I wrote this piece many years ago, but decided to post it here because my father's sudden death when I was only twenty-one still has currents that run deeply through many aspects of my life Our grief never truly ends, it's only transmuted into an ever-present mist wrapped around the edges of our heart.
Two years before my father died, he came to visit me in Boulder, where I was attending school. It was a spur-of-the-moment trip, impulsive on his part, a kind of detour taken en route to somewhere else. I didn’t mind. I liked the sudden burst of adventure it brought to my life. What a wonderfully rare treat to have my father all to myself. My parents had been separated since I was twelve, so I was used to not having him around. Usually there was a girlfriend tagging along or my younger sisters were with us. But this time, his curiosity about my life in Boulder had drawn him to me alone, and he came prepared to immerse himself in my view of things.
We didn’t have a lot in common. His life revolved around the insanely fast-paced jingle business in Manhattan. I, on the other hand, was living with a group of friends and a goat named Millie, on a rustic eighteen-acre ranch. While he lived in recording studios and collected royalty checks from McDonalds, Budweiser and Chevrolet, I took care of horses, studied Buddhist Psychology and massage, and volunteered two afternoons a week at a group home for troubled adolescents.
We didn’t let our differences keep us from enjoying ourselves. The Rocky Mountains, have a powerful effect on visitors, and I let their beauty and size work their magic on my father, as we drove through the small mining towns tucked in the foothills, and hiked on numerous trails in the National Park. We toured the University of Colorado campus, and ate and talked and people watched at the Mall.
At night, we relaxed in the piano bar in the mezzanine of his hotel. Knowing he wouldn’t be comfortable staying with me, I’d encouraged him to stay in town at the Boulderado Hotel, a homey, funky little place with dark wood and over-stuffed couches. It was a cozy, intimate inn that invited you to linger and unwind.
On the third evening of his visit, I had a class, so we agreed that I would meet him afterwards at the hotel for a late-night drink. When I arrived, the place was quiet except for a few straggling visitors in the bar. The jazzy sound coming from the piano was sleepy and rather mellow, as it followed me up the stairs to the third floor.
By the time I knocked on the door, I was feeling light-hearted and upbeat about seeing my father. When he opened the door to his room, however, I was shocked to discover that his face was red and swollen with tears. After a quick hug, I seated myself on the edge of the double bed and waited for a cue from him, thinking perhaps that he received some bad news. I didn't have to wait long, because without hesitation he sat down next to me and began to sob. The bed shook as the emotions surged through him.
I was at a loss. It was obvious that he was in tremendous pain, but I had no idea why. Saying nothing, I reached over to him. Surprisingly, he collapsed into my arms like a small child. I held him and comforted him for several minutes. Finally, he sat up and looked at me. Staring into my eyes were the eyes that I had missed and longed for so many times as a child. Blue and distant, always looking into the future toward some unspoken goal, they now had a questioning look, like I held the answer to all those years of restlessness and longing.
Then he mumbled something.
"What did you say?" I said, almost whispering for fear of breaking the silence.
"I said I'm sorry." He paused for a minute, letting tears spill, then wiping them away. "For everything. Leaving your mother, not spending enough time with you—everything."
"Oh Dad," I said, handing him some tissues. Touching his hand, I realized I wanted to stop him and tell him it was okay. But I knew that would come later. For now I would just listen.
"Your mother and I were just kids…" he began, walking toward the window. “When we met, she was going to be a great dancer, and I was going to sing my heart out at the Grand Ol' Opry. It was crazy of us, bringing kids into the world. We had no idea what we were doing. But your mother, she stuck it out. She gave it all up for you. I just couldn't do that."
He turned and looked at me. The tears had stopped. Standing there he looked lost and a little stunned as if he'd had no choice in what he'd said, but had been swept along by his soul's need to unburden itself.
"I've wasted years of my life chasing empty dreams,” he continued. "Now look at you. You've grown up. You have your own life. I've missed all the important things. I let them slip away and now they're gone forever."
Sitting there, I was overwhelmed with awe and compassion. His rawness and humility touched something in me that melted away some of the pain of past afflictions. I felt a flash of joy when I realized that he trusted me enough to be so honest.
Late into the night we talked about the past and the future. I got a powerful glimpse into the life of a man I hardly knew and it changed me. A little over a year later he was gone.