Dad came to visit.
I haven’t seen him before. Not once in my life and now there he was at my front door. Smiling bright and guilt-free. “Hi! You miss me?”
I should have slammed the door in his face right then and there. I smiled without any happiness. “It’s hard to miss what you don’t have. What you never had.”
“True. True. So very true.” And, without waiting for my invitation, he came inside. As if this were his house instead of mine. “Mm. Nice place you got here. Very nice place. Got anything good to eat?”
“What do you want? Why are you here?”
“Get me something good to eat and I’ll tell you. Come on, Joe. Don’t just stand there like you’re dumb. I came all this way to see you.”
“I didn’t ask you to.”
“Least thing you could do is feed your poor famished old man.
I went into the kitchen. Mostly to get away from him. If only for a few minutes.
I didn’t want to give him any of my food. He didn’t earn it. He didn’t deserve it.
But I did it anyway. I made him a sandwich and took my good old time making it.
I was tempted to make the world’s worst sandwich on purpose, filling it with things like cottage cheese and clotted cream and parsnips and pearl onions and beets and spaghetti sauce.
He didn’t deserve a good sandwich. Not after everything he did. Not after everything he did not.
But it would have been a waste of good food.
I made him a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich and carried it out to him.
He arched an eyebrow at my choice. “Really? You’re gonna serve me kids’ food? Come on! Didn’t your mother teach you anything about making real food?”
“It’s all I have.” For you. I almost said it out loud, but chose the moral high ground and refrained.
“Well. That’s just pathetic.” He ate it anyway.
I sat down in the living room and picked up the newspaper.
He tracked me down and sat beside me. “I came all the way over here to visit you and you’re hiding behind a newspaper. I bet you aren’t even reading it.”
He was right, of course. I was just staring at an article. It might have been about oil fields in Alaska or about how many times the Detroit Tigers have failed to make it to the World Series.
It was all just black letters arranged in black lines.
I set the paper down. “Okay. Fine. What do you want?”
He grinned. “I want to play a game with you.”
“I’m sorry, but what?”
“A game. Four truths and a lie.”
That should be easy. I thought. They’ll all be lies.
“Do you want to play?”
“Good! The rules are simple. I will tell you four statements. Three will be true. One will be a lie. You have to figure out which one is the lie. Are you ready?”
“1. I was born in Belfast and raised in Belgium. 2. I don’t like rock music, but I don’t like classical. 3. I left your mother shortly before you were born. 4. I’m deeply sorry.”
“Well, You sure made it too easy. Number four is the lie.”
“No. They’re all true. I never should have left your mother. I was scared. I wasn’t ready to be a father. I ran away from her and from you. But all this time, I kept thinking about her, about coming back to her, about seeing you again. But I wasn’t ready to face her. Or you. I knew that the hurt would be too strong. I knew there would be a whole lot of anger. I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to deal with being made to feel unwelcome. So, I kept running.”
He looked down at the newspaper. “I don’t want to run anymore.” He glanced up at me. “Can I stop running? Do you want me to stop? Or should I spend the rest of our lives in running away from what could have been.”
“No. What should have been. You should have stayed with us. You should have been there for me and taught me how to ride a bike and how to swim and how to be a worthwhile man.”
There was a door between us and it was up to me to close it or leave it wide open.
I wanted to slam it in his face.
But there were no lies in his voice or in his face. Only truth.
I tore the door down