It’s an absolutely perfect day. There isn’t a cloud in the sky, the humidity is manageable, and for the first time, in a really long time, my entire family is seated around the table on the back patio, happily eating the lunch Grace prepared for Father’s Day. There’s no tension, there’s no animosity. At long last, there’s peace, and as I look over at the beautiful young woman seated next to my youngest son, I feel a swell of gratitude. I’m simply astounded by Anastasia’s strength. She’s bared the burden that I couldn’t, and because of her ability to love, and to forgive, and to fight through her own pain and anger to see the goodness in others, my family is whole again. I don’t know if she fully understands the debt I owe to her.
I hear Elliot curse across the table and it re-captures my attention. Grace is usually quick to say something about using inappropriate language in front of Mia, but before she can open her mouth, she’s immediately distracted by Kate.
“Oh my god, Grace. You have to see this yacht that he bought. It’s incredible. Like, you’re going to die.”
“Well, I think it sounds wonderful then,” my wife says. “So, just the seven of us for Hawaii?”
“Six,” Mia corrects her. “I can’t miss dance rehearsals, and there’s no way I can get that much time off work.”
Immediately, I’m on my guard. Just from the tone of her voice, I know she’s getting ready to start an argument, but I’m not going to let her attitude derail this afternoon. I don’t know what’s wrong with Mia lately, whether she’s just going through a phase or there’s something going on that she’s not telling us about, but she’s been extremely difficult for the past few months. Initially, I’d thought it was about Christian, but he’s here now and a lot of her attitude hasn’t changed. She’s simply found other things to fight with us about.
“You can’t stay home alone, Mia. You’re only sixteen. You’ll have to speak with your boss to get some time off to spend with your family,” Grace says gently.
“She’s not that understanding,” Mia snaps back.
I watch Grace’s posture straighten as she struggles to keep her composure. I know she doesn’t want a fight anymore than I do, but the two of them have been going round for round what feels like everyday. I’d thought I had my hands full with Christian when he was a teenager, but Christian never said the kind of biting, hurtful things that I’ve heard Mia say to her mother.
“You’ll have to figure something out,” Grace says with a warning kind of calm in her voice.
“You could just pay for Juilliard and I wouldn’t have to,” Mia says and as Grace takes a deep calming breath, I put myself in the middle to stop the fight before it can begin.
“Enough, Mia,” I say firmly, and to my surprise, she doesn’t press the issue any further. She looks angry and she slouches back into her chair, but she’s silent and that in itself feels almost like a victory.
Grace gives me a grateful look and then turns back to Christian and Elliot. “So, when shall we go?” she asks. “Maybe the last week in August before Ana and Kate go back to school?”
“Make him plan it,” Elliot says through a mouthful of food. He nods in his brother’s direction. “He’s the one with the busy schedule.”
Grace and I turn expectant looks on Christian, but he looks down at Anastasia.
“Do you want to go to Hawaii?” he asks.
She bites her lip hesitantly. “Can we? A week off is a lot of time to be away from a two and a half month internship and you couldn’t even make it through one day off on your birthday.”
“I’ll make it work. Boeing says my jet will be ready by June 28th so we’ll have it available to us. We could maybe just take a long weekend, instead of a whole week.”
She weighs the decision for a moment, glancing around the table at each of us, and then shrugs. “You’re the boss.”
Christian frowns at her less than enthused response, but since it isn’t a no, he nods to his mother, agreeing to the dates she’s proposed.
“Excellent,” Grace says, clapping her hands together and smiling. “Well, should we do presents?”
“I’ll get them,” Mia volunteers, not waiting for any kind of confirmation before jumping up from the table and running back into the house. A few seconds later, she returns with her arms full of gifts. She’s smiling broadly at me as she holds the packages out for me and I’m happy to see her good mood from earlier in the afternoon has returned.
“Thank-you, Princess,” I tell her as I take the gifts from her. I immediately know the long, slender box is hers and I smile at her as I pick it up. “Should I open yours first?”
“Sure, but you know what it is.” She laughs.
I peel back the paper and open the lid to reveal her traditional Father’s Day tie. It’s an almost powder blue color, covered in dozens of pictures of cartoon sushi that, when I examine closely, have tiny little script beneath each picture describing the exact type of each kind of sushi depicted. I laugh as I look down at the tiny California roll.
“This is great, Mia. I think this is the best one yet. People are going to love it at the LSA convention next spring.”
She gives me a very satisfied smile, and as I reach out for the next package, I hear Christian whisper an explanation to Ana about the tie. I look up at her, wink, and then read the tag on the gift in my hands. It’s from Elliot.
I tear off the paper, and am surprised to find a fishing sonar system that is the exact same model as the one already installed in my boat. I have the brief thought that maybe he’d somehow found the old box for the sonar I already own, but when he reaffirms his gift is exactly what I think it is… I look over at him with confusion.
“I know what it is…” I say, hesitantly. “But, I already have one.”
“Yeah… I may have broken that last week when Kate and I took the boat down the lake.” Elliot explains. His confession sparks a flash of irritation in my gut, though less because he’s damaged the current system, and more because it’s been so long since I’ve been out on the water that I haven’t noticed. I need to make more time for sailing, perhaps as a way to spend time with both of my boys. They’ve always been my best crew, and as I try to remember the last time we were out on the lake together, I wonder if, subconsciously, Christian’s absence was the reason I haven’t been out much.
I slide the sonar box towards Elliot, telling him he can install it since he was the one to damage the last one, and after he agrees, I pick up Christian’s gift. There’s a large, square box that feels as though it’s made of leather inside the bag, and as I pull it out, I feel my breath catch at the sight of the deep, familiar green that I’ve lusted over for over twenty years, but never treated myself to.
“No…” I whisper, shocked. Christian smiles and nods at me encouragingly.
I glance over at him, see him nod, and then turn back to the box in my hand. The lid is heavy and the hinge groans slightly as I slowly ease it open, but once I’ve pulled the lid completely back, my eyes widen with amazement. There, resting on a bed of cream velvet, are the thick platinum links of the presidential bracelet and the onyx faced time piece with the word ROLEX in clean, white font.
“Christian…” I nearly gasp. “I can’t… this is too much.”
“No,” he disagrees. “It’s what I wanted you to have. I know you’ve always wanted one.”
I look over at him, searching his face for any kind of insincerity or regret, but he looks as confident as ever. It’s an exorbitant gift, too expensive for me to accept from my son… but in this moment, it’s too much to resist. I gently ease the watch out of the display mounted into the casing of the box, and then slip it over my wrist, feeling the weight of the cool metal on my skin.
Suddenly, my family is flocked around me, admiring the watch for themselves and showering me with compliments, but I’m still left so stunned by the enormity of the gift, I can only sit there and stare, utterly speechless.
“Way to make us look bad, asshole,” Elliot says as he retakes his seat and punches Christian in the arm. Christian laughs and as I finally accept the reality of this moment, I move the bag still resting in my lap so I can get up to properly thank my son, but then I hear something else rustle inside, so I take another look. There’s an envelope resting on the bottom of the bag.
“Wait there’s a card,” I say, reaching in for it and then placing the gift bag on the table in front of me.
“Uh, you… you should read that later,” Christian says awkwardly, and while I raise a questioning eyebrow at him, Grace jumps in and waves him off, insisting I open it now.
I reach down and peel back the flap of the envelope, but it’s not a card I find inside. It’s merely paper. I unfold it and glance over it. It’s a letter.
I’m sitting at my desk in my office right now trying to think of what I want to say to you on this Father’s Day, but I find myself coming up short. Just a few months ago, I never thought this would be a day we ever spend together again. I was ready to completely write you out of my life, and even now that we’ve begun to repair the bridge in our relationship, I feel like there’s still so much left unsaid between us.
It feels wrong to bring this up on a day of celebration, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually apologized to you for what happened. So, I want to let you know that I deeply regret my actions in the trial, and I say my actions because I can see now the outright selfishness of what I did. I’d justified it to myself then, tried to shift the blame onto everyone and everything around me so that I wouldn’t have to feel the shame of what I’d done. But I’m done doing that now and, in order for us to move forward and share the bond we did when I was a kid, I have to tell you how sorry I really am.
I’m really, truly sorry, Dad.
Once I’d accepted my part in what had happened, I thought a lot about everything that occurred before the trial. I thought about the time you put into preparing us all, the effort and care you’d put into going over every granular detail, and, of course, the implicit trust you’d placed in me. Everyone one trusted me, trusted that I would do the right thing. But I didn’t do the right thing. I lied, and it was hurtful to everyone in my family, and for that I really am profoundly sorry. I wish I could take it back, but I can’t. I can only promise that I will never let you down like that again.
We’ve said hurtful things to one another over the past two years, behaved in ways family should never behave with each other, and I forgive you for your part, just as I hope that you can forgive me for mine. I know I hurt you and I know from first hand experience that people can act out in terrible ways when they’re hurt. When I knew that I wanted to repair what had been broken between my family and I, I spent a lot of time talking to Elliot about you, specifically. He’d left me with the impression that beneath the anger you felt over what I’d done, you were struggling with a deep sense of guilt because you thought you’d let me down by bringing Elena into my life. But you didn’t, Dad. You didn’t know. It wasn’t your fault.
I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but growing up, you were my hero. When I was young, I used to believe there wasn’t anything you couldn’t do. To me, you were Superman. I didn’t think there was anything you didn’t know because there was never a question that I could ask that you didn’t have an answer for. You were warm, and you were kind, and you always respected my boundaries. So few people in my life up until that point treated me in that way, and it meant the world to me. It still does. You never pushed our relationship, you let it grow organically, and I think that’s why I can’t think of you only as the man who adopted me at the age of four, despite a herculean effort on my part to do that very thing over the last few years. You are my father, and I love you.
We don’t say that enough to each other.
I love you, Dad. And, I’ve missed you. I know there hasn’t been much good between us in a long time, but just know that, through the anger and the vicious fights, I never once questioned that I love you. And I never will.
Happy Father’s Day.
I feel a dry ache in the back of my throat as I finish the letter, and while I blink back tears, I push away from the table so that I can stand.
“Come here, Christian,” I say. He gets out of his seat, walks around the table towards me, and once he’s within arm’s reach, I wrap him in a tight hug.
“I love you, Son,” I tell him. “I always have, okay? And I always will.”
“I love you too, Dad,” Christian replies, and when I pull away and grip tightly onto his shoulder, I hear Grace let out a high, strangled sounding cry next to me.
“Mom…” Christian says, sounding almost embarrassed, but again, she waves him away with her hand.
“This is just… this is everything that I’ve wanted,” she says. I slowly ease myself back into my chair and watch Grace reach over to squeeze Anastasia’s hand. She too can see what that girl has done for our son, and for our family, and suddenly, I wish there was a way to make this day about that. We need a way to thank her, a way to celebrate her, but her birthday isn’t for several months. Perhaps that’s something Grace and I can ruminate on, and in the meantime, I think I’d like to make this day less about me, and more about our family being whole again.
“Alright, alright,” Elliot says, getting up out of his chair. “Enough of this mush fest. It’s a beautiful day, let’s play some ball.”
“Yes,” Christian agrees, quickly, and, once Mia says she’s in, I get up once more to head out to the yard to play ball with my children.
Finally, life is perfect.