I spoke with my father today, for perhaps four and a half minutes. After a bit of courteous small talk that revolved around the weather and summer plans, he rushed to get off the phone. I’m not sure why. I didn’t ask. Perhaps he had company, an appointment or something pressing on his mind. He might have been in physical pain. As a survivor of a traumatic accident, my father has multiple health challenges. Walking is profoundly difficult. Even sitting isn’t easy for him.
I’m not sure what reason he had for getting off the phone so quickly, but I can’t say I was surprised. Our last call – about six months ago – was similarly brief. I felt so many things in those four and a half minutes. Concern about his health. Happiness at hearing the warm, deep tones of his southern drawl. Guilt over waiting so long to call. Anger that he hadn’t called either. And all the while, an anxious awareness of the awkward space between us.
“Alright, well you stay safe,” he says, in a way that sounds vaguely fatherly. As though I know what fatherliness sounds like.
“Okay. I’ll try.” The conversation could end now. I pause.
“It’s nice to hear your voice,” I add, quickly.
I glance at the phone. It hadn’t even been five minutes. There was a mix of relief, sadness and irritation — the familiar feeling of being pushed away, shut out, barely acknowledged. And just as familiar was the mildly pathetic joy of being granted those crumbs of recognition.
It was better than nothing.
Those four and a half minutes would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. The story of his twenty year absence from my life – followed by my tracking him down under rather dramatic circumstances – is an epic of Finding Forrester proportions. It’s also a story I won’t be telling tonight. Suffice it to say that I tried and failed to find him many times. Then the stars aligned. We finally spoke when I was a senior in college hoping for a long-awaited reunion with my father.
It would be a decade before he decided he was ready to meet in person.
So much of the turmoil of my twenties was the emotional hell of alternately suppressing and suffering my anger and sadness. The degree of alienation and fury I felt over his recurrent abandonment was something I could not put into words — though I tried. I wrote a lot of angry letters — to him, his mother, his wife. Mostly? I was met with silence, left to work out my own peace, without him.
Life eventually found fit for us to speak again, first by phone and then face to face. For a while, we kept in regular contact, but then the calls became less frequent. I tried to accept the relationship as it is, without wanting or needing it to be different. I reminded myself that I love the woman I am, and I wouldn’t be the woman I am without walking the path of abandonment.
There are times when I feel pangs of jealousy and pain, seeing young girls, or grown ass women, receiving love, care and attention from their fathers. In the past, I was loathe to acknowledge these feelings — worried that admitting my father pain was an affront to my mother’s love. Now, I’ve come to acknowledge and embrace all of these feelings. Although, old habits die hard.
In this case, my old habit is pushing the pain away. After those four and a half minutes today, I paused to contemplate my sadness and ambivalence over him for few moments. Then I moved on and tried to forget about it.
Later, I offhandedly mention the conversation to my girlfriend. It’s the kind of thing I’d normally keep to myself. In the past, it was the kind of thing I’d keep from myself — buried under layers of unacknowledged pain.
“He rushed to get off the phone with me,” I said.
“I’m so sorry to hear that.”
Later, she again expressed sympathy for the painful experience. The remarkable thing? I’d already faux-forgotten — pushed the uncomfortable feelings underneath a pile of work and a mountain of to-do lists.
I was so grateful that she didn’t brush off the comment, or take for granted the vulnerability it took for me to share my father pain. Her query helped me remember to unveil, honor and tend to this emotional wound.
I used to think that feeling abandoned by my dad was a terrible burden, a bottomless pit of sadness and fury. But bit by bit, Life has taught me to embrace everything about my past with love and gratitude. The anger I used to feel toward my father has mostly given way to compassion. Anger still arises on occasion, but it no longer consumes me.
The beauty of abandonment, as a dualistic experience, is that it slaps us into the nondual recognition of that which can never be abandoned. On the relative level, I’ve learned that abandonment is just the way it is. The principle of impermanence shows that from one perspective, everything is constantly abandoning us. Nothing lasts. No one stays. But on the absolute level, there is nothing to abandon or be abandoned, because the Universe is One.
Four and a half minutes. Enough time to connect, send positive vibes and express compassion. Enough time to extend even more awareness to my own pain. Enough time to remember my inalienable wholeness. Enough time to wake up.