We visited Dad the week before his release. Beneath his chin were heavy rolls of flesh, and thin scraps of beard populated his neck and jaw line in splotches, the skin like oceans between continents. I watched Grandma as she spoke with Dad. Struggling to make out Dad’s words, she pushed the phone hard against her ear. I could see Dad’s face and shoulders. Grandma replied in curt yes’s and no’s, sometimes silently nodding; Dad spoke while moving his hands, and between words the muscles of his jaw flexed. Both stopped for a moment, and Dad mouthed, I’m sorry. Dad didn’t apologize after he cheated on my mother, or after he showed up to my parent-teacher conference unannounced and drunk, or after Grandma confronted him about leaving his faith. But on the other side of the glass, across from Grandma, he apologized again, and again. After the third time, both stopped and in their silence I assumed this was the first time Grandma had heard him apologize. She cried in somber, simple tears that suggested reconciliation and relief.
Dad and I spoke next. He rubbed the phone with his palm, hand thin and spider-like, jaw moving from side to side, tongue mindlessly searching for teeth like the mussel of a clam searching for a lost pearl. Everything about him suggested fatigue. His eyes were moist with longing, knuckles white and cracking, shoulders slumped and weary. He didn’t tell me what he thought about while alone, or about past mistakes, or bad friends, or poor relationships, or botched surgeries. And I didn’t ask. A guard tapped his shoulder and held up two fingers, a reminder that we had two minutes.
Dad dragged a dry tongue across his lips and said, “I don’t want to see you in here. Ever. You don’t have to…You know that. You’re the good one. Better than me.” The guard gripped him by the bicep and led him through a door behind the glass.
Two years after that last visit Dad died of a stroke, alone, in his apartment. By then Grandma was being cared for by my aunt, my brother and I were in college, and my mother had remarried. Life had continued despite Dad’s addictions. He must have known that it would. But maybe, subconsciously, he also knew that his time was running short, and that this was his last opportunity to make an impact on our lives. I don’t know what his intentions were, but what I do know is that after I spoke with Dad, I wanted to run away from him, to be in motion. I wanted to move swiftly towards some other place. And as I drove Grandma home from the Utah County Jail, she cried most of the way, her head leaning against the car door, moisturizer fogging the glass. I asked what was wrong, and she responded with a wave that said keep driving. I drove north on I-15 and exited at Center Street, the road taking us from the cell Dad lived in back to his childhood home.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley