Courage To Love
At the age of 18, I was arrested for murder. I stayed in jail for 2 and half years with the thought that I would get the death penalty. I had never been much on religion or believing in people. To me, both were not worth my time or effort.
When it came time for my trial, I will be honest, and say I was afraid of the outcome. Not because I could possibly die, but because I would probably never get to do the one thing in my life that I had always wanted to do, and that was to have an actual relationship with my father.
We were apart for a majority of my life, my father and I, up to that point. When I came to live with my father, it was basically a strange friendship with no real love or affection shown by either of us towards the other.
When I was arrested, he moved to another state. During my time in jail, we had only exchanged three letters. As I said, not much love between us. But my trial was three days into jury selection when my dad showed up. My lawyer told me it was so my dad could get on the stand and tell the jury what a nice, caring young man I was. I thought to myself, "yea, right!" He hasnít been in my life or around me for most of it but now heís going to extol my virtues to 12 people who hold my very life in their hands? Sharpen up the needles boys, Iím going to be all yours! I thought such, anyway.
After that dayís session in court, my lawyer managed to get me some time to spend with my dad before I went back to jail. I was waiting in a small room with handcuffs and leg shackles on when he walked in. My dadís first spoken words to in almost three years were, "Well, you really done it this time, didnĎt you?" Like I said, lots of love between us!
Believe it or not, it was that very day that my thoughts and outlook on life and my father changed forever. My lawyer had the officers who were guarding me to remove the cuffs so that I could hug my dad and stepmother. I hugged her first and for the first time in my adult life, when I touched a woman, I didnít automatically think something sexual. I thought how good it felt just to have someone hug me! Not because they had to, but because they wanted to. When we pulled away I actually saw love in her eyes for me!
When I turned toward my dad, he had a strange look on his face. We stood there looking at each other for what seemed to be an eternity. As he started to talk, he coughed and had to start again. I knew something wasnít quite right. My dad had up to that point that I knew of, had never had to stop and start over when he was going to tell me or anyone something.
His next words made me feel as if the world had turned upside down on top of me. "Son, I love you!" I closed my eyes and my heart started pounding. These were four words my dad had never spoken to me. I didnít know whether to believe him or not until I opened my own eyes and saw tears in his! This was another first for me too! My world as I had known it had changed, and they were some pretty weird changes at that! I didnít know what to think or feel.
My fatherís next words were an added shock: "Son, would please sit down so I can talk to you?" My dad is the type of person who doesnít ask anyone to do anything.
He usually tells them.
I sat down on a bench and my dad set next to me. He then asked me not to say anything until he finished talking.
"Son, when you when you were born it was one of the happiest days of my life. But also one of the scariest. I knew in my heart that I loved you, and always would; but even then I didnĎt know if I would be able to show or give that love to you."
After he said this, I looked over at him and to my amazement my dad had started crying. For the first time in my life, I realized that his being a father to me was as hard on him as was my being a son to him was for me.
My dad wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, and started talking again: "Son, when you were arrested I had two choices. I could stay and try to be the father you needed, or I could run and hide. I chose to run and hide, hoping that it would all go away. I guess it just goes to show you that age doesnĎt always begat wisdom. When your lawyer called me two weeks ago, I wanted to run and hide again. Then about three days ago I realized that being away from you and whatís going on was not going to go away. That it was time I acted like the man I claim to be."
He then stood up and started pacing. I had at this point been ready to accept anything he said, but while I listened to what he had to say, I realized that I had to take some of the blame for our problems as well. I watched my dad as he paced and saw for the first time how much he had aged. When I was arrested my dad had a full head of thick black hair, with only a few streaks of gray in his beard. Now, he had more gray than black, and it wasnít nearly as thick as it once was. It told me that I had missed so much and that I would never be able to regain the time that we had lost. I guess thatís when I finally became a man to some extent. I realized that if my dad and I didnít get over our problems then we would never be able to deal with the other things life threw at us.
My dad paced back and forth a few more times then came to a stop in front of me. "Boy, rough times are ahead for you, but if you let me, I will walk with you and help you fight every step of the way. So get up and let Ďs go show those people out there that no matter what happens, standing beside someone you love is the only thing to do, especially when you Ďre both scared to death."
I am now in my 10th year of the first of two life sentences, but Iíve done ten years with my dad right beside me through it all. We have had some rough times, but my love and respect for my dad has and always will help us through.
Name withheld by request
(As of August 2003, the author of this essay is incarcerated in the North Carolina Department of Corrections.)