My father is a hard man. He's often uncaring and can, at times, be mean spirited and controlling. He has always been this way, and our relationship suffers most every day because of this. It's a shame, but I try not to complain because, after all, there are so many people who never knew their father, and at least I have that opportunity.
When I was young, my father's military unit was sent overseas to aid in the United States' terror relief efforts. I was sad to see him go, but I knew his work was important. After he left, we didn't hear from him for a while, and there was little news to be gleaned from the military spouse meetings. But, about a month into his time in the country, the letters started.
I had never received a hand-written letter, and it was exciting to visit the post office each week and return with something just for me. The letters he wrote were raw and kind, so unlike his demeanor in person.
It was as if the thousands of miles had baptized the letters removing all malice and ill will away leaving nothing but love and joy remaining.
The man who couldn't be bothered to kiss me goodnight two nights in a row was now writing me stories about camels. The person who was often annoyed by my mother's love of photos sent home rolls of film filled with exotic places and people. The father who never said much more than a short, "I love you" as he flew out the door in the morning filled his letters with an underlined "I love you" and well wishes for his "angels." I memorized his address, I wrote back to him, and I hung on every word of his letters.
Eventually, though, he returned home safe and sound.
And I was glad, me and my mother both were, and still are. But the man I had grown accustomed to for fourteen months stayed behind. That kind-hearted, loving man is somewhere in the Middle East, rotting, and all that remains are his letters. We hardly talk anymore. he's made decisions I can't live with, and I've chosen a life for myself in which he can't control me, and for that, I feel we will never be close.
So now, as I emerge into adulthood, still clinging to my father's letters, I'm often questioned.
People often ask why I still hold on to those crumpled letters when I hardly speak to my father now. What many fail to realize is those letters were the closest thing to a father's love I've ever known. They weren't a hurried "I love you" on the way to work or an awkward, sideways hug at church. They were lines of hand-written ballads and warm embraces that transcended the miles to reach me. They're my last link to the man that began and ended overseas, the one I never met face to face, but will never forget, and the father my father could've been.