As a child, when I would hear the sound of keys rattling outside the front door of the house, as if someone were scrambling to make their way inside, I would immediately drop what I was doing and run towards the bedroom.
I would shut the door behind me, jump onto the bed, grab the closest pillow, shut my eyes, and pretend to be asleep.
Then, as I waited on the bed nervously and with each passing second, I would feel my heartbeat start to increase. Before I knew it, a blaring sound of footsteps would echo across the hallway, one-by-one, until eventually, they made their way inside the bedroom.
At that point, all I could do was hold my breath and remain still.
In that moment of silence, I would listen to the footsteps as they traveled slowly back-and-forth across the room. Then, I would get this feeling as if someone were observing me closely, almost as if those footsteps were watching to see if I was truly asleep.
And as I lay there motionless, a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach would begin to build up. And although my body desperately desired to move, I knew better than to make any sudden action. Luckily, before I would have the chance to do anything, the sound of those footsteps would suddenly stop
And just as quickly as they stopped, the room would go dark. Then, a loud bang would follow as the bedroom door slammed completely closed.
Alone in an empty room, I would lay still.
In the darkness, I would hear the footsteps gradually make their way past the hallways of the house and come to a full stop as they hit the kitchen tile.
Seconds later, I would start to hear the drunken voice of a man muttering words that I had heard plenty of times before. And not long thereafter, I would be listening to him recount stories of his past. Stories of the struggles he had to endure to come to the United States. Stories of needing to somehow find a way to put food in the mouth of his wife and children. Stories of raising ungrateful sons who did not appreciate any of his back-breaking sacrifices.
On-and-on he went, confessing his truth to an unknown stranger or perhaps, I often thought, he was speaking to an empty room.
Moments later, there would be a long pause.
Finally, the sound of his loud snores coming from the kitchen would be all anyone could hear from inside the house.
This was the routine that played out for many years.
And this drunken figure, who had the distinct title of being my father, would come and go in-and-out of my childhood so much that the only memories of him that I had during that time were of his drunken rants.
And as I grew older, and the more we argued, the more we started to drift apart. I felt, as a son, I was never good enough.
In my early twenties, I had enough of him and decided to move away from home in an attempt to get far away. And when I needed advice that only a father could provide, I went searching for those answers from my uncles, brothers, mentors, or anyone that was older than me.
Yet, those stories that I heard my father unintentionally share when I was a child about his struggles would always linger in the back of my mind.
When I returned back home after years of being away, I made the decision to finally confront him about those memories that haunted me as a child. I figured I would no longer run away and hide, better yet, I was ready to release years of pent up anger and anguish onto him.
As we gathered in the kitchen, and as I started to take a real hard look at him, I was caught off guard. Before me was the face of an older man. A man with more wrinkles in his face than I could remember and more strokes of white lines covering the sides of his hair. And decades of drinking had left him with a weakly body that I had to help him get into his chair.
Suddenly all the words that I had practiced earlier in front of a mirror could not come out.
But before I could get the chance to regather my thoughts, I looked up and saw him staring at me, strangely, in a way that only a proud father would look at his son.
I had never seen him look at me like that before. A few seconds went by, and as I stared back at him and without saying a word, I started to understand.
I don’t know how to describe it. But in that moment, I started to recognize the pain he had gone through as a child. The pain of moving away from home in a desperate attempt to try and prove something to someone who was never around. The pain of having a father who showed him no love and treating his children just the same.
In that moment, while staring into his eyes and sharing his pain, I felt his regret.
And before long, he started apologizing for always coming home drunk, for pushing me away, and for never showing love.
I didn’t say a word.
In that moment, I reached out and hugged him. Hoping to let him know that I acknowledged and accepted his apology.
I don’t remember how long we hugged or what we talked about next.
But I do remember as we hugged, thinking back to those childhood nights, as he would be drunk, snoring in the kitchen with the lights turned on. And I can remember slowly walking up to him, trying my best not to wake him up, and covering him with my blanket.
And I can recall thinking that he was my father and I didn’t want him to sleep in the cold.
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