I don’t know how to talk about meeting Mark and spending Easter with him and his family. I feel a lot of different emotions, and I’ve only just begun to process.
I want to be eloquent right now – it seems like the moment demands it. But all I am capable of is dumping out words.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous when I met Mark. He walked out on his porch and I hugged him and I felt like I was seeing myself in a movie. I felt detached – like I was watching “Jess meets Mark on the Porch”.
The kids – especially the girls – were very excited to be at his house. Mark and his wife have a lot of pets so the girls played with the cats while the adults drank soda in the kitchen and talked about the drive and the weather.
Our conversation got intense at one point. All of a sudden Mark and I were talking about my childhood and I said it was hell and he was crying and coming to me and hugging me and I was crying and then pulling away and saying I don’t know how to let him hold me and Hugh was crying and….
I think that I should have left then. That was enough emotional intensity for one year, really. And I don’t know how I feel about MY FATHER hugging me and MY FATHER crying because of me and MY FATHER loving me.
But we still had three. more. days. of our visit.
Thankfully during our “crying hugging kitchen table chat” none of Mark’s other kids had come home from college yet so we actually had some time by ourselves. But once the other kids showed up it got a little loud and crazy and at one point I left the house and Mark thought I was never coming back and I almost didn’t.
This whole family/dad thing is really really really hard. I did not anticipate this when I called Mark last month. I wasn’t expecting to be catapulted on this crazy journey.
As difficult as it has been so far – I absolutely know that I would not undo it. It sucks, but it is oddly wonderful, too.
My writing is coming slower these last few days. Weird half-formed posts about my father start out in spurts:
If I could tell my mother about Mark I…
Why do I feel so exposed and naked when I talk to this man…
Soon I stop typing.
I look at my screen.
I burst into tears.
Then I distract myself with the usual enemies: food, internet surfing, isolation.
This situation feels too hard for me.
Another day passes and I resist the urge to numb completely and so I fully feel the ten thousand emotions that rise up in my gut.
I go to bed early these days. I’m exhausted by talking to Mark, thinking about Mark, replaying my conversations over and over about Mark.
Mark, Mark, Mark.
This post is a glimpse into my brain. I don’t think I’m making sense this morning. I feel like crying. I feel like crawling back into bed.
But so far I’ve gotten the kids out the door to school, made coffee, read the Bible, and I’m about to go meet Amy for prayer and counseling.
I’m doing the next right thing even though I’m a mess inside.
I know it will get better. It always does.
1. I woke up at 3am and wiped my kitchen floor with baby wipes in anticipation of their visit the next day.
2. I cried when I saw my brother Nick. He is 6″4 and he has my nose and I love him and I feel like I’ve known him my whole life, which is weird and not weird, I guess.
3. My stepmother brought us baked goods, so obviously I love her. Shouldn’t there be a sixth love language? And shouldn’t it be food?
4. My sister Becca is just…lovely. We’ve talked a bunch on the phone so I already felt really comfortable with her.
5. My stepmom, Jan, and my siblings kept saying how much I look like my dad. That felt strange. But I also felt oddly satisfied. There is this part of me that was afraid I called the wrong person a few weeks ago and I’ve been getting to know some strange man who actually isn’t my biological dad. But if I look like him, then I guess I’m related to him.
6. I was so nervous before they came but I felt a lot calmer once they were here.
7. After they left, I fell asleep at 8:00pm and slept for twelve hours. This “new family” stuff is completely exhausting. Wonderful, but exhausting.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep… -Robert Frost
I know he was not trying to hurt me when we spoke yesterday. He can’t understand, really – not yet.
But he is trying to understand. Sometimes fumbling, sometimes awkward, but he keeps showing up.
His second message said:
“We should not have ended our conversation like that. Please call me back.”
I could hear his now-familiar gruff voice on my voicemail. He sounded calm, but maybe – just maybe – a little worried.
I was satisfied when I heard the worry.
“Good. Be worried,” I thought. “I hope it hurts, just a little.”
This anger rose up, up, up. It took me by surprise. I threw my phone against the van door. I screamed expletives at him, at God, at my mother.
If I could put all of this back in the box, would I?
He said one thing in our conversation yesterday and my voice – up to this point so consistently eager – turned immediately icy.
“You don’t know me,” I said stonily. “So you really have no idea how I feel.”
The conversation ended quickly, ended badly.
I was left alone with my anger.
Hugh says we aren’t fighting each other, not really. “Your mother links the two of you, her illness binds you,” he said, touching my hair as I cried. “You guys will realize that she hurt you both…you didn’t hurt each other.”
I called him back. “Speak to me,” he said when he picked up.
I vomited words all over him, “Well, I think you shouldn’t have said…and done…and I wish you would…and can you please…and don’t you really…”
He listened. “Some of what you’re asking is hard, but I’ll do it. Now it’s your turn to listen.”
I sat in silence while he talked.
A few minutes later we hesitantly talked about something else.
Then a few minutes after that we laughed.
Later Lucy pranced into the room, talked to her new Grandpa, and responded that “okay” she would like a nickname from him.
We laughed some more, shared details about our lives, then hung up with a promise of talking again in a couple of days.
My first fight with my father.
I was angry, I talked with him, I got over it.
I have miles to go with him.
But now – after a lifetime without him – I have started the journey.
My father’s wife sent me an email the day after I first spoke with him. It was exceedingly kind and welcomed me to the family.
I cried when I read it and tried to write back a “that’s cool” email.
She is coming to visit me this Friday, along with two of my siblings.
I am KINDAFREAKINGOUTALITTLEBIT.
My solution to help myself calm down is to shop.
Yesterday I picked up the kids from school and headed to Bath and Body Works. I bought nice candles and cute hand soap. Then I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond (only stores with “Bath” in the name for me, apparently) and bought a “Colors of Spring” tablecloth.
Then, sweating slightly and dragging increasingly unhappy children, I went to Michael’s to buy a spring wreath for my door.
Hugh and I have lived in our home for almost ten years. How many times have I put a wreath of any kind on our front door?
I raced through the aisles at Michael’s, grumpy children lagging further and further behind, frantically looking at dogwood wreaths and tulip wreaths and magnolia wreaths and…
At that point I realized that I had two options left.
I was either going to have a complete breakdown at this craft store, sobbing and holding my plastic wreaths – or I could leave immediately.
I left the cart, overflowing with wreaths, in the middle of the store and headed out to my van.
“Mommy!” Lucy wailed. “You promised I could pick something out of the dollar craft bin!”
“We. Need. To. Leave. Don’t. Speak. Right. Now.”
I got in the front seat, took a few deep breaths, and headed home.
This family stuff is totally foreign to me. Will they like me if my house is cluttered or doesn’t smell like expensive candles? If I’m not wearing make-up and weigh too much? If my children misbehave?
What does it mean to be part of a family, really?
Will they love me if I am KINDAFREAKINGOUTALITTLEBIT when I meet them?
Will they love me if I don’t have a wreath on my door after all?
Yesterday I was driving home from Amy’s house when my cell phone rang. It was Mark.
“Crap,” I thought, “I must have accidentally dialed his number.” It didn’t seem possible that he would be calling me, especially because we spoke earlier in the week.
Why would my father want to keep getting to know me?
It turned out that he was calling me. We spoke for about a half hour and it was delightful. We’ve spoken about five times now. Every time we speak I grow to like him a little more. He seems smart and funny. He is engaging and a little crazy.
Earlier this week he invited our family for Easter. My children are extremely excited – especially at the thought of having a grandfather again. They haven’t had a grandfather since David died three years ago. As Lucy said, “Mommy, I didn’t know that people could have TWO grandpas!”
I hope for their sakes, too, that our big reunion goes okay.
Yet each time I talk to him I’m starting to believe that it will.
When I was a little girl, I never dreamed about my father returning. Ever. I never had this fantasy that he would show up and want me. That my dad would say, “I was wrong and I’m sorry and of course I love you and come see me for Easter.”
It was a dream that was so deeply buried that it was dead.
But this dream is resurrecting. So maybe Easter is the perfect time to see my father.
The day when dead things come to life.
The day when God makes all things new.
(Originally published in March, 2009. As my own father has entered my life, I’m reflecting on David.)
The last conversation I had with my father-in-law was about writing. “How’s your writing, Dad?” I asked him as he sat on our couch surrounded by Curious George books.
“It’s in my head.” He smiled softly, his eyes crinkling as they met mine. “I think about it…a lot.”
“Never a day without a line,” I told him, earnestly. “You need to write every day. I’ve started writing…at least a little. I, uh, have a blog.”
The words tumbled out. Surprised me. I’ve blogged for almost two years and never told him about it. I was embarrassed, I think, for him to read about my depression and my struggles. But I wanted to be honest with him. I wanted him to know me a little more. Maybe it would encourage him to write, too.
Though his days were full of law and farming, in the deepest part of his heart, my father-in-law wanted to be a writer. His office was full of writing books and stacks of old copies of Writer’s Digest. Piles of paper and pens waited for the words he had not yet written. He was going to start soon – that was his careful plan.
He would write his books when he retired. One day he would look out over the fields he both loved and hated and write the stories locked away in his quiet soul.
“Well, Jess,” David said as he was packing up that Sunday, “do you think you could email me the link to your blog? And the website where I could get a blog of my own?”
Never, never, never had he listened to me about taking an immediate step towards writing. I grinned, and a deep feeling of love spread up from my gut.
“Yeah, Dad. Of course.”
Wednesday morning he was dead. As we drove the horrible ten hours to Indiana with our crying children, one of the thoughts that kept occurring to me was:
“He never got to write his book…He never got to write his book.”
The thing I didn’t really understand until I lost him is that death means…you’re gone. My father-in-law’s work on this earth is finished.
I want to learn this last lesson from him. I don’t want to wait. I want to pursue the dreams that I, too, have tucked carefully away. I want to be bold even when I am afraid of failure. I want to write and laugh and fling my arms out to the world without fear. Without pause.
I don’t want any words left when Wednesday comes.
Proverbs 31 Ministries is offering a scholarship to this year’s She Speaks Conference. She Speaks is a two-day series of workshops and seminars on writing, speaking, blogging, and ministry. Some of my favorite people will be speaking there. But more then hearing their words, I want to catch their vision of living boldly.
I want to listen and to learn. I want to take notes and meet new people. I want to have women challenge me to write, to speak, and to hope in the gifts God has placed in me.
I want to live unafraid.
I think that whether I win or not, David would be proud of me for trying to go.
Never a day without a line, Dad.
That goes for me, too.