*I started writing this in June of 2017. This piece is a work in progress*
WHEN I was 16, my father passed away. He had died from medical complications, his kidneys and heart having failed. I never met him, and still have yet to see a picture of him. He died on April 22, 2005.
The only time we ever connected was when I was 13, and he called our home number. I was home alone, toasting some Eggo waffles, and the phone rang.
“Hello? Mija?” Mija is a pretty common term in Spanish that means “my daughter,” but almost everyone uses it when referring to a young girl.
“Hi, may I ask who is calling?”
“Mija, it’s me, your father.”
“Who? I’m sorry.”
“Mija, it’s me, Ralph.”
I paused for a second to process that name before frantically hanging up. I stood there, in front of our phone, trying to calm my trembling hands. It was the weirdest feeling of utter awkwardness combined with fear. I almost didn’t believe the phone call had even happened, until the phone rang again just a few moments later. Too scared to pick up the line, I let it go to voicemail.
“Hi mija, it’s me, your dad, Ralph. Please let me talk – “
I cut the message off abruptly by hitting the delete button. I was too scared of what my mom would think if she knew that I had talked to Ralph. I purposed myself to not tell my mother, since I thought she might feel hurt, or think that I was going to leave her. But, being an emotional kid, I confessed almost as soon as she walked in the door. I remember crying profusely as I described how sorry I was that I had picked up the phone. She held me and told me that she wasn’t at all upset, but that instead she was sad I didn’t want to talk to him.
Mom always encouraged me to understand that my dad was lovable and kind, but irresponsible as well. She said he didn’t take the responsibility of being a husband and father as seriously as he should have. She also openly shared how it was her decision to marry him, and she takes responsibility for not listening to the wise counsel of others who advised her otherwise. She refrained from telling me things that would create bitterness in my heart, because she wanted me to have some relationship with my dad, especially since she too had been estranged from her father, and that hurt her deeply.
At thirteen, I didn’t want to talk to Ralph. Though he was my biological father, he was still a stranger, and one who had discarded my trust before it had been gained. But as I look back, that phone call is a memory I mourn. I know I was too young to understand, and my childish mind believed that talking to him, getting to know him, meant that I was taking his side or excusing his abandonment.
As I’ve gotten older, my mom says I resemble him in so many ways – my sense of humor, my expressive eyes, the emotive ways I contort my face to show extreme excitement or frustration. I think this is why I wish I could just have a photo of him, just to be able to pick out the parts that are mine and his, the ones that we share.
But there’s also a part of me that is grateful to have nothing of him, because there is a positive correlation with knowing someone and loving them. The more I know of someone, the deeper our relationship, the truer the love, and the greater the potential for pain and disappointment. And that is true of my dad; because I didn’t know him, because I don’t even have a photo of him, it seems that not having him there was normal, fine even. I can count the number of times on one hand where I truly felt sad for not having him around – not because he wasn’t valuable, but because the idea of him was so foreign. And so having some of him would have been more painful than was having none at all.
I sometimes wonder how my personality, being, and quirks might have been shaped differently if he had raised me with mom. Would I be kinder, gentler, or more patient? Would I feel a greater security in my heavenly Father, having known an earthly security in Ralph? And then I remember that even if he had been there, and had been a great father, I would still be sinful in nature. My heart would still be selfish and rebellious against the Lord, doubtful and faithless without His mercy and grace. The Lord, my Father who is good and just, knows who I am and what has shaped me, as both my sovereign Maker and the one who has secured my life in His hands through Jesus’ blood on the Cross. He knows how to prune and sanctify all of me, that I might display His glory and magnify His name in my thoughts, actions, teaching and pursuits.