This post is an open letter to my dad who passed away last year. Writing is one of the gifts we share. This piece is here to honor his memory, to share my story, and to release it all.
Love & gratitude,
“God, our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by thy name.”
I listened as everyone recited the Lord’s Prayer, familiar with the words and the comfort they used to bring.
When I was a kid, I felt like God was the dad that made up for the absence of you. I left him, and you left me, long before you died. I walk around searching for both of you in everyone I meet, staying too long and walking too close to the ones that don’t want or need anyone to walk alongside them. Kind of like the way you tried walking next to me all those years, reaching for my hand. I’d always look the other way.
The music began to play while a small group of people prepared to get baptized. One by one, they climbed the stairs, waded into the pool, huddled together in prayer, and were dipped backwards underneath the water.
The music was starting to make me feel like that, like I was being tipped backwards and briefly pulled underneath into something I had been forgetting about: my memory of you.
I closed my eyes as they welled up with tears, but I could tell it wasn’t sadness. It was something different. It felt more like relief, a release, a sense of letting go; being washed over with permission to surrender. Could this be what baptism feels like? Was I being baptized?
I let myself stand there, eyes closed, being pulled under.
I still think it’s you when I get a call from an unknown number. Or when there’s a envelope with illegible handwriting left on my bed. Whenever a song comes on that I know you’d listen to I wonder what you’re trying to tell me. When I cry, when I really, really cry and let it all go, at the tail end of my tears, I think of you. It’s unexpected and I never understand what you have to do with whatever pain I’m currently wading through.
I thought of how you wanted to go to heaven when you died. How you were sitting on the couch after all the chemo, more than fifty pounds lighter, cheeks sunken in, hands folded in your lap, telling me how you were afraid to die. How we needed to save your artwork. How you told me to play ‘Spirit in Sky’ at your funeral. How I don’t remember saying anything in response to that. How we didn’t have a funeral right away. How I didn’t want to go. How the woman who called me to tell me she found you told me you were a Godly man who loved Jesus. How I didn’t see how that could be possible.
How I thought your entire life was the furthest thing from Godly or holy or any religious term for that matter. How I didn’t even know you believed in God until after you died, when I read the letters that you wrote to him. How I felt guilty that I didn’t know this about you. How I felt guilty that I didn’t know anything about you.
How you had a relationship with a Father you never met that made up for the one didn’t have when you were alive. How that’s like me.
How that belief must have carried you through so much pain when no one was was there to walk you through all the cancer and chemo and recovery and surgery and life in general. How you just wanted to go to Heaven. How you now have the answer to all the questions I’ve been asking my entire life. How I still wonder if anything I’m doing with my life is remotely close to the truth you now live.
I opened my eyes.
I knew the music was reminding me it’s okay to feel the weight of you not being here, and I silently thanked it for that. So I stood there, the music filling up within me, watching the last man getting baptized, thinking of the beauty of being pulled under, thinking of the courage it takes to hold your breath long enough to witness the bottom of the ocean floor, thinking of God, your father, and you, my father, you art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.