I called him from my mother’s on Saturday afternoon.
The boys and I are in town for the night, Dad. I was hoping to stop by tomorrow. What time do you usually get moving?
Come when you can. I’ll make a pot of coffee, was his response.
He did not sound good, and I swallowed my lump of worry. He’s had a cold, he said.
Mom goes to the Kingdom Hall at 9:30. We can make our way over then.
I thought for a minute. I remembered Billy’s post and couldn’t help myself.
We’ll have church, I said.
He was silent on the other end.
We’ll have church, I repeated. We’ll just come as we are.
Ah, he laughed. I’ll wear my holy jeans.
As long as I’ve known him—and that’s all my life—he’s never gone. My aunt once told me that he went to Sunday school as a child. All eight of his brothers and sisters believe.
What happened to their baby brother?
I wonder these things as I drive the streets of my hometown on Sunday morning.
I don’t know if my father believes in Jesus.
All their married life it was just mom and us. Every Sunday morning, every Tuesday and Thursday evening, every Saturday morning…she would dress the four of us up in our finest and drive out the hollow to the Kingdom Hall.
He stayed behind.
Was it them? The Jehovah’s Witnesses? Did he not believe in their ways? It is a difficult path, this I know. Or…is he without faith altogether—godless and uncaring?
I don’t know. I’ve never asked.
Alcohol has been his god for so many years now. I don’t know if he can give faith to Another.
I shake off those thoughts. We head for the outskirts of town.
He had the coffee waiting when I got there. All these years we’ve shared little common ground but coffee is one. He never forgets.
It was dark. The curtains were closed, no lights on, except what radiated from the television and the computer screen. I felt my way to the couch until my eyes adjusted.
The light hurts my eyes, he said.
We settled in on the couch in the dark. My boys were quiet. They listened as we talked, watched me sip my coffee.
I thought about the post again and I began to pray.
Lord, if you want me to say something, You have to give me the opening.
How does one ask their father if he believes in Jesus? How do I step past the familiar dance of avoidance, of small meaningless talk and jump into soul talk with the one whose blood courses through my body?
I couldn’t do it.
I kept praying.
They say I only have 47% use of my lungs, he said.
My breath caught. He talked about the oxygen and how his levels never seemed to go up. He got out his pulse oximeter and let the boys take their pulses and oxygen sats.
I need to quit smoking, he said.
I said nothing. I’ve said it all before.
So I left without saying anything important at all. Except I love you. That’s new too. Somehow it’s easier to say it to this broken-down man than the man I loved and feared as a child.
We left early, so I drove the boys through downtown. I showed them the street where we lived after the divorce. The hill was smaller than I remember, the street more narrow. It was covered in blacktop patches—the perfect picture of the poverty we faced when that was our address. I didn’t drive up to where the house was. It looked too scary. A bad part of town.
We drove over the 4th street bridge and the air was filled with the mouth-watering scent of bread baking. We stopped at Tomaro’s bakery. I bought six pepperoni rolls and two loaves of fresh Italian bread. The boys both ate a roll, still warm from the oven.
I drove slow through the streets, feeling the sorrow of time gone by.
And then we hopped on Rt. 50 and headed home.
I’ll try again next time. Will you please pray? I thank you. This is the hard stuff. But He never said it would be easy.