I have probably had more than one pilgrimage in my life, but only one has left a mark on my heart.
I mostly grew up without knowing my dad. He was not a nice man. He was in and out of prison when I was a child. I didn't even know his brothers and sisters. It was like I was non-existent to his family.
That is until March of 2005 when my aunt called me. She was here from California and wanted to get together for lunch. I agreed because, well I was curious to what she wanted after 49 years of not knowing her. We had a wonderful lunch and I fell in love with her immediately. We promised to stay in touch.
And we did stay in touch. We emailed, phoned, sent funny cards. We wished each other happy birthday, and Merry Christmas.
A year later she called me again, this time from her home. She asked if I would like to get to know my dad. If I could forgive him for being such a thoroughly distasteful man. I told her yes that I could because I had put my anger toward him to rest a long time ago. My dad was living with her at the time and he wanted me to come to California to "meet" him. The arrangements were made. I went in June of 2006.
Nervous is not exactly the word I would use to describe what I was feeling as my plane barreled toward San Fransisco. I couldn't sit still, I couldn't close my eyes. I was nauseous. I didn't know if I was scared or excited.
I was in California for 2 weeks. My dad and I started out rather tentatively exploring our feelings about me being in California. He rambled on with an apology for a couple of days. I finally stopped him and asked if we couldn't just start from that day and love each other from then on. I think he was surprised that I could love him. He agreed to my plan. We started getting to really know each other.
My weird sense of humor comes from him. Parts of my temper and stubbornness are from him. My sense of fairness is definitely his. He was surprised at how much we were alike. He was proud to be my dad. I was proud to be his daughter.
My two weeks in California went faster that either of us wanted but we promised to never lose each other again. I trusted him to his word.
He didn't live in California much longer, only another month. He decided to move back to Illinois. He packed his belongings, his cat, made the arrangements, and left. He didn't even tell his sister he was leaving until the day of his departure.
I admit I was negligent in keeping up on what was happening in his life. My only excuse is that I was dealing with some really nasty stuff on my home front. When I finally called to talk to him my aunt in formed me that he had left. I go his new number from her and called him immediately.
We talked for 2 hours that day. I don't remember most of what we said but I do remember the feelings that we had for each other.
After that day we talked weekly. We sent cards. He wrote massively long letters. I think he wanted to make sure that I knew how much he loved me.
In May of 2007 we found out he had stage 4 lung cancer. We knew that his time was now limited. The doctors said 6 months. He was too advanced for radiation or chemotherapy. I wanted to take to my bed and weep. I didn't though because I knew he needed me. We were strong for each other.
Our phone calls became twice a week. His letters became longer. He lived too far away for me to go to see him. In fact, he forbid me to even try. He told me that if I did come to his house he would throw me out and never speak to me again. Even though it weighed heavy on my heart I honored that order.
In December of 2007 my pilgrimage ended. God called my dad home. I am so thankful to have been given the privilege to know this man. In the short time we had together I learned a lifetimes worth of father daughter information. After more than 50 years I had been given the gift of a dad. My heart is full.