This past week, I celebrated the birthdays of my two sons, who are only one year and two days apart. Nothing has given me more joy in my life than being a father to them and their sister. Though we will not all be together for Thanksgiving, there are no strained family relations to blame. This has not always been the case, and I am so very thankful for that blessing.
I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen my father in the past 30 years. He would promise a fishing trip or some other activity only to cancel at the last minute, if even that. Normally, the date would simply come and go. Over time, there would not even be the possibility of getting together. Slowly I erased him from my mind. I evaded questions about my father when asked. Many times, I wanted to say he was dead, but rarely did. Instead, I gave the partial explanation of us not being close.
My father had another family and other children, so I did not usually push the issue. I have no idea what he told his other family about me, if he told them anything at all. Though he played a negligible role in my life, I did tell my then-wife about him. Her insistence on meeting him to ask about his medical background was the last time I saw him in person. He briefly held my newborn son, his grandson, while he answered my ex-wife’s questions. To my knowledge, he never saw or met my younger son or daughter.
About five or six years ago, on Christmas Eve, he called me about of the blue to wish me a “happy birthday.” I missed the call, but did hear his answering machine message. Not only did he call me by my name, he referred to himself as “your Dad.” It was the only time in my life I can remember him doing so.
We had previously reconnected through a series of phone calls. I had initiated the first one – it was the first time we had spoken in nearly 20 years. Over time, I had convinced myself that he would not answer or he would tell me to leave him alone and hang up on me. He didn’t and we spoke for close to an hour.
A few years later, I finally read a book that had sat on my shelf for quite some time. It was called “The Prodigal Father.” The book explained a great deal about what motivates men to become “prodigal fathers.” It allowed me to empathize with and to eventually forgive my own father.
After the Christmas Eve call, I called my father when I was going through my divorce. However, he would not or could not be the type of father I needed at that time. As I drove to Topeka one day with my daughter, I called him. I wanted to arrange a time to meet so he could see his granddaughter. Naturally, he had all sorts of reason why he couldn’t. I did put my daughter on the phone, so he could at least speak to her and she to him. They never did meet.
My mother and I called my father once a few years ago. He did not really remember her or me. He is 88 now and his memory appeared to be mostly gone.
I may have lost my opportunity to reconnect with my father, but for all you prodigal fathers and prodigal children, you may still have a chance. Make that call, drive over to see him! Social media gives you even more options. Reach out to your father or your sons and daughters. Take that chance – life is short and precious. Is there a better Thanksgiving gift to give than love and forgiveness?
Nicolas Shump is a columnist for The Topeka Capital-Journal.