Here I am
I’d never spent so long looking at Father’s Day cards. Then again, I’d never sent so many, either. The most in years past was surely three, when my dad and two grandfathers were alive. Now they’re all dead, but somehow I still managed to send eight. Eight Father’s Day cards. That’s a lot for a girl without a dad.
The last time I was home, I picked up a file folder of papers that my dad had saved. It was mostly cards I’d given him—for his birthday, Christmas, and Father’s Day—plus a map of the Pittsburgh half marathon course from 2014. It was the first half marathon I’d done, and he drove me the four hours from Fairfax and back again the next day. He strategically stationed himself towards the end of the route, where he predicted that I could use some extra encouragement in the middle of an uphill climb. He was disappointed that he hadn’t managed make his way to the front of the crowd in time to cheer me on. When we met at the end, he apologized, worried that he’d somehow failed me in my time of need. I assured him that he hadn’t—I was just so happy to see him at the finish line.
A few weeks ago, I was having a bit of a crisis. It was a Thursday afternoon. The day had been unfolding rather uneventfully, complete with the requisite calls to parents and chats with coworkers and emails back and forth. But then I stepped into the office of one of the doctors I work with, and we began talking about the patient of hers who had recently died. I was close to tears, still reeling from it all. And then she had a seizure. (A minor one, thank God.) Minutes later, after I’d called for help and several other doctors rushed to her side, I was sitting in my cubicle, heart still racing, and I received some shocking news about a friend out of the blue.
So I did what I always do when I am in a crisis these days and I texted a dear priest friend of mine.
I was firing off messages in my regular dramatic fashion, updating him on the drama of the afternoon, as he did his best to keep up. Back and forth we went for a few minutes, and then, midstream, I heard nothing at all. The minutes ticked by, and I thought to myself, Oh, well. I guess he must have been called away. I’ll just do my best carry on.
Then, ten minutes later, came this:
Here I am
That was it. Three words, no punctuation, a bubble of blue that pierced my heart.
The last time I spoke with my dad was Father’s Day last year, when I called from the convent. We chatted for a few minutes, savoring the chance to connect, as those chances came by seldomly in my life as a novice. He thanked me for the card I sent, and the last thing I remember him saying was, As I told Mom, your writing keeps getting better and better.
17 days later, I called my spiritual director from Suburban Hospital. I barely managed to get out the words through my sobs—My dad’s dying. His voice came through on the other end, full of compassion and concern, his heart breaking with mine. He listened to me and counseled me and assured me of his prayers. Call anytime, he urged. As my mom and sister and I were leaving the hospital close to midnight after watching my dad breathe his last, I checked my phone. My spiritual director had called every hour, for hours.
He and I spoke every day for weeks afterward. I feared that asking him to come to say the funeral was too much. Father, I know this is a lot to ask, and it’s short notice, and it’s a long way—his voice cut through my sheepish introduction. Ask me, he said.
He came for the funeral.
This first Father’s Day without my dad, I’m spending the day with that old spiritual director of mine. He’s the father who rushed to my side when the father who raised me was suddenly gone. He’s one of many, and I’ve got eight cards to prove it.
I think back to those 13.1 miles I ran in Pittsburgh eight years ago. I wonder if my dad, while he was still alive, would have been pained by the thought of leaving this world prematurely, no longer here to cheer me on. Yet I don’t know that I could find more support, encouragement, and kindness from father figures if I tried.
And besides, I know my dad will be there to greet me at the finish line.