Even if a novel is not a true story, sometimes there is a character that gets under your skin, and makes their way into your heart. I just finished reading “Outside the Lines” by Amy Hatvany. It is a story about a girl who is trying to find her father. When she was ten he left because of his mental issues. He could not stay on his medications because it numbed him, but could not function without his medication. She is 30 and trying to find her father 20 years later. This excerpt made me think of my own dad:
“‘I’m useless,’ he cried. ‘Totally useless. I’m a terrible father. I’m a terrible painter. I should just leave…you’d be better off without me. Everyone would.’ He shoved his face in his hands, making it awkward to keep him in my embrace. I could feel his tears drip down on my forearm. His pain bled into me, pushing through my skin. It made my stomach clench. He only used to cry once in a while, now it was happening all the time.” page 39
Dad rarely cried. He would call me every few weeks when I was in college. Instead of short frequent conversations, they would be three agonizing hours. I could not get him to stop talking to me. Maybe that is why it is hard for me to finish a conversation today, and why I feel guilty walking away, even if I am late for another engagement. I never knew how to get my dad off the phone. Maybe I felt that staying on the phone with him would make things different for him. Or better.
The final years of his life were not great for my father. Looking back it makes me sad to think about his loneliness. Those late night phone calls, when I should have been studying, made me feel like the parent. It definitely made me a better listener. He would tell me about the construction jobs he was working on, and the clients he liked, and those he did not. He would talk about his siblings, and whether he was in touch with them. We talking about my siblings and whether he was in touch with them. He would talk about his dreams, and where he wanted to take his life. He hoped that things would come through for him, and if they did he was going to find a better place to live, or eventually replace his old blue truck. Sometimes he was in a good mood and would tell me how proud he was of me, other times he would be so down in the dumps that I knew my words of affirmation would not sail into his ears, they would just float through the mouthpiece of my phone and out the ear of his phone.
My mom was dead. He missed her. Even though they divorced a few years before she passed on, I knew he still loved her. Even if they fought and argued, you could still see the love they had for each other. His work life was hard, back-breaking work and he was not getting any breaks. He longed to be able to pay his bills, and have something be easy in life. My sister and I encouraged him over and over again to get a job working for someone else for the knowledge that he would have a regular paycheck and health benefits, but that was not my dad. From as far back as I could remember my dad did not take orders from anyone. This meant the last thing he would do is work for someone else. I do not think he truly understood that sometimes when things are tough it is better to drop your pride, be good, collect a paycheck and put your feet up at the end of the week.
What he may not know is that I learned from his example. I have a bit of him in the “do your own thing” in me, but I also appreciate what it means to know you have a secure job, health benefits, and someone who might just rub your feet at the end of the week. It is not something to take for granted.