It was almost Christmas. I was pregnant with my first child. My dad was more excited than anyone. He had been asking for a grandchild since my wedding day two years prior. When you gonna give me a grandson? I see a fishing buddy in my future. When we finally did get pregnant, I wasn’t ready, but things don’t always happen when you’re ready. They happen when they are meant to.
Although my husband and I lived in Philadelphia where I was a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, classes were done and I had gone to New York to visit my family for the day. Trying to fit in visits to both my dad and my favorite great-aunt, I had decided it would be easier to cancel my lunch date with my dad (he worked in Brooklyn) to spend time with my 89-year-old great-aunt who lived a few blocks from my dad’s apartment. I figured I would surprise him when he got home from work.
When he got home, I was hiding in the kitchen while my stepmother went to the door. He came into the apartment, slowly, shuffling his feet. He said in a despondent voice, “She didn’t come. I told everyone in the office she was coming…”
In that fraction of a second, my heart broke for having hurt him. I hadn’t factored in the possibility of disappointment at my cancelling without saying I would see him later. As a mother now, I realize he had wanted to show off his beautiful baby, pregnant with her own, to his colleagues. I didn’t get it in the moment, though. I figured seeing me would be enough.
As he turned the corner to enter the kitchen, I jumped out and yelled “Surprise,” hoping that would suffice. I think he was thrilled. I tell myself his eyes lit up when he saw me. I can almost see them as well as his smile that only sometimes reached his eyes, but were always full of love.
I don’t remember what we talked about that evening. I wish I could remember the words. I know he rubbed my little belly a lot. He was so happy he was finally going to be a grandpa. I wish I could remember how tightly he held me when I kissed him goodbye and made my way home. I know it was a pleasant moment we shared. I just wish I had known it would be our last.
I was on bedrest within two weeks. Within two months, my dad was retired on disability at age 47 and hospitalized– his body finally succumbing to decades of alcoholism. Four months after that holiday visit, two days before my son entered the world, my father left it.
He never got to meet his fishing buddy.
We never got to say good bye.