I have just put my salty swimming costume in the laundry when Mum calls us into her room. She is sitting on the edge of the bed – the one we used to jump in as kids; all five of us, loud and raucous under the blue and gold brocade quilt. Dad is standing near the doorway shuffling awkwardly. ‘Your father has something to tell you,’ Mum says, tilting her head towards Dad, but looking down at the carpet.
Us kids stand in an odd little circle around the room gawking at each other, anxious to finish our holiday unpacking and get to our favourite TV shows.
Dad clears his throat. He calls in Ruth, a woman who’d been our guest on our beach trip. Then he says; “I don’t love your mother anymore. I’m going to marry Ruth.”
There’s an awkward silence. My heart freezes like a still from a movie other people are watching. I look up at my big sister – Is this a joke?
I run into the garage choking and gasping.
In the end my Dad didn’t marry Ruth. He went on to marry another woman. Then another. And another. He was on his fourth marriage when he died suddenly of a heart attack four years ago.
In my twenties I felt convicted to honour my dad. That obscure fifth commandment right before the thou-shalt-not-murder one. Honour your father and mother so that it may go well with you. At the time I didn’t exactly know what it meant, but I figured if Dad was ever going to come back to God, then maybe it would be because his daughter tried to love him.
It was tough. Sending Father’s Day cards when I didn’t know what to write and the printed greetings read like a bad cliche. Searching the stores for gifts when I had no idea what to buy. Weighty dinners of one-sided conversation, meeting a string of girlfriends; looking for a ‘sorry’ when there never was one.
After the funeral I learned Dad left me with a small inheritance. It was his way of saying the things he could never say. Thank you for loving me, thank you for still being there; thank you for the phone calls and the gifts and the dinners and all the cards (which I learned from his widow occupied prize position on the bureau).
Since then, I’ve thought about the inheritance my Dad gave me – the financial one – and the other inheritance too. The one that I never expected…
In honouring my Dad, I’ve learnt about forgiveness; how when we let go we see more clearly.
In getting to know my Dad, I’ve learnt who I am; how understanding him has helped me to accept and love parts of myself.
In laying down my need to be loved, I’ve learnt how sacrifice and selflessness can soften hearts in ways that nothing else can.
Following a difficult commandment for twenty years has brought a rich inheritance. Truly it has gone well with me.