Apologies to My Father

Dear Dad,

Can you believe it’s almost Christmas? I feel like I’m standing on train tracks watching one of those two-stroke Diesels you loved to dare me to move. Where does time go? My Carol turned 18 and, suddenly, everything she does is precious again. Yesterday, when she rolled her eyes at me, I yelped, “Oh honey, hold that oppositional pose while I get the camera!” Will, now 13, went to bed a boy and woke up a teen. When I said “Goodnight,” he hugged me and said, “I love you, Mommy.” When I said “Good morning” to him the next day, he said, “So what?” Liam, at least, acts eleven, and picked green and red rubber bands for his braces to have a good Christmas smile.

Why does this time of year make me contrite? I know I was not a very easy child; “restless” you called me, remember? This year, I want to apologize to you, Dad, for a few more things that I’ve recalled lately. I’ve made a little list here.

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I’m sorry, Dad . . .

· about faking Julie’s bloody arm. It was my idea, and she went along because I was the older sister. I put the ketchup all over it and wrapped it up with white gauze. I told her we would wait until the Penn State game you were watching really heated up, and then we would wail into the room in front of the TV. I didn’t know that would scare you so badly. I’m glad the chest pain passed.

· that I destroyed the mattress. That little space between the twin beds in my room seemed perfect for jump, jump, jump, leap. I only missed the beds a few times and am amazed that you couldn’t hear me yelling, “Me Jane. Where’s Tarzan?” Thanks, Dad, for buying new mattresses.

· about short-sheeting your bed. I learned that cool trick at Girl Scout camp where we would sneak into each other’s cabins during the day, fold up the bottom half of the top sheet so it looked like top and bottom sheets, and remake the bed. We all died in fits of laughter watching a girl try to get into her “sheets” and kick and fuss and push, never suspecting that she was stuck. I did not know that you would get home so late, and so tired, and have to take all the covers off your bed in order to lie down and go to sleep. That was not very funny that night.

· that the steam didn’t work. I thought if I closed the bathroom door, put that rolled towel at the crack, and ran hot water in both the sink and bath you wouldn’t smell the Virginia Slims smoke. I know that wasn’t a good example for my three little brothers. Boy, weren’t they scared when you hauled me out of there?

· about ignoring that “No Parking” sign. I didn’t mean to get your car towed. And, yes, I did read that part. But I was in a bad hurry and I didn’t think anyone would really bother to tow a nice Taurus like yours. You were right to make me pay for the ticket and get the car back. I was really surprised you let me drive it again the next day.

· for the time I called you a patriarchal white pig. I know that I ruined Thanksgiving dinner that year. And I really did not mean to tell you that I would love you more if you were African-American. At least your eldest came to your defense. Mary Ruth sure was angry when she yelled, “Angela Davis is not your soul sister, Marjorie.”

· about getting Mom so upset when she visited me and Kent. Dad, I honestly thought you had told her that we were living together; that’s why I showed her the bedroom. And I had no idea she would want to use the bathroom or we would have cleaned it and fixed that hole in the floor to the living room. I’m glad that you could help her stop sobbing after you left.

Dad, I know this is the short list. There were other things, like my hairy legs and the marijuana and that little incident with the motorcycle and siphoning some gas from Mom’s car. You had such patience with me — and loved me the whole way — didn’t you? You forgave me, even when I didn’t ask.

Oh, I know what you would say now. I can just hear your quiet, questioning voice. “Margy,” you would coax with that bent finger pointing at me, “am I the only father you owe an apology?” Then you’d grab a beer for both of us, and you’d leave me to do the rest.

And I will, Dad, before Christmas. If Christ had not come for sinners, I’d just be writing these apologies to you every year. But he came for tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers — and restless children like me. I owe contrition to Him — who art all good and deserving of all my love. Reconciliation is Saturday at 2:00 p.m. Pray for me, okay?

I miss you,

  • Marjorie Campbell

    Marjorie Campbell is an attorney and speaker on social issues from a Catholic perspective. She lives in San Francisco with her family and writes a regular column, “On the Way to the Kingdom,” for Catholic Womanhood at CNA.

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