My recent trip to Florida to visit my father had a bumpy start. I flew out of Oakland through wind and drizzle then landed under buckets of rain in Orlando. There was so much turbulence on the flight -- hot bumpy air shook our metal tube from one coast to the other. I found it exciting, and a fitting start to my adventure. Visiting my Dad has never been easy, but then, neither was visiting my Mom. We are uneasy people.
That first morning when I went to my father’s court-mandated home for mentally challenged seniors, and he did not recognize me, I was shaken. But not for long. Even when the rain poured down in frothy white sheets as we drove along two-lane Malabar Road toward the river, I just slowed down. I could tell my Dad was nervous because of the way his legs kept jerking. And small talk became no talk. He air-braked, just like my Mom used to. To my surprise, I did not take it personally. I was given all the strength and courage I needed maybe because I asked for it. Each morning before I picked-up my Dad, I’d say, LOVE, I need you. Give me strength.
Eventually the rain would die down and we made it three days in a row to The Shack on US 1, which is a cool old Florida restaurant perched on the Indian River. We became re-acquainted meal by meal, ride by ride. It got easier between us. We also made trips to Walmart and the beach. Ice cream is our family’s drug of choice and so, we had hot fudge sundaes each afternoon before our goodbyes.
There was a time, not that long ago, when I was scared of my father and what he might do when I visited him. I was scared that he might attack me physically when I was driving. Or that he might run off when I thought he was in the bathroom. That we would argue about reality. Or the scariest proposition of all, that he might ask me to help him realize his dream of not being court-mandated and to find a way to live on his own. I noticed I spoke differently with him than I did with other people -- I was a little too cheery, too alert.
But this trip was different. He’s proven himself to be trust-worthy. And I have changed, too. I no longer see my father as a burden. He is a man who has lived through incredible odds and is still standing. His thoughts intrigue me, and his appreciation of my interest in him is unmatched. He is thrilled that I care. To get to know him, even though it’s late in the game, and let him know me, a fairly true version of me, is deeply satisfying. I have a friend who says, “It’s never too late in soul time.” It’s incredible to come from such a dysfunctional family and to pave avenues of healing. Those family-potholes of shame and neglect and lost-connection can be patched. Bumpy rides are fine, they get me where I need to go.