by Hope Katz Gibbs
Tropic magazine, The Miami Herald
I AM FINALLY FINISHED WRITING a letter to my father. I could only think of four things to say—three of them had to do with the weather. And the worst part: I didn’t sign it, “I love you.”
Of course I love my father. I tell him that all the time when he calls, mostly because we have nothing else to say. We each make sure that the other is “fine,” that our respective jobs are “fine” and that the last time we spoke to members of our family they were all “fine,” too.
Now I am trying to remember when “fine” took the place of really talking to my dad.
Perhaps it started when my he found I’d lost my virginity. I was 17, and he didn’t waste any time fretting. Instead, he took me to dinner and over sesame chicken told me that men think with their sex organs, are preoccupied with their own pleasure, and that I needed to beware. His vocabulary was as frank as his advice.
I knew this was his way of protecting me. It wasn’t his last attempt to wrap his paternal arms around my maturing soul, but I think it was the beginning of the end.
Now that I have moved eight states away from him, I use my lunch break once a week to write. I pick at a tossed salad, wishing I could find the words to apologize for growing up, and away. I want to love my father for the person he is. I want him to understand me for the person I have grown into. I want him to talk to me like an adult—the adult he worked so hard to help me become.
But those words won’t come.
Across the room I catch a glimpse of a family of burnt-faced tourists new to Miami. They order from a waitress whose nameplate reads Samantha, smiling and exchanging pleasantries in loud, happy voices. Can they talk to their fathers?
Samantha then asks me if I want anything else. With her eyes she implores: “If not, sweetie, please get up. I need more tips.”
But I can’t get up. I am glued to the sticky red leather stool in this Biscayne Boulevard diner. I stare back at the empty words on the slightly scented paper before me. It would be easy to fold it into thirds, lick a stamp on the envelope and drop it into the mail. He’ll receive the words and be pleased I’ve thought of him as I move through my “fine” day.
What holds me back? Is it that I’m angry that he left my mother? Have I sided with her, finally, after three years of divorce ping-pong? I tried to stay impartial and sane amid the destruction of my center, tried to stay friendly as my father remarried a woman who is my age and has little use for my brother, sister and me. I tried, really, to let him know that if she makes him happy, then she’s swell in my book.
It isn’t swell though, and it isn’t fine. And it isn’t going to change either. And so it has come to this: pointless letters and empty conversations filled with pleasantries about my new job and if I properly filed my tax return forms.
Perhaps it is easier to pretend to be fine for 15 cents a minute. Because nothing ever will be like it was when my parents held hands at my Bat-Mitzvah, looking up at me on the pulpit with pride. Like it was when I danced with my daddy to “Isn’t She Lovely” on my 16th birthday. Like it was when I’d sit with him and watch the Eagles play on a Sunday afternoon, trying to understand what he was doing with his mind as he stared at the TV.
HOPE KATZ GIBBS was assistant editor for special publications at The Miami Herald 1987-1988. This article was published in Tropic magazine, March 27, 1988.