From a Long Way Off

All the way to Centralia, my sister Jacquelyn and I wondered what we ought to call him—our dad that is, the man we were going to meet. The whole event was a surprise put together by his sister, our long lost aunt. I had only seen our dad a few times since our parents divorced, the most recent time being when I was in 4th grade; so the day was memorable, to say the least.

When we were little girls, we called him Daddy, but after 12 years without communication, that name seemed far too intimate. What about father? No, too formal. Dad? This one seemed safe enough, but felt too casual. Should we have simply used his first name? No, that is potentially offensive. First names are essentially for everyone except for one’s own parents. People like college roommates, coworkers and buddies get to be called by their first names. A person’s own parents do not. “Mr.”, an option thrown out jokingly, was clearly out of the question.

Obviously a lot of thought went into how we ought to address the man responsible for our fatty eyebrows and above average torso to leg ratio, but we were genuinely stumped. After a two-hour car ride, all we had come up with was a feeble way to avoid the matter altogether. "Hey … you," we would say. The use of this second person pronoun ended up being the only answer we could come up with. In my opinion, our answer sucked.

I think it was so hard to come up with a name for the man because it was something we had never had to think about before. It is so easy, almost thoughtless, to call my mom by that name, because I have had a ridiculous amount of practice in doing it. "Mom! The phone’s for you!" "Hey mom, can you sign my permission slip?" I suppose I would not have had a problem with calling him "dad" if I would have grown up saying things like, "Hey Dad, can you help me with my math?" or "Hey Dad, can I have some more money?" Unfortunately, not having had any practice in talking to the only man in our lives who could not be addressed by first name, anything we came up with was just going to sound weird.

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On the way back home, I could not remember how our problem had ended up resolving itself. But it did not end up mattering. In retrospect, it made perfect sense that something like deciding on the proper way to address a person should be absolutely trivial in a situation bearing so many more important components. I was completely wrong in my expectation that the formalities of making greetings and catching up would be the most notable constituents of the beginning of our reunion. In fact, I can remember very little of what was verbally communicated upon his arrival, though I am sure that whatever name we chose to call him made no difference. Instead of words, action and emotion defined the beginning of our new hope for relationship with him. When my dad entered the room and saw my sister and I, his first reaction was to hug us. He was genuinely happy to see us and, for a moment or two, nothing else mattered to me.

I readily admit that our family rendition of the parable of the prodigal son was undoubtedly flawed. In the grand scheme of things, my father is certainly not a metaphor for God, and Jacquelyn and I are hardly wasteful or recklessly extravagant. My sister and I did not end up wearing robes, rings and sandals, and I did not see a fattened calf anywhere. But I certainly saw a very clear reflection of God’s character in the reaction of my father when he saw that his daughters were sitting right in front of him. If we had been walking on a road towards his house, I think he would have seen us a long way off and ran to us, throwing his arms around us with compassion, just as the father of the prodigal son did. That moment in time taught me more about the love of a father than I have learned in all other moments combined. To call the day memorable would indeed be to say the least.

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