childhood, lessons, reflections, relationships

on (not) being homeward bound and lingering regrets

There are so few moments I wish I weren’t in New York City that I daresay they’ve been nonexistent until now. Until this moment when I find myself sitting in what more conservative people than I would call the welfare office (it’s the Waverly Job Center), waiting both for my turn to see for which nebulous benefits I may qualify and news about my father’s operation earlier today. He should have been out of surgery an hour ago. Someone should have called me soon thereafter. But the only time my phone has stirred has been with text messages promising me 15% off books TODAY ONLY!!! and 20% last-minute holiday cards at Staples. And my roommate asking when I’ll be home with more toilet paper.

I shouldn’t be in this welfare office/job center. I shouldn’t be in this city. I should have collected a thousand, or three, cans and traded them in for airfare to get me to Texas (or hitchhiked) to be there with my father last night, last weekend, this morning, the moments before the wheeled him into surgery. I should have sold my body and soul, crossed lines I told myself I’d never cross, shaved my head for $1,000, done something or anything and definitely everything I could to have been there.

If he doesn’t make it — and I’m not saying he won’t, only that not having gotten a phone call an hour after I was supposed to has an already-anxious me steeling myself for the worst, if for no other reason than that the worst seems to be what my life always tends towards, like a pinball machine rigged so no one gets a chance for anything other than a message blinking “TILT” — I will have many regrets.

These regrets will not include not having made amends and not having apologized dozens, if not hundreds, of times over for not having been a better daughter. They will not include not telling him I loved him enough or more often. I know he was wheeled into surgery knowing that I had forgiven him for all of his transgressions, both real and perceived, and knowing I love him as much as a daughter can love a parent (which, by the way, I believe is only about 1% as much as a parent can love a child).

But I also know he was wheeled into surgery not having seen me in person for far, far too long. Not having seen his grandsons almost ever in their relatively long-for-children lives. Not hearing from me over the last few months except when things were good or approximately good because of my intense fear of letting him down, of being a failure in his eyes, in having the pride he’s proclaimed at having a daughter “make it” in a place where making it means being able to make it anywhere become suddenly, foolishly misplaced.

I forget, though, the lessons I’ve learned myself as a parent. That seeing your children once in a while is enough, especially when the alternative is not seeing them at all. That knowing good things are out there that you’ve maybe had 2% part of putting into the world feels good, even if you’re never or rarely invited to take part in the spoils. That no stumbles your children can take, no failures your children can experience, no hurts or heartaches or downright fall-flat-on-their-faces embarrassments can ever displace or take away or minimize or negate or erase love and pride and pure joy at seeing your children — those creatures that were once just a gurgling mess of almost-nothing that your were afraid you’d completely destroy — have become their own people in the world. And as an adult, as an adult and a parent, you know more than anyone that stumbles and failures and hurt and heartache and disappointment and infinite embarrassments are an inescapable part of life.

So here I am, waiting to hear that my dad’s okay, and I’m regretting that I still haven’t grown up enough to realize that he loves me more than I’ll ever know… and that, like me (and every other parent in the world), he’ll never have the vocabulary to express it to me.

NOTE: this was written yesterday, when I hadn’t yet heard my dad was okay. A couple of hours later, I heard from my stepmother that the surgery had taken longer than expected but he was fine. I spoke with him a little while ago and he sounded weak, but not weak enough not to crack a few jokes.

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