My Father Mateo (Part 3)
(Conclusion, continued from yesterday's post; you may scroll down for Parts 1 and 2)
As I write this chapter about my father, everything seems so anti-climactic. Thus far, it is like a badly-said joke without any punch line. Psychologists term it "coming to terms." Old folks say, growing up. Close kin say, bouncing back. Friends say, thicker hide. I say, answered prayers.
My father didn't change. I did.
Where I used to have blinkers and saw only his drinking, now with hindsight, I could see all the other sides of him too—clearly, objectively, sans the callowness of my youth.
Sometime between JC's third and fourth birthday, my father finally kicked the alcohol habit totally, cold turkey. Maybe because he was already feeling the early pains of cancer, which claimed his life a few years later, or because he didn't need it anymore.
Whatever. At that point, it didn't matter to me one way or the other. My father and I—well, he was my father. The stranger was gone forever.
And today, as I recall those years I spent with my father, my memories of him dwell wonderfully on the redeeming sober moments and all of his latter years: his frequent trips to my own home where he planted fruit-bearing trees in the yard, how he played with my sons, how he chatted away with my husband, how he braved those radiation therapies and surgeries, and how he left with incredible valor. I felt no trace of the agony that dogged me for years.
In fact, it took time before I could write the details about that debilitating syndrome which crippled me in my younger life. I had to look at pictures of snow to make me remember the depths of my feelings during that one last eventful attack in Chicago. It took quite an effort to describe the ghosts which terrified and hounded that little girl who, upon turning into a woman, escaped from home because there lurked a stranger.
Again, why am writing this at all?
I recently dug up a twenty-five-year-old, tattered little book entitled It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown by Charles Schulz. It is about this little kid Linus who, every Halloween, waits for the Great Pumpkin. Linus believes that the only way to celebrate Halloween is to sit in a sincere pumpkin patch and wait for it to come.
A person has to be very sincere in his waiting so the Great Pumpkin will not pass him by. In the book, it doesn't arrive, but Linus—whose childlike faith in someone greater, kinder and more powerful than anyone he has ever known—says with conviction, "Next year, he'll come. Just you wait and see!"
On the first page of the book is a handwritten message of my father, a confirmed book enthusiast till the end, to my son, JC.
"Dear JC, When you will be grown up and I will be gone, you will know what the Great Pumpkin is. Lolo Mateo."
I feel that the message was scrawled for me. I am grown up (well, how else would you call a golden girl?) and he is gone (fifteen years now), and I certainly know what a Great Pumpkin is. Like a Linus, I may have sat sincerely in a pumpkin patch for many years, waited, and kept the faith. Because one day, God rewarded me not in the way I wanted Him to, but in a much bigger fashion I never imagined possible.
My one regret is, I wasn't able to say this to my father before he left us all to be with our heavenly Father, "Thank you for the lesson of the Great Pumpkin, Daddy."
(“Gifts of Grace” Book 1, from where this chapter My Father Mateo was lifted, is now an e-book. So are “Gifts of Grace” Vols. 2 and 3)