I spent the last two weeks and some change driving up and down the California coast. I came here to see my dad, and my uncle. There was a sense of urgency to the visit. I’m not sure how much time either of them have left. I’m hesitant to go into too much detail about the history of my relationship with my dad. I don’t want to slander him. I don’t want to harm him at all. As a child I just assumed that when we became adults we magically learned how to be parents. I figured that there was a logical progression to adulthood where you just knew how to be there for people. Selflessness and giving and presence and spending time and words of wisdom and all of the ideal scenarios I had conditioned myself to believe made a good parent, well I thought they just came naturally. And that notion kept me at a distance from my father for years. He didn’t know his dad. He was adopted by a man that didn’t always treat him well. He ran away from home. He got caught and returned only to be shipped off to the Marines shortly thereafter. He went to war. Three times. He barely survived. His friends died. His little sister died of AIDS. His little brother died in a car accident. The mother of his children left him. His daughter was murdered. He knows pain. And…he does not know what to do with it.
I flew out here with the intention to see my dad first off as a fellow traveler on this road of life. I wanted to sit with him and his pain with no ultimatum. I didn’t know what to do but I knew that I had to be here for him. He is scared. He is alone. He needs connection. But our whole lives our relationship has revolved around AVOIDING real connection. There is a fear that to expose ourselves and our softness is an ultimate weakness that will not be tolerated. In the Marine Corps weakness is rewarded with scorn. Vulnerability is often scoffed at and you along with it if you’re bold enough to let your walls down. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule…many of the finest men and women I know are Marines. But institutionally there is little room for the kind of softness that allows two hearts to press close and to beat together.
He left us when I was three. He wasn’t around very often before that. I never knew much about him. We spent a few years together when I was young before he was sent to prison. I really didn’t see him much after that. I joined the Marine Corps in part to try to connect with my dad. I was a little boy trying to fight for the love of a father. I thought it was a missing piece to my heart and I searched high and low to find it. I went to law school in Sacramento, where my dad lived, to try to reconnect with him. I’m not ready to write about that period of time yet, but it did not go as planned. So few things ever do. It added more context to the shame, regret, and abandonment I felt as a son.
And that is the backdrop to my trip to Sacramento to see him. My dad doesn’t do much these days. He’s a bit of a shut in. And to be with him requires me to be in a room, watching daytime television, sitting on a bed, and trying to force conversation. I was so anxious and so tense before I arrived. I wanted to do things differently. I wanted to really BE with him. With no agenda. With no attachment. My intention was to surrender myself in the moment and if sitting there watching junk tv with my dad was what the moment called for then I would do it with my WHOLE heart. Please…please love find a way to help.
When I first arrived i heard a lot of “you don’t call or text me enough…I’m gonna die soon and I’ll never see you again.” Fuck man…fuck. It’s not about you, Bobby. He’s hurting and he’s lonely. Can you feel his pain. Can you open. Open, dearest love. Even more. Even bigger, Bobby. As soon as I reminded myself that he was human and he was alone, I wrapped him in my arms and said “Daddy I’m here now…let’s be together.” He got a little teary eyed and walked away.
It went on like this for a day or two. I would sit and talk with him. Small talk. Trying to be present. Observing all the old patterns of blaming him and fighting the urge to just rush away with a quick “ok good to see you gotta go” as was my custom. I was there for more this time. Open, Bobby. Open…
It is important for me to note here that my practice; meditation, asana, writing, japa, running, kriya and pranayama…is the backbone of my heart’s recovery. And the deep commitment to that practice, and to the fundamental value of stillness that the practice cultivates, opened the door that came next.
On the last day, I sat awkwardly in the kitchen. I was antsy. I was planning on leaving soon and I had just some by to say so long. My dad said “well you’re awfully quiet.” Although we had talked a bit more than usual and had shared a few laughs, it was still a highly tense and almost toxic energy. Open Bobby…please dear sweet heart will you open even now.
“Dad…I’m quiet because I don’t know what to say. I feel like a part of me has to make an interesting conversation. That I have to make you laugh. That I have to do something to hold your attention. Dad…I feel like I have to earn your love and I know you’ve never asked me to. I know I’m doing this to myself. But that’s what I feel and that’s why I’m quiet.” He didn’t respond at first. Then, through very soft tears he said “no, son. You don’t have to do that.” And he walked away.
I followed him into his room. I took his sweet soft face in my hands. I looked into his crystalline green eyes…my dad has such beautiful eyes. “I’m 39 years old,” I said. “And I’m just a boy who needs his Daddy still.” I was sobbing. “Daddy I love you so much and I hate this tension and I want a clean slate every time we see each other because I love you and I need you…I need you Daddy. I’m still just a boy, can I please just be you little boy here and will you hold me.” And I fell into his open arms. I fell deeply into the loving arms of my father. My daddy. I cried as he rocked me and softly whispered “my baby boy, my sweet baby boy.” We held each other’s gaze, eye to eye, for what seemed like forever. I saw him in there. His little boy. We held each other.
Here’s the thing…you never know how much people will love you. Sometimes all they need is a chance. The universe gave me the opportunity to offer my heart to my father. And he rose to the challenge. He knocked it out of the fucking park. Because….LOVE. That’s all. Love wins. It just does. Can I be the person who creates the space for love to move in? Yes, of course I can. And my dad, after all these years, we met each other together…where love lives.
This doesn’t fix everything. There was never any brokenness, you see. There is only now. And there is only love. Your heart is big. I know sometimes it feels like it has dragged you to the edge of forever and left you at the end. But it has really only brought you there to show you the beginning. What you may have thought for years was the sound of your heart breaking, is really the sound of your heart breaking free.