The Unsaid — A Birthday Apology for My Father and the Chance I Missed to Know Him.
On the day that marked my Father’s 70th birthday, I unexpectedly found myself at the edge of a chasm of loss, reaching across time to find a little peace amidst the haunting silence.
In the following narrative, I unravel the tender and turbulent threads of memory that bind me to my Father, whose absence has left a void spanning three decades.
As I journey back to the sparse yet significant encounters I shared with him, I meander through a range of emotions — regret, anger, longing, all held together by a fragile thread of enduring connection.
The memories may be vague, their edges blurred by time, yet the emotions they stir are poignant, at least for me.
I don’t remember exactly what was said or even the sound of his voice, but the emotions reverberate still, molding the individual I am today. This piece is more an exploration than a recollection of the unsaid. As you read through, you might find the narrative peeling layers of my personal history and unveiling the complex tapestry of human emotions tied to the ghosts of what could have been.
Sunday, October 15, 2023
Today would have been my Dad’s 70th birthday.
My mind quickly jumps from feeling his absence to thinking about how we would celebrate if he were still alive.
I try to fill the void with images, work through logistics, and ruminate over all the details of this imaginary day.
It hurts to think of how much time has passed since he died. I was thirteen.
I didn’t grow up with my Father. He and my mother separated when I was an infant — the details of this aren’t fully understood, and the story I’ve shared about him over the years must have evolved in the way stories do, but my Father was not in the picture for most of my youth.
I recount a time he came to visit me in North Carolina when I lived with my maternal grandmother. I must have been six or seven at the time. While the details are absent from my memory, a photo of us (one of the few in existence) suggests it may have been my birthday.
I saw him again a couple months before my thirteenth birthday. Again, he came to my grandmother’s for a couple of days. He fixed a plumbing issue in the upstairs bathroom, but even now, looking back on it with the wisdom and regret of age, I have no idea why he was there or how the visit came to be.
Had he driven all the way from Texas to North Carolina to rip open the bathroom wall, dismantle the pipes to address a leak, and patch everything back up in a way that clearly showed the surgical scars and evidence that something had happened here?
Whenever I recount this story, I’ve never spent much time thinking about that bathroom and the work he did there. That this was my bathroom, across the hall from my room. The room where I putzed around doing who knows what, while this man, this stranger, this person I will never know, was in earshot of me, and I didn’t seize the moment.
When he drove me to Taco Bell for lunch wearing cutoff jean shorts, a tank top, and sporting what by today’s standards would be a pretty badass mullet, I didn’t seize the moment to ask all the questions I wouldn’t think of until much later in life.
He complied when I suggested taking the drive-through instead of going inside because I was too embarrassed by the thought of being seen in public with the man in the Daisy Dukes.
He knew what I was thinking, referring to the woman taking our order as ‘darling.’ he called me out while exchanging food and cash through the drive-through window. Looking back, I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it embarrassed me. I don’t know if he’d indicated to her that we were related, let alone Father and Son.
I don’t think I ever heard that word come out of his mouth.
I don’t remember if we spoke during the drive back to Grandma’s. The memory of our last car ride together, our last time together, is where the story of my Dad ends for me.
I can’t recall any exchange between us after that. It’s mostly because I’m still there. A thirteen-year-old bratty boy who was too embarrassed and scared to share a meal in public with his Father.
I regret that day.
I regret all the unspoken words. I regret that I didn’t make the most of our time together. I hate him for not trying harder to reach me. I hate him for dying in a car crash two months later. I hate him for not being in my life, and it makes me sad to think of how easy it was for both of us to let that moment together pass, not realizing we wouldn’t get another one.
Over the past thirty years, I have needed my Dad in countless ways.
His absence and the void it created have evolved over the years. It has sunken deeper and grown wider with every missed opportunity to understand this man who made me. It continues to grow whenever I can’t call to ask him a question or seek out his wisdom.
I feel its infinite depths — a void that will never be filled.
It is an unfortunate loss that I grieve daily, but today, on his 70th birthday, taking the time to write these words, I feel more connected to him than ever.
I guess we both missed our chance, didn’t we? I’m sorry for that.
I’ve mourned that silence between us for a long time, but now I realize there is beauty in the quiet space between two people.
Within each of us was a tidal wave of feelings held back out of fear of being too much. In that way, we’re more alike than I realized and closer now than we were then.
Wishing you a happy birthday!
-Your Son, Eric
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