I'm sorry I was stubborn. I'm sorry you were stubborn.
It doesn't matter now.
You left me once before. In college, after you had called me to get the typical updates, the same type you had been getting over the phone for about 10 years already. But that time you told me you would call next Wednesday. And next Wednesday came and went, and so did many more Wednesdays. You checked out and I grieved while inside thinking that someday, one day, somewhere in the future we would figure things out.
We can't do that now, or ever. You are really gone now.
I have memories, good and bad. So many memories. You were so funny. People know you as the funny extroverted guy, always joking, always telling stories. Oh the stories. You used to tell us as little girls tucked in our beds, about the time you and your friends jumped the city pool fence at night and skinny dipped. I couldn't believe your audacity and every time you told it was like the first time I had heard it. Your inflection never changed. Oh the stories.
You played Barbies with me when I was home sick from school. But you also taught me about Semper Fi and hoo-rah and how to sing, "From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli..."
We grew up on a farm because you wanted us to. You introduced us to piglets and chickens. You worked on the tractor. You cussed. You fixed the seats of our swingset. It was on that same swingset a few years later that my friend Jill asked me why you and Mom got a divorce. We didn't know anyone else at school whose parents were divorced. I told her it was because you cussed too much.
We ate Ramen noodles on weekends at your house, and watched movies Mom would never have let us watch. We went to different churches on Sundays. We met various women. We listened to classic rock in your truck. Sometimes I would rest my head on your lap or your shoulder for the long Sunday afternoon drive home, sitting in the middle seat between you and Sara. I remember the smell of pleather truck seats mixed with chewing tobacco.
You taught school - many friends, people I grew up with, people who still tell me you were their favorite teacher of all time. They describe you like a hero, larger than life. I wanted to know only that person, not a cheater, not an alcoholic, not a divorcee.
I hate that my eternal image of you is pocked with negativity. No one is perfect. I needed my dad to be perfect. I shouldn't have had that expectation. I'm sorry. But I'm not sorry I needed you to be the grown-up, the parent, the one reaching out rather than feeling sorry for himself that his daughters didn't try harder. We were so young. You? You were young at heart.
I will hold on to the time you came for "Dad's Weekend" at the Chi-O house. We all went dancing in the Fort Worth stockyards to country music. We cut a rug together and we were happy.
You are described as a Renaissance man. I think of you as a drifter, your own person, unable to commit to anyone or anything. God knows parenting was too hard for you. It tied you down. You were free, and yearned for nothing more than flying your little planes whenever and wherever you wanted. It was a theme that permeated your entire life, one handed down to you.
I know it wasn't your fault. I know.
The last time I saw you was at your mother's funeral, wrought with family drama and high emotion. It was also the first time you met your grandsons, but I never told them who you really were. They ran around like two wild little boys do at pot luck dinners in big open fellowship halls, unaware of the messiness of grown-ups' hearts, and you looked at me like maybe we could be friends. I felt peace, and silently thanked Grandma for it.
But truly, you spent years hiding behind your bruised ego. I was as stubborn as you, after all, and you couldn't stand it. That I could carry a grudge for so long. That you could as well. You knew I had not fallen far from the tree. We both bore the guilt. I still do, and will alone now. But I know you loved me. I hope you know I loved you, too.
Occasionally my boys have asked why their daddy has a daddy but mommy doesn't. Now, my answer is more definitive than it was before.
Things were so complicated, but now they are simple. They have to be.
Fly high. Fly free. Fly away home, forever, Dad.