Published under the pseudonym Salvatore Paradisio
Xpat Magazine June, 2006
My pop, or my pappy as I like to call him, had open-heart surgery last fall. He had, not one, but two triple bypasses. Then, about a month ago, he returned to the hospital for a pacemaker installation.
During his latter visit to the hospital he didn’t hear from me. In fact, he hasn’t heard from me since.
Based on my former letters, you’re probably thinking that I hate my father and I’m about to tell you why. But you’re wrong. I care for my pop a great deal these days. I probably love him more now than I have for most of my life.
You see, when I was 12 years old my father had an affair and, just before Christmas, he moved out. A short time later my parents were divorced.
Until then, I’d been my father’s son. We played football and went on hunting and skiing trips. I wanted nothing more than to grow up to be like him. When I was seven, I even begged my barber to shave a circle on the top of my head just like my pappy’s bald spot, and bawled when he refused.
After the divorce that all changed. Along with my brother and sister, I continued to live with our mother. But I wanted to live with my dad. Everybody (my parents, their lawyers, and my counselor) said it was my choice. But when I voiced this desire, I was met with a volley of torrid emotional retorts. My mother sobbed at the prospect of losing a son so soon after losing her husband. My brother and sister shouted what would become our broken-family in the following years; “He didn’t just leave Mom. He left all of us.”
Living in a household where slander against my father was slung like hash in a greasy diner, eventually I began to believe it. My father was a bad man and he’d done my brethren and me a grave injustice.
My teenage years were filled with unapologetic rebellion. Screaming arguments with my father were common, occasionally ending with me, face tear-streaked and red, starting the long trek back to the city from his rural home. I hated him and I told him so. I even told him he wasn’t my father. After graduation I left my hometown, moved to a different city, and stopped calling him. He responded in kind. Our occasional visits, on holidays and such, remained tense and arguments were frequent. But, with time, our relationship gradually mellowed and then finally, one day several years later the teeter-totter tipped over. It was when my father made the long drive from my hometown to Vancouver to help me move home after my university graduation. I was not excited by the prospect of spending 12 hours in a vehicle with my father, but I had no choice. The first seven hours were tense, but eventually the monotony of the road eroded our aggression and we settled into an agreeable discussion, which after a couple hundred kilometers, turned to the divorce.
He told me about his and my mother’s marital problems preceding his affair. I had been through a couple long-term relationships and I empathized.
On that drive I learned that his affair as less of an action of selfish gratification, and more the uncharacteristic act of a man in the greatest of emotional binds – one who wished to leave an unhappy relationship, but had no avenue for escape other than demolishing the family unit that he’d built to rear his children. Most creatures that feel so helpless, confused and trapped will lash out unpredictably, and so did my father.
A new fondness for my father was born in my heart. From then on our conversations
were amiable. Arguments, if there were any at all (at this moment I can’t recall any), were seldom and inconsequential. My relationship with my father had finally returned to the glory of the old days.
So, dear readers, you must be wondering: how could your author be so unfeeling as to refrain from calling his father when he’s in the hospital facing such physical peril as open-heart surgery?
My only excuse is weak and embarrassing, but it is my excuse nonetheless: I maintained silence out of habit. My father and I spoke so seldom for so long that even after our relationship was rejuvenated, our conversations were occasional. Birthdays passed without notice. Emails were exchanged every few months, and words even less often.
We became accustomed to silence. And now I’m afraid that it will one day breed in me a dark psychological torment.
Living in Taiwan and with this magazine, I’m so busy that I rarely see friends that live a few blocks away. Returning to Canada, even for a short visit, is unlikely. Meanwhile my father is in Canada and, considering his health, a trip to Asia sounds equally implausible.
So, as my father reclines on the beach chair of retirement in the twilight of his life, we find ourselves separated by a seemingly impassable ocean. It is possible that I won’t see him alive again and, as I sit here writing, this fact a sears my soul with icy terror.
But it is not my father’s death that I fear. I fear something much more terrifying — regret. I’m afraid that when my father dies I’ll regret our lack of communication and that such an irresolvable conflict would burn through my psyche like hot acid.
So what do I do? Do I call my father? I do not. Do I write him a letter? No.
Instead, I write this Letter from the Editor. Four thousand copies of this letter will be printed and distributed around Taiwan to be read by my xpat family. But, as you read this you should know that it isn’t meant for you. Hell, I don’t even care if you like this issue. Every story I’ve ever written was for my readers. I’ve treated every copy of this magazine with tender care for fear that I’d deliver a flawed product to my audience. But not this time. This time I made just one magazine and it’s sitting on a desk in a study in a log cabin in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and you, dear reader, are reading a sad facsimile of that one.
‘Cause this one’s for, my pop.
Love and Respect,