When I was a very little girl – 5 years old, perhaps – I went sneaking around upstairs in my parents closets. I don’t remember the why of it….I must have been looking for something in particular. I don’t think I meant to uncover a hidden gift, but that’s what happened. I found it in the far back of my father’s closet, behind rows of shoes: an Easy Bake Oven.
On my hands and knees, looking over this lovely surprise, I was busted. I KNEW I was in trouble, and I ran as fast as my legs would go – I wonder where I thought I was running to? – but of course, Dad caught me. In the downstairs hall, just after I made it off the stair landing, he scooped me up into his enormous arms and swatted my backside.
I remember the sickening feeling in my stomach then. It wasn’t from the pain of the spanking….it was a deep, sad sense inside of me that I had done something very, very wrong that could not be righted. It was a knowing, somehow, that I had caused a hurt that was more than just getting a present a little bit early. I still got the Easy Bake Oven, and I used it a lot. I must have baked my mother a hundred tiny, lopsided cakes in that thing.
But every time I used it, I felt this little catch of sadness in my belly.
Once, in an effort to impress a group of really, really stupid friends, I snagged a $50 I found inside Dad’s toolbox. I treated everyone to mini-golf and snacks. I laughed while we played and I felt like a monster as I did it. I never replaced it, and it was never mentioned to me.
Another time, I invited friends over while my parents were away. We invaded Dad’s bar — the bar he built in the basement, so he and Mom could have holiday parties – and we drank, almost in its entirety, a lovely jug of Dad’s wine. Realizing it would be noticed, I panicked and filled it all the way to the top with grape Kool-Aid. I completely forgot about it, until 20 years later, when I heard a relative drank it. Ooops!
Dad had a habit of taking me to the Big Acres store every spring to see the baby chicks and bunnies. I loved this time, and looked forward to it every year. Until I was about 15. When Dad drove the car into the lot and hopped out with a, “C’mon Toots, let’s go see the chicks!”, I stubbornly refused to get out of the vehicle. I had rights! I would not be made to do something not of my choosing! I would not go!
He stood outside the car for about five minutes, jingling the change in his pockets, and then went in by himself.
He never asked me to go again, and even though I really, really wanted to go with him, I wouldn’t ask.
And just like that, a tradition had ended.
I’m sorry, Dad.
Remembering your sadness on that day still bothers me. I wish I could undo it, I wish I could rewind time and take that one little moment and change it, fix it, make it what it should have been, and what it could have continued to be.
For whatever reason, that one moment — out of 38 years — is what I always remember on Father’s Day. It pops up, uninvited, in my mind. And hangs around the outskirts of my thoughts all day long.
And I wish.
I wish I would have said it while you were here, I wish I would have made it right, and I wish, I wish, I wish I would have just said, “I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry, Dad.