When Connie’s mother died, I took emergency leave and we drove back to West Lafayette arriving to stay at Dad’s house the day before her funeral. The following morning I asked Dad if he wanted to go with us or whether he wanted to drive to the funeral on his own. His quick response took me by surprise.
“I wouldn’t go to that drunken woman’s funeral if she was the last person on the face of the earth,” he said turning his back to return to the stove to get a cup of coffee.
I knew there was no point in pursuing the matter so I left the kitchen to get everyone assembled to make the drive to the funeral home. When I entered the back bedroom, Connie was in tears.
“I can’t stay here,” she said. She had obviously overheard Dad’s response.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s just load the bags in the car, go to the funeral, and then get a room downtown.”
Connie walked quickly out of the room and down the hallway leading past the kitchen to the back door where the car was parked. I followed with three bags in hand.
“Where are you going?” Dad asked.
“I’ll be right back,” I responded.
A minute or so later I re-entered the kitchen and asked Dad to join me at the kitchen table. “Connie heard your comment about her mother and is understandably upset. As a consequence, we don’t be staying the night,” I said.
Somewhat taken aback, Dad tried to explain to me that over the years he had taken a half dozen or more inebriated late night calls from Connie’s mother who each time expressed her deep resentment of him and her contempt for me. I, in turn, explained to him that we were well aware of her problem with alcohol, that we had done everything in our power when we lived there to help her overcome her addiction, and that in the end we understood that alcohol helped her escape her physical pain and emotional problems.
“I’m sorry you had to deal with that,” I said. “But she will always remain Connie’s mother and, as such, she deserves an unconditional degree of respect.”
I didn’t give him an opportunity to respond to that. Instead, I stood up, walked over to him as I’d never done before, looked him in the eyes and said. “I love you Dad, but I have to leave now.”
A week or so later, I was sitting in the big chair in the living room of the house in Minot when I heard a knock at the front door. When I opened it, I was surprised to see my father standing on the doorstep.
“Dad,” I said. “What are you doing here?”
He paused for a second or two and then, as though struggling to recall a speech he had rehearsed a few dozen times, responded. “It wasn’t until our last meeting that I realized that you are no longer a little boy but a grown man. What’s more, I realized that I’ve never told you that I love you.”
He took a step forward, hugged me, telling me at the same time that he loved me, and then returned to his car for the long drive home.
* * *
Dad died four years later in the very hospital I as born in.