remembered all the times I had wished he was around, and suddenly I turned to look at my dad in disgust as well. Nobody moved, even my little nephews who were four and six years old didn’t move a muscle. My dad picked his fork up slowly, and stared at his food as he began to pick up some of the mac & cheese. My mom got up immediately as the food entered his mouth, throwing her chair on the ground and stormed off. My aunts and uncles slowly backed up from their chairs as well, and they grabbed my cousins and nephews and made their way outside.
My dad put his fork down, keeping his head down as well, making sure not to make eye contact with me. I looked around at the table, thinking that I was alone with my father, but was surprised to see my grandma still sitting, staring directly at my father. She got up slowly from her chair and instead of walking outside like everybody else had, she walked over to my father and grabbed the serving spoon. She placed some mashed potatoes and some more mac & cheese onto his plate and touched his shoulder as she said, “eat up, it’s going to be alright Charles.”
I was shocked as I stared at my grandma, someone who had never talked to my dad or even acknowledged his presence was suddenly giving him food and reassuring him. I watched as my grandma let go of my dad’s shoulder and she signaled for me to follow her into the living room. I moved my chair back as well, but before getting up, I looked over at my dad one more time. I couldn’t see his face but I saw a water droplet fall onto his plate, and another, and another. His hands were in his lap, folded, and he was looking down at his plate, so that I could only see the top of his head. Even so, I could see his tears dropping onto his plate before I walked out into the living room.
As I entered the room, my grandma patted on the couch for me to sit down next to her. As I sat down gently, before I could ask her anything about what had happened in the kitchen, she pulled out what looked like a tattered piece of paper from her pocket. She handed it to me, and smiled. I opened it up to see that it was a photo of a baby and his dad who was holding him up like simba, grinning from ear to ear. The man looked overjoyed, and his smile made me smile as I looked up at my grandma who was smiling as well. “That’s your dad,” my grandma said as she placed her hand on my leg.
My who, I thought, as I looked down at the picture again. I had never seen a baby picture of myself, as my mom kept all the photo albums in her room which was always locked. “That’s Charles, honey,” my grandma said again as she touched his photographed face with her finger. “Your dad is one of the strongest people that I know,” she said as she looked up at me.
“Are we talking about the same person, grandma?” I asked. My whole life revolved around the fact that it was always just me and my mom, and my dad was just a burden to both of us and the whole family.
“Do you know where your dad goes everyday, and why he comes back so late every night?” my grandma asked.
“He’s got work,” I said half-heartedly, because me and my mom both knew that my dad’s “job” ended at 5 pm, but he somehow got home every night closer to 11.
“Your dad always told me that he was going to be the best father ever,” my grandma said as she smiled, thinking back to when he had told her that when my mom had just learned she was pregnant. “And he was, until you were 3, I don’t think your dad ever took his eyes off of you,” she said. “But when you were 3, your grandma passed away from a heart attack, leaving your grandfather all alone. Your grandma’s final wish was that your grandfather lived with your parents and you, because she knew that he would have the best end to his life seeing you grow up and being around your father. But your mom was against it, because she never liked your grandmother or grandfather. So, your dad had to get your grandfather a small apartment room and every night after work, your father goes to see your grandfather and take care of him.”
I sat there, looking blankly at my grandma as I thought about my dad coming home late with throw up stains on his jacket, and looking tired from overworking.
“The reason I don’t talk to your dad is because I honestly don’t know what to say to him. He doesn’t deserve any of this, because all he wants to do is care for his father.” I watched as a tear fell from my grandma’s face as she smiled at me. “Your dad sacrificed everything, and he got nothing in return from his family. I don’t know another man on this earth who could handle the pressure that he’s been dealt. I used to love watching your dad talk about his dreams, and how much he loved to joke around with your mom, making the whole house laugh with everything he said. It hurts to see a part of him has died with your grandmother, and it hurts more knowing that it was all because of his love for his father.”
I got up immediately from the couch and made my way to the kitchen. I sat down across from my dad and said, “Dad, can you look up at me, it’s your son.” My dad looked up slowly, looking ashamed as his eyes looked caringly into mine. I suddenly saw the truth, realizing how much my dad had gone through with my mom and me, but he still came home every night, and went to work every morning. He never complained and never talked back to either of us, and never made us pity him by telling us about his father. He was always here I realized, even when he couldn’t make it to the games, or to any of my other events, he was always here, and never gave up on his family. He was the true definition of a dad, the kind of dad that I wanted everybody to see, the kind of dad that I wanted to hang out with all the time, the kind of dad that I wanted to learn from. I looked lovingly at my dad and said, “I’m sorry for everything, do you think you could ever come to forgive me.”
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A very moving story.