It’s a sad, all too familiar story: harsh, distant, alcoholic father, sensitive, shy daughter always seeking his love and approval. Although there were flashes of kindness, most of my dad’s feelings had been buried long before. Even as a child I think I knew my dad was damaged in some way; in later years I came to understand that he was a sensitive child himself—one who’d been failed by the adults in his life.
I learned to play the piano at age 10 and would often be called upon to play for guests or family members. I would sit up straight, do my best to impress and steal a look to see if he was paying attention. In high school, I’d often come home to find him playing solitaire at the kitchen table. There was rarely any acknowledgment of the other’s presence; once in a blue moon we exchanged a simple “Hi.” We weren’t technically ignoring each other; it’s just the way things were.
Thankfully, my father mellowed over the years and by the time I was 30, our relationship was cordial, even relaxed. We spent the occasional holiday together and there was little sign of the disagreeable killjoy who’d been a part of so many family gatherings in my youth. The past wasn’t forgotten; just past.
When I was in my mid-thirties, something happened that I couldn’t have foreseen: my dad and I were standing next to one another at a family wedding. There was a lull in the conversation and suddenly my dad looked at me as if for the first time. Perhaps it was. With a touch of wonder in his voice, he said, “I never realized how pretty you are.” Although it may be hard to believe, with those seven words large chunks of anger and disappointment that I’d been clinging to for years were swept away.
I was there when my dad breathed his last; his deathbed apologies accepted, my hurt put away for good. He died at peace; a feeling that had eluded him for much of his life.
He’s been dead for more than a decade and when I think of him now, I choose to remember his humanity, that he was truly sorry he hadn’t been a better dad and…that he thought I was pretty.