Dear Dad, I finally know why…
I finally know why I feel compelled to write these letters to you. They’re invitations to dinner! You don’t need to RSVP. I need to send the invitations.
It’s that simple. And complex. Here’s why.
First, we’re still strangers.
Though we know a lot about each other, we’re strangers. Sometimes friendly, other times not. After my 1993 meeting to talk about my childhood, you didn’t want to talk with me anytime soon.
I felt relieved when you changed your mind, even though it took several months. We worked it out in letters and on the phone. Do you remember?
Then I arrived with my list of questions. David was with me, and Mom was there with you. It felt awkward, yet I learned a lot about how you approached being a parent. I was shocked by some of it, and didn’t agree with your approach. But it helped me understand why you punished me as you did.
We had more conversations before you died in 2010. You did most of the talking, and I did most of the listening. I was happy to listen. I was also disappointed because you didn’t seem interested in hearing much about me.
That’s why I feel we’re still strangers to each other. I want this to change, at least for me.
Second, my heart has turned back toward you as my parent.
When I was growing up, I believed your heart was turned against me. Sometimes it felt like undeclared war. In my heart, I became your prodigal daughter.
I’ll never understand the dynamics between us, and I can’t undo what happened. For years I wanted your heart to turn toward me, especially as you got closer to death. Sometimes it seemed it had; other times it didn’t.
Now I’m the adult in charge, and I want you to know my prodigal heart has turned back toward you. I don’t know how you feel about that, but I want you to be my guest. There’s room in my heart for you.
Finally, I’m encouraged to do this because of a book I’m reading.
It’s by Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and theologian. The book is about hospitality. It’s called Reaching Out. What he says about parents and children blew me away.
Our children are our most important guests, who enter into our home, ask for careful attention, stay for a while and then leave to follow their own way. Children are strangers whom we have to get to know. . . .They cannot be explained by looking at their parents. . . .
[Children] carry a promise with them, a hidden treasure that has to be led into the open through education in a hospitable home. It takes much time and patience to make the little stranger feel at home, and it is realistic to say that parents have to learn to love their children. . . .Children are guests we have to respond to, not possessions we are responsible for. (p. 81)
Like I said, this blew me away. It also helped me think about my current relationship to you. There’s a lot about death that’s final. It isn’t, though, the end of the story. What happens next is part of the story, even though all the characters aren’t present in this life.
I want my story, which includes you, to keep developing. I don’t want it to get stuck, and I don’t want to get stuck. Hence this invitation to be my guest. Nothing fancy. Just simple food, simply prepared.
I’ve included a picture of a fancy Christmas banquet table at Longwood Gardens. Don’t worry. My table looks nothing like this! It isn’t shabby, either.
Love and hugs,
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 January 2015
Photo credit: DAFraser, December 2014, Longwood Gardens