THINGS I WISH I COULD ASK MY FATHER
To my father on Father’s Day: I wish I’d asked you more about the young nearsighted boy you once were, who took refuge in books, who learned to read at a startlingly young age. Who spent hours on the river, skating in winter, swimming in summer. I wish I’d asked you about the solitariness of skating — the scrape of blades on ice, the cold wind stinging your face, the town growing smaller behind you, and the fear that your father would once again drink too much lessening, the abandon of skating through a wintry landscape taking over, at least for a while.
I wish I’d asked you pointedly about that fear — if your father was late coming home from work, did you quickly assume that he wouldn’t come home, that he was in a bar drinking, that there would be a familiar late-night knock on the door with someone dragging him home, half passed out?
Is that why you grew into a man who seemed to have no fear? Did you bury that boy’s dark trepidations beneath a decision to be courageous? People do decide who they want to be in this world, and your aim was high and true.
I wish I’d asked you about your daughter who died. We weren’t allowed to talk about your first marriage to Jane Wyman, so I only found out as an adult that you and Jane had a daughter — Christine — who was born premature, lived for 9 hours, and died. Did you get to hold her, say goodbye? Did you stare into the darkness of sleepless nights and ask God why? You had such trust in God, even when you were shot, but I wonder if that trust ever wavered, if you ever had dark nights of the soul.
I wish I’d asked you if I ever really fooled you with my rebelliousness and my acting out. Did you secretly know all along that I was just trying to get more of your attention?
I wish I could ask you where you are now, and if the other side is all that you told me it was when I was a child and beloved pets died — wide open space, endless fields and gentle skies, eternal rest in the palm of God’s hand. You opened your eyes the moment before you died and in that moment you made me a little less afraid of death. Maybe someday I will get to ask you everything.