I was halfway through the workday when the phone rang. I recognized his voice like a familiar childhood song I knew but didn’t like.
“Dad?” I choked on memories existing only in my dreams.
“Your mother tells me it’s your 40th birthday.”
Your mother tells me.
Those four words released my fear of talking to a man I barely knew. He rambled on nervously. Something about being married a fourth time, moving to Las Vegas and wondering why – for the life of him – he can’t figure out why I’ve not settled down. Why I haven’t met the right man. I knew he was trying to be kind but underneath my layer of congenial nods of interest, I wondered why it was his business.
“What’s your office address, so I can send you flowers?”
I should have hung up – but only after I ranted about how a bouquet of flowers 38 years after leaving our family was a tiny crumb in his papa-loaf sandwich of redemption. I should have screamed those words then slammed the phone in his ear. Instead I froze. Then I spoke.
“You got a pen?” My heart, welling with tears, fought back the urge to sob.
Was this it? Was this what I needed – waited for all my life? Validation of his love in the form of a mixed bouquet of I’m sorrys and remember me, the one who split?
The moment dad told me I was going to receive birthday flowers, my anger evaporated, leaving only love in her wake. I would savor every petal; inhale every breath of my bouquet. My hero was finally back – alive and in the form of forthcoming flowers.
The next day I waited, dressed up even, in a beautiful springtime dress fitting for a lady about to receive flowers from her father. The morning rolled by. I sipped my coffee and chatted with co-workers and shared about my father calling on my birthday. No one knew the vast landfill of my heart – the open space that one phone call filled.
My father was back.
After lunch when the flowers still hadn’t arrived, I wrestled with familiar butterflies. The ping of disappointment wasn’t new where my father was concerned.
This was the man who told my mother he had his own kids to worry about when my mom asked for help with dance lessons. The man who never called or sent as much as a card for any of my birthdays. The man who moved to Canada to avoid paying child support.
Still, I prayed those flowers would come.
Maybe they’re really busy.
I tried to justify the delay in my belated birthday present.
By 5:00 I knew. I collected my purse and walked past my co-workers trying not to look anyone in the eyes. I knew that look and didn’t feel like connecting with the sympathy faces.
There were no more tears. Nothing left inside my heart but the burning shame of I told you so’s.
The following day I called my mother. I thanked her for always being the olive branch – but told her I was done.
“Please don’t email Dad anything about me ever again.” I let out a sigh of exhaustion.
And then I felt it. Freedom from wondering if my father would ever change. I made the decision to cut him out of my life after one too many times being let down. It freed me from my fantasy.
For nearly four decades, my father was a fantasy – not this person who didn’t have the balls to stick around when my mother had two babies. Not the man who fell for a woman he worked with and let his penis make decisions. He was my fantasy hero – the man I always knew would come back because he loved us.
After knowing he never would, I finally realized he was human.