A Father's Day Surprise

An Essay By Taylor // 6/18/2007

"How are you today, ma'am?" I asked her, and she smiled up at me as only a graying, seventy-year-old lady can. "Just fine," came her reply, and so I started scanning her groceries. She only had a few, and I knew it wouldn't take me more than a minute. Then she would be gone, like all the others who had come before her. We would intersect each other, and then go off again, as much strangers to each other as ever. But before I started, she stopped me to ask a simple question.

"Have you thought of your father today?" she asked matter-of-factly, and she waited for an answer. Her question surprised me. "My father?" I thought to myself. "Have I thought of my father?" It left me at a loss for words. I wasn't sure how much I wanted to tell her or how much she would want to hear. Fairy tales make people happier than reality.

Customers don't usually ask about our lives. It is us who ask about theirs. I try to talk to them if that's what I think they need or want. Some of the people who come into our store suffer from tragedy, be it poverty, sickness, physical disability, mental retardation, or emotional turmoil. I like to think of myself as more than just a cashier, more than someone who rings up groceries at such and such a price, spits out a total, and processes transactions. I don't process transactions, because customers aren't transactions. I talk to people and get them what they need, whatever that may be. I am a friend to anyone who needs a listening ear.

"Have you thought of your father today?" The question echoed in my mind, and I had to think a moment before answering her. The tables had turned on me, I was just realizing, and now, she was the one with the listening ear, and I, the one who needed it. The question made me uncomfortable. I didn't know how long she would listen. She was asking now, watching me intently, but if I told the truth, would she care then? Did she want to hear the truth, or did she want to be happy that she'd asked and leave feeling good about herself? "Yes, ma'am," I said slowly, not trusting her, and hoping she would leave it at that.

She wouldn't. "You have a good dad?" she asked after a pause, bluntly. Most people who didn't care about me wouldn't have asked about my father on father's day at all. But she had. Most people who didn't care would have let it go with my simple answer. She didn't. She persisted, and through her persistence, my tension melted away. Looking at the ground, I decided to be honest with her. "No," I said. "I don't."

I couldn't look at her eyes and say that. It told so much about me, or I thought it did at least. It seemed to shout to everyone around, "No! My father left last year on the second of May. I haven't talked to him in six months, not since my seventeenth birthday. My parents got divorced last year. My dad walked out of my life. I am fatherless. I have no one at all to call me son, no one in the entire world to call father."

I felt naked there, standing at my register. I had exposed myself by a whispered word, and it left me hopelessly orphaned and all alone. I felt shame for who my father was and shame that I didn’t have a better father. What she said next I would never have expected. I had expected a pasted smile, a nodding, sympathetic head, and a murmured "Oh,” that meant, “oh, you poor thing!” But nothing of the sort happened. She only said, softly, comfortingly, "Neither did my son,” and looked me in the eye.

Hearing those words, my shame disappeared. I felt a sudden kinship with her, and with her son, whom I had never met. “But he turned out to be the best father,” she said proudly, with a faraway look in her eye. “He knew what he’d missed, from his own growing up, so he was able to give it.” “Yeah,” I said, with hope surging through me from what she’d said. “He knew what he had to give, because he never got it.”

I wonder what she would have said if I’d lied? Would she have said anything about her son? What if I'd said "yes," the yes that said, "My father plays basketball with me every day. He encourages me to pursue my dreams. He loves me, and I love him"? She probably would have lied too, or at least not said anything else, and we both would have said "have a nice day," smiled at each other, and become two more pretenders in a world that cries out for someone to understand, someone to empathize with its pain.

In some ways, I feel as if I had a conversation with my own mother, as she might be twenty years from now, or with a stranger very much like my own mom, sent by God, to intersect my life at that very moment in the grocery store. I realized that afternoon more clearly than ever that I was not bound by my father’s fate, that even though the same blood flows through my veins, the same weakness, that I am not bound to repeat the mistakes my father made as a father and as a husband. There is hope where before, only defeat. Where before, I saw only broken people and whole people, now I realize that everyone is in a constant state of brokenness and that the whole world is full of people who feel pain and who are too afraid to tell anyone that it hurts.

Comments

Wow

Taylor
This piece just about brought tears to my eyes. It's beautiful and amazing what God does for us, isn't it? He is a mighty awesome God...he's been showing me that more and more this past year.
Heather

Anonymous | Mon, 06/18/2007

Very nice

I really liked this, I came from a similar situation:)

Anonymous | Mon, 06/18/2007

Hi.

Is this a true story?
This is a gooooood essay!

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Love the Lord with all your heart!

Jesus loves you and won't stop, even if you want Him too.

Remember in your hard timz and good timz he's there when you need him most!

Velocity | Wed, 06/20/2007

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The Truth will set you free.

Taylor, Thank you so much

Taylor,
Thank you so much for that. It's an incredibly gripping, beautiful piece--and it has reminded me again of what I forget all too often. You said it so well, at the end: "everyone is in a constant state of brokenness and the whole world is full of people who feel pain and who are too afraid to tell anyone that it hurts."
And as one writer to another--you really have a gift.
All the best to you.
Aisling

Anonymous | Fri, 06/22/2007

God bless you -

- For writing something with such beauty as that. You most certainly have a true and real gift. I love it.
I am blessed, and I have an absolutely wonderful father, but reading that reminded me (which is very important that I do remember) that not all are so blessed, but they are such good people, and that is why we pray for them.

Pax Christi tibi!
In Christ, through Mary,
-Edith-

Edith | Mon, 06/25/2007

That was incredibly

That was incredibly gripping, Taylor. Sometimes it is hard for a reader to get into the author's heart, because the writing is too wordy, sentimental, or fearful.

That was stark, bare, honest, human, and brave, and told in such a way that... well, so that the writing was like a current - it carried my eyes along, and I didn't want to break it off and stop reading. And this is coming from someone who doesn't really like reading anything longer than a paragraph or two! :P (But that was doubly worth the few minutes it took to read! lol) Rarely can an author create a bond between himself or herself and the reader that is a stranger. I understand, I sympathezie, I believe, and I cry along with you.

Keep going. PLEASE.

Anonymous | Tue, 06/26/2007