“I just cannot wait to hear from my Dad every Sunday, we talk for hours and hours and the surprising thing is that I always wait to hear from him a sentence with four words, he tells me always at the end of our conversation “Son I love you!”. I love to hear this, every time, all the time, this is for me a little boy in a candy store moment”, his face glowing and his eyes popping as he told me his story in my office. This was a well-built, tall handsome man in his early 50s whom I am seeing for the first time in my office because he needed a screening colonoscopy for prevention only, he is otherwise healthy.
“But our relation was not always healthy like this, in fact for a period of ten years we had cut off our relationship with each other, oblivious to each other’s plight, I did not know where my father was!”, Jim told me. Jim grew up in a beautiful East Coast town of USA, the area was draped with sunshine, beaches and green tree lines. Jim was in his early teenage years when his parents got divorced. He wanted to stay with his dad in the East Coast while his mother had decided to move across the country to the West Coast with her two children. But Jim wanted to stay with his dad. He pleaded with him but his dad was a distant dad, who never heeded the crying heart of his son. Feeling the hurt from dejection, Jim always wondered why his father never cared for him. After six months of trying to stay with his father, and getting no reciprocity, he eventually gave up, accepting in mind that as much as it seems unreal, his dad had quit on him. So he moved with his mother and took on the challenge of forming a new life in the West Coast.
Once the move occurred, his father sparingly talked to them at the beginning. His father had another son from his previous wife, named Tony and even in these infrequent calls his father would tell him, “Jim, this weekend I am going to go to the ballgame with Tony” or perhaps “you know Jim last week I had great time with your brother at the Disneyworld!”. Jim felt that his father did not care about him or his sister both of whom by now were living with their mother. Soon the sparing calls became rare and then rarer and then eventually vanished; out of sight, out of mind.
Jim was quintessential American youngster and he loved sports and played all kinds of sports. He would take a deep sigh noting that other fathers were there to watch their son’s game and his own father was absent. How he longed for the old days in the East Coast town, when he used to play catch with his father on the streets of their neighborhood! The excited and frustrated scream of his father from the podium side when Jim missed a basket that used to make him embarrassed, now Jim longed for them like a thirsty traveler lost in the desert looking for an oasis for just one drink of cool water. His mother would be there as much as she could. “But it’s not the same, Doctor!” he told me. He eventually reached a point where he decided to give up sports. Missing of his dad was eating him up inside. It would have happened unless his mother had not been strong who had persuaded him to stay on and fight for it, “You shouldn’t give up something you love, you always loved sports Jim, don’t give up just because you are angry.”
But as angry and disappointed as we are, time doesn’t wait and it passes in its own speed, and that is exactly what had happened to Jim. With all the pains in his heart, pent up anger in his psyche, he grew up, graduated from school and eventually got a job and had own place. By now it has been many years that he had spoken with his father. He is a grown adult now with his own world: coworkers, lots of friends and some families. American life is on the move.
One fine evening, as Jim was turning 33, he was having a birthday celebration. Plenty of friends and families were there. Jim was having a great time with them. Sweet aroma of the drink was draped in the air, the decorations were colorful and the crowd was cordial and loud. The cacophony of the party was interrupted just when it was at its peak by the ringing of the phone. No, no way, Jim wouldn’t let the party stop for the phone, or at least that’s what he thought, and he decided to ignore and tire out the caller who had to quit. Then it rang again and then again, Jim was not going to pick up the phone, this is party time, no way, by now lines of irritation was written on his forehead. The caller was insistent and he kept on ringing every few minutes, and eventually Jim’s sister answered the phone, she spoke for few minutes with a stranger and then shouted out, “Jim, someone wants to speak with you”. “I’m not talking to anyone during my birthday party” Jim hollered back. This time, his sister’s face took on a commanding profile, her gaze deepened and her voice resonating with authority, and just as Jim was thinking his sister had become the reincarnation of his won strong mother, she told Jim, “Jim, I think you need to speak with this person, if someone wants to talk to you, you should talk”. Jim approached towards the phone with a hiss and answered, “Hello, this is Jim”. The constant smile he always wore in his face and especially with the good time of this party, the warm grin he had in his face evaporated as he intently listened to the other person on the opposite side of the phone line. He shook his head vigorously and eventually cut off the phone conversation saying, “Look this is my birthday party, I am busy, I have no time to talk now!” It seemed like he needed few minutes to get him together hanging up the line and then joined the merriment of the party again. People looked at him with great wonder, but none said anything.
The party was over and few weeks had past. But Jim could not forget the phone call on his party night, this is not about the conversation, but about the conversation he did not want to have; everything else, the bash, the good time, the intoxicating drink all were blurry compared to the quick phone call he had received in which he even hardly spoke. It kept on eating at him from inside. The more he tried to forget it, the less he could forget, the more he tried to trivialize it, the bigger it became. His only way out was to call the caller back. And one fine weekend morning that’s what he did. Once he decided on it, he felt a weird excitement about it, he could hardly sleep, the time difference between East Coast and West Coast, where he lived, seemed to be too unbearable to him for the first time in his life. He kept on watching the clock to make sure he does not miss the 8 AM in the East Coast lest he misses the person he is trying to call. Then came 4 AM in West Cost time, Jim was still siting upright on his study chair and then Jim picked up the phone languidly with his shaky and sweaty hand and dialed the number. It rang once, and his heart sped up, it rang twice and his heart sped even further, and on the third ring the phone was picked up: “Hello” said the deep baritone voice from the other side, Jim’s hand shook, “This is Jim, Dad!” his voice cracking. “I’m so glad son you called, I know I haven’t done things right by you, hope you accept my apology son”. Jim just stood, he couldn’t bring himself to speak again, he stood like a six feet five muscular statue, built on a frame of sports and only hint of humanity given away was by the tears that were dripping down his face and falling on his shirt one drop at a time like the first drip of snow melt on the early days of Spring.
On that call, Jim and his father agreed that they would take another chance and try to make it up. His father after all of these years wanted to visit him in West Coast. The whole thing seemed surreal and unbelievable to Jim. When his father finished up the conversation with, “I love you son!”, Jim couldn’t believe it, “You must be joking Dad!” he thought to himself. But, sure enough Jim’s father showed up in town in few weeks just as he had promised. They met; it was stormy, tearful and full of anger and emotion. Jim’s father told him although no one had ever suspected, he was a hidden alcoholic all of these times. He had finally given up alcohol and realized that he had not done right by his children. He wanted his children to accept his apology and forgive him. He also told them that he had promised himself to try to make up the lost days as much as he could. “I am a changed man, Jim” looking deep into his eyes and holding his hand. Although Jim was still angry, his heart had accepted this apology. Both Jim and his sister agreed.
Ever since then, they started talking regularly every weekend making a ritual out of it, they took several road trips every year which are the most enjoyable experiences Jim and his father together had. These trips are reminiscent of the old good time Jim had with his dad before their family broke apart. Although they cannot make up the missed childhood time, Jim realized it is never late to start something good. Now a peace had descended upon Jim, a burden had lifted out of him. The high blood pressure condition that he was suffering from and has been uncontrollable so far became more tame; he visibly became calmer and is better liked by his coworkers and acquaintances. Jim himself is amazed to notice that nothing makes angry and frustrated him anymore like in the past when small matters used to throw his psyche into a grand mal fit. “I am not as evil anymore!” Jim described himself to me breaking out in a staccato laughter. He went on adding, “I was angry because I had no male figure to talk to and knowing that he was not there for me, no one to get advice from”. Feeling of dejecting gives rise to anger.
Jim’s Magic Bullhorn Message to the world: “Enjoy your parents and grandparents while they are here, don’t disrespect them, enjoy them. There is only one of them, when they are gone, they are gone. Make peace with parents and grandparents while they are alive, it is wonderful, simply beautiful.” But his next message is the most interesting, “Doctor, I told you before, I love to hear from my father, “I love you son!”, every time I hear that, I feel so happy, so excited, I just feel like the little kid let loose in the candy store”!
Jim and his dad’s is a touching story and a real example how stories can help in healing. Once Jim’s dad realized his mistake, he was ready to tell his story to his son and ready to apologize. Without a proper story, it was impossible for his son to understand him and forgive him. Jim was very right also in the observation that he was angry and evil due to lack of a father figure in his life. This is true even in animal world: it has been proven that when in the nature reserves of South Africa, they had culled too many adult male elephants, the young male elephants started to become destructive and unruly. They were creating havoc in the wildlife reserves, going on wanton destruction and random killing and harassment of other animals. The only way they were finally controlled was to reintroduce mature bull elephant, “Father Figure” in this case and once this was done, the young bull juveniles calmed down and fell in line one by one. Our healing and inner peace depends on the story as is in Jim’s case even his blood pressure had stabilized and his behavior changed to a calmer and peaceful one. Story is healing, story is soothing, story is calming. Story is all over, with us and even with nature as I have given the example of animals. We just have to learn from it and heal from it; as a physician, I feel this is my first job. Remember: it is not too late to tell a story, it is not too late to apologize and it is never late to forgive someone after you get the story. It is never late to heal and achieve inner peace. Do you have a healing story? Please write to me. Love you all, Dr. Meah.