The Gift

The Gift


It was a beautiful day. I sat on the cool stone steps and breathed in the spring fresh air. Overhead the birds chirped happily and flew about with bits of twigs and grass clutched in their beaks. It was a day of new beginnings. But for me it seemed like it was the end of everything. Tears slipped down my cheeks as my heart traveled back in time to another spring day. I was 16 years old and had just come in from school. The day held promise and I was looking forward to getting the garden started with dad. It was something we did together year after year and had come to be very special to me in spite of my occasional grumbling about weeding. I bounded up the stairs and opened the door and stopped short in my tracks. My mother sat in her living room chair, deep sobs wracking her body. "Mom!” I cried as white fear shot through me to the core. "What is it? What's happened?" She only buried her head in her hands and sobbed more. I knelt down and put my arms around her "Mom please what's wrong? Did someone die? Tell me!" Her voice came out in a cross between an anguished moan and a whimper and she blurted out words that froze my heart and shattered it into a million jagged pieces of hurt" "Oh Connie! Your dad's not really your dad!" The world stopped spinning. The words echoed in my confused mind and I struggled to understand them. Endless questions begin to form in my thoughts. "Not my dad? How was that possible? He had always been my dad.


I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to laugh and believe she was playing some kind of joke. I wanted to ask a million questions. So many emotions were exploding inside of me. Anger, fear, confusion and disbelief fought for its place. I looked at my mother as she sobbed and apologized over and over for not telling me sooner. As I did everything inside seemed to crumble away and compassion overcame me. I knelt down again and hugged Mom and said "its OK Mom I already knew that" She looked at me in surprise and asked how I knew. I shrugged and told her I just knew. Then she told me dad was in the bedroom waiting. She told me that he was afraid of how I would react and wanted to give me time I went to the bedroom and looked in. He sat on the edge of the bed facing away from the door. His hands were flat on the bed and his head was down and his shoulders slumped. Slowly I sat down beside him. No words were said we just both sat there silently. I tried to find words to tell him my feelings. Finally I put my arm over his shoulder and said "You're my dad. You'll always be my dad no matter what" His voice broke and he replied with two simple words "I know"


The years went on after that. Some were not so good. In spite of how well I handled it that day, I grew angry inside that I had been lied to for so long. On the surface I understood they had been afraid of telling me. But deeper I was angry. The worst part was not knowing who I was anymore. I felt half of my identity had been ripped away. I'd spend hours looking in the mirror and see a stranger looking back at me. I got in with the wrong crowd and ended up marrying an abuser. We later divorced but dad and I had words more than once over the life I had chosen the distance between us widened and it wasn't until I had my own children that I began to understand my father more. Even so it was a rocky relationship. Oh I loved him. I adored him but somehow along the line I had convinced myself he didn't really love me. After all I wasn't his real child and he never said he loved me. I foolishly forgot all the things he had done through the years. Keeping me fed, talking to my teachers, the shared times in the garden learning about life, the new bikes and teaching me how to play softball and more. We were getting closer and when he got sick we talked some of the past. We didn't talk about feelings though. Time was marching on and I wanted "someday" to tell him how much I loved him and how grateful I was that he chose to be my father. Life always intervened though and I kept pushing the "someday" a little further away when I wasn't so busy.


The day came though when he became very ill and he went into the hospital for treatment. I called him there and we talked briefly. There was so much I wanted to say but dad wasn't much for sentimental conversations so once again I didn't say what was in my heart for fear he would laugh or think I was being silly. It was a hard phone call anyway because he sounded so weak and not like my strong invincible father. At one point he said in a quiet weak feathery voice "I don't think I'm going to make it this time" I couldn't handle it. "Oh yes you will dad. You'll be OK and back here and taking care of things in no time" He only replied weakly "I hope so" I changed the subject and only a few moments later said "I have to go dad. I love you." He replied in an almost whisper "OK see you later Bye"


Then he amazed his doctors and got better. He was coming home! After a month he was coming home! I decided then and there to talk to him when he got back. Something kept telling me to call again that weekend and talk to him but I told myself "no he's coming home! We'll talk then." But on the day he was to come home we got a call early in the morning. He had a massive unexpected stroke. Instead of welcoming dad home I standing beside his bed seeing a shell of the strong man I knew and giving permission to end life support as I had promised him I would should it come to that. The funeral was a blur. I was shattered. I had run out of time and not told my dad just how much he meant to me. Worse, I hadn't had a chance to know if my dad had forgiven me completely and if he loved me as his own.


A couple days after sitting on those steps and feeling like the world had ended my Mom called me. She had talked to the hospital chaplain who had passed on my father’s last conversation with her Mom told me that dad told her God was with him and then went down each family members name of all his brothers and sisters and she told me that he had named each one and said he loved them. Then he came to my name and my heart seemed to sink even further as she told me he had said "I have a step daughter..." So it seemed I had my answer about how he felt after all the years of wondering. But then she went on and told me the rest of his words concerning me "but I raised her as my own. She is as my own daughter and I love her" What a gift that chaplain gave to me by sharing my dad’s feelings with my Mom so that she could tell me! I miss my dad. I wish he were here but I know someday we will be together again. I hope it will be a beautiful spring day like today. We will at last stand face to face and say "I love you" and we will never be torn apart by anything ever again. Until then I cherish his words and memory in my heart and I know beyond doubt that he is my dad. The only dad I have ever had and the only one I ever want.

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