Sitting on the floor in my office, I’d pulled out a half-a-dozen photo albums from a cabinet. Flipping through the pages, I couldn’t find the photograph that I could so clearly see in my mind’s eye. I'd been looking for a certain picture that my niece wanted. In the last album that I went through, there were some loose things between the back cover and the last page. A letter that had been opened, but was still in its original envelope. I immediately recognized the spiral like, looping letters and the beautiful penmanship that belonged to another time.
The postmark read 1977. The stamp was thirteen cents. The return address read T. Homer Black. My dad. From the date, I easily recalled where I was then. Twenty-five years old, working for a rock n’ roll television show and living in Laurel Canyon.
There was a time when I had a stack of letters from him, letters that dated back to my teenage years. The way I remembered it, I answered each of those letters. At twenty-five, we’d only met a few times and I hadn’t seen him since I was twelve-years-old. Once we were a family and I knew who he was. But after my parent’s divorce, when I was four, the pattern of large gaps between our being together grew with each passing year, and it was the tether of letters that kept us in connected.
At some point in my adult life, I took all of his letters and threw them away in an angry rage that was fed by a deep sense of abandonment – I don’t need you is what that action said.
It’s a sad story, but not a unique one. Everyone has some sort of wound from childhood. That piercing of the heart that becomes an invitation to navigate a wilderness – the unfriendly place that forces us to commence a journey of discovery which will answer the questions of who we are and who we might become.
So yesterday, I read what is likely the last remaining letter from my dad. It was filled with terms of endearment. He wrote that he loved me, that he was glad I was his daughter, that he hoped good things for me. Something heavy and icy around my heart cracked open and fell away. I let myself take in the tenderness of his words. I wondered how things might have been different if he’d come to see me, and had a relationship with me beyond our letters. Truth is, I can still feel the anger and hurt that he didn’t. But now, there’s something else, something that buffers an old, outdated rage. I understand that he really did love me.
More often than not, we don’t the “why” of someone else’s behavior. We get stuck in our own narratives, giving meaning to memories that aren’t always accurate or complete. I’ll never know why my dad wasn’t a presence in my life, but after reading that old letter, I let in a new realization -- Love and abandonment can live side by side in the heart – two things can be true at the same time. This man, my dad, who wrote me letters reached out to me across decades. And for a moment I brushed up against a LOVE that transcends time and even death, realizing that it’s not too late to hold his love in my heart.