In honor of Fathers’ Day, I wanted to share this story about memories of my father, Jim Kelly. My advice to all you dads out there, and to all of you whose dads are still alive is this: Seize the day! Life is short. Don’t waste this precious opportunity to tell your fathers or your children how much they mean to you. Blessings, Rebecca Bruner
Everything He Needed to Say
It was early April and my young daughter and I were preparing to host a tea party in our backyard. I watched the early afternoon sunlight and dappled shade from our mulberry trees play over the emerald grass. This Saturday’s party will be perfect, I thought as I arranged pretty, purple Irises in baskets for our centerpieces.
The phone rang, shattering my carefree daydreams. It was Karen, my father’s wife, calling from Canada. “Becky, I don’t know how to tell you this,” she began. “Your father is dead.”
I sat speechless, unwilling to believe my ears.
“It was a heart attack,” Karen explained. Dad had gotten up that morning and gone through his regular routine, eating breakfast, spending time reading the Bible and then praying. “Today, he prayed mostly for the family,” she told me. After that, he had walked down the stairs to the basement and just collapsed. By the time medical help could be summoned, he was already dead.
I immediately made plans to travel to Canada for his funeral. Though my father had been absent throughout my childhood, in the few short years I had known him, this man had become dear to me and I wanted to honor his memory.
My mother and father had split up when I was too young to remember him, and I had had no contact with my father until I reached my early twenties. At that point in my life I was torn between wanting to reach out to him, and fear that he might not welcome a relationship with me. He had another wife and children. If I reappeared on the scene, wouldn’t it just complicate his life?
Most of my uncertainties were put to rest when he sent me a letter, inviting me and my husband to visit his farm in Saskatchewan, yet I remember my feelings of trepidation as we drove down the rutted, dirt road, past fields of flowering, golden canola, to their tiny Tudor-style farmhouse. How would this stranger who was my father receive me? What would his wife and two teenage daughters think of me?
We were welcomed in and sat down at the kitchen table. My dad grasped my hand between both of his, as though he never wanted to let it go. “O, Becky, it’s so good to see you!” he said, again and again, a broad grin beaming from his face. I looked around the table at Karen and the girls whose faces were alight with the same bright smiles, and felt all of my hesitations melt away in the warmth of their joy.
From that time on, my dad was faithful to call me regularly, just to say “hi,” and to tell me he loved me. We had a few more face to face visits over the years. In fact, the fall before his death, he and his wife had driven down to Arizona to stay with us. He came bearing gifts for my children that he had painstakingly handcrafted himself: a red and yellow biplane for my son and a wooden easel for my daughter. My kids treasured this special time with their grandma and grandpa from Canada. None of us even imagined that this would be the last time we would see him alive.
At Dad’s funeral, a friend of his made a statement about him that I thought was very profound. “I think Jim had said everything he needed to say,” the man told me, “so it was time for him to go home to Heaven.” In other words, he didn’t have a lot of unfinished business; he hadn’t left a lot of things unsaid.
I pondered the man’s words and realized that, from my point of view, I had to agree. Even though my dad’s death was so sudden and unexpected, and we had not really had a chance to say goodbye, I had no lingering doubts about his feelings for me. He had sought reconciliation with me. He had made a special effort to build relationships with my children, and he had been faithful to express his love for me again and again in the few years that we had.
Other people also bore witness to the fact that my dad had said what he needed to say to them, even when they didn’t want to hear it. After the funeral, my sisters’ band teacher from high school came by the house to offer his condolences. He mentioned that Dad had told him straightforwardly that he needed to get right with God. Even though the band teacher had made it clear to Dad that he “wasn’t buying,” Karen said he still went out of his way to seek Dad’s company at social gatherings, even when he was half-drunk, though he knew Dad didn’t approve.
My dad shot straight with people and they respected him for it, whether they liked the things he had to say or not. He did not allow the awkwardness of never having spoken to me as a child intimidate him into continued silence. Instead, he overcame that barrier in order to tell me again and again how much he loved me. Life is fragile. None of us knows which day will be our last, and that is why the life lesson my dad taught me is so important. Dad said everything he needed to say. I hope that when my life is through, the same can be said of me.
Rebecca D. Bruner © 2013 in My Fairy Godfather: Collected Short Stories
Originally appeared in the Life Lessons from Dads anthology from Write Integrity Press in 2012.