It's Christmas morning. Like every other morning in my parents' home, my father has put on a pot of coffee. I'm in the kitchen, as I always am when I visit them, nursing a cup of the strong black drink (with a splash of cream) and reading something--newspaper, magazine, cereal box. My father comes in, refills his cup, and fiddles in the cabinets near the fridge. He calls over to me.
"Want a little Christmas in your coffee?"
I grunt a bit as I read. He's asked me this every morning during this visit. "No thanks."
My mother comes in, and I turn to speak to her as he walks past my chair and toward the living room. I finish my conversation with my mother, then take a sip of my now-strange smelling coffee.
Christmas burns going down.
It's New Year's Eve. I'm in undergrad and on the college's debate team. We're leaving for a tournament in a couple of days, and the team has convened at a member's house to finish up our preparations and have a party. I'm living at home these days, but have arranged to sleep over in the dorms with one of the other team members. My parents don't really approve; we always have a big party at New Year's Eve to celebrate my brother's birthday and the new year. I am twenty and I don't think I should have to do what they want me to do. Many people draw the hard line between their lives and their parents long before they reach twenty--or have it drawn for them. I'm not one of those people.
My father kicks me out of the house because I refuse to come home. It seemed ridiculous then and is still ridiculous now. My father told me not to return home because I was spending the holiday with school friends preparing for a debate tournament.
*blinks* Yep. Still ridiculous.
I did go back home after I returned from the tournament. I still rode in with him to campus every day. We didn't speak to each other outside of an exchange of data about pickup times:
It was, I believe, April when we actually spoke again, stilted, formal conversation, but conversation nonetheless. I started driving the car in the morning and afternoon, the half-hour commute providing an opportunity for him to teach me the finer points of the manual transmission. It was something to do other than be mad at each other. That fall I got a driver's license, my mom bought a new car, and I got her old one. I moved onto campus. I went to lots of debate tournaments. I graduated and got a job and moved a few hours away.
One Sunday evening as I drove back to my new home from a visit to my parents, I had a blowout on the highway. This was long before cellphones. I made it to a payphone and called them. My father drove two hours to meet up with me, then spent the next four hours purchasing a new tire and mounting it in a dark Wal-Mart parking lot before sending me on my way. We both went to our respective jobs the next morning, bleary-eyed and relying on our coffees to get us through the day.
Since my dad retired, his days start out the same. He wakes, gets the coffee going (and, if he's in the mood, makes it Christmas), then checks the tides. If the weather's right, it's time to fish. If the tides aren't auspicious, he surveys the golfing conditions. When all else fails--and in south Louisiana, that's a given--he works in his woodshop.
When I went off to college, my dad told me that my job was to work hard for four years, then get a job and work hard for twenty or thirty more, then retire so that I could do what I wanted to do. It seemed ridiculous then. It still seems ridiculous now, but I can see some merit to it. It's strange to be forty and just starting a family, still renting a renting, just now ramping up a career.
I don't know that his life is all that fulfilling, though. He sends me loads of forwarded email. He calls periodically to give me updates on the latest death in the family. While he taunts my mother at times for taking another job in her retirement, he fixes up the homes of his relatives and is always in the middle of building or restoring some large piece of furniture for someone.
I think he's lonely.
When we go home to visit now, I can count on a few things. My mom won't be home when we arrive, her evenings often given over to an event at her school or to her infirm mother. I'll have to make up the beds in the room we usually sleep in. My dad will have fried--or be prepared to fry--a tremendous amount of fish caught just in time for our arrival. My husband will be up long after the baby and I have gone to bed, my father having pressed a drink into his hand as soon as we'd finished unpacking the car.
I hope that my husband doesn't mind it. My dad took a shine to him early in our relationship; I think his comfort firing a rifle to bring in the new year sealed the deal. They go fishing together when we visit, and my dad has found a pupil for his woodworking secrets. My father has someone to relate to, and I am so thankful that my husband cares for him. I haven't told you the worst bits, but let's just say that while my father did indeed put his nose to the grindstone early in life so that he could have the retirement he desired, he didn't do the best job of populating his leisured future with folks to share the fun.
I am thirty and home for a visit. It's been a rough year; I started a new job, moved states, got promoted, got engaged and unengaged, turned thirty. I began to see myself as forever-single. It hurt, especially as I watched my younger sister marry that autumn. No matter how good everything else in my life was, that nagged and hurt in a small little place that I didn't know I had.
I found myself driving home from church on a rainy November Sunday morning, my dad in the passenger seat. This was rare. Since he wasn't driving, he felt like chatting.
"Your mother tells me you think you'll always be single."
I'm glad that there's little traffic on this road and that I've driven it so many times in so many different conditions that I can navigate it on semi-autopilot. "Yes," I choke.
"I know that things didn't work out for you this time, and you have to live your life, but I hope that you find someone. God doesn't mean for us to live alone."
I swallowed hard to keep the tears from spilling, but I couldn't entirely stifle the sniffle. Maybe it was his morning coffee talking, but I didn't care. My father didn't want me to be alone. I nodded, and we were silent the rest of the way home.
For as long as I can remember, my father's drinking (and his behavior when he's in his cup) has been the bane of my mother's existence, and I'd be lying if I said that it hasn't been a pretty shitty part of mine. There have been auto accidents and embarrassments and wounds that still cut deep. I never excuse it, can't support it, but sometimes, like on Christmas mornings or late nights when we've just finished a long drive, I can squint enough to see the offer of a drink shaded like the only sure bridge he can build to something like connection or shared experience.
This entry was written in response to the Week 26 prompt for therealljidol. Thanks for reading.