Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP
Earlier this week, I was sitting in math class when I saw an unfamiliar number come across my caller ID. As I left class, I listened to the voicemail it left behind.
I blacked out for a minute.
It was my dad and he would be in town in an hour.
My father has been incarcerated since 2005. You can read a little background on that here. I have not seen him in almost 10 years, and I’ve spoken to him only a handful of times in conversations lastly no more than 10 minutes.
This was a moment I’d thought about for years, but an hour before it was going to happen, whether I liked it or not, I felt so unprepared. Panicked. What if he wants to see my house? Or my work or school? What if I say no? What if he hits me out of anger?
For years after he’d been arrested, I was still so afraid of him. He was physically locked up and I still cried in fear. This week, years later as a grown woman and not a powerless child, I cried again.
Distance isn’t forgiveness. Separation is not inherently redemptive. And time only heals wounds if you ask Jesus bind them up. I don’t know that I’ll ever have a “walk me down the aisle” relationship with my dad but I know that Christ wants us to live in community…in connection and relationship to one another. So I did what I thought I would never be able to do, I called back and asked, "Do you want to get lunch?"
Forty-five minutes later I was having lunch with my dad, my paternal grandma, my uncle and his wife. This was first meal that he ate out of prison in almost 10 years. My life has changed dramatically during that time. I was was sitting at a Five Guys with family who knew nothing about me. And what exactly was I supposed to ask them? So how was prison this time? What about the rest of you, how was ignoring me for the last decade?
I’m not going to lie, the interaction was awkward, uncomfortable, even painful at times. I wished I could look at my phone. I wished I could call for help. I wished I was married with kids for conversation’s sake. Was I glad I did it? I don’t know.
I wish I could say that this short meal was a healing communion, closure after a long and dark battle. I think it’s just the beginning of a new chapter. Now my dad has a cell phone he can call and text with any time and he’s shown multiple times this week that he isn’t afraid to contact me.
Am I ready for that? I don’t know. After lunch this week, I do feel something else: a bit of relief and quite a bit of boldness. Fearless, even.
If God can bring me through a terrible childhood to later speak to my abuser again…what can’t He do? I feel empowered and safe thinking about about that question, because the answer is literally nothing.