Cabot O’Callaghan imagines the letter his absent father never sent him.
To my Son, the Writer.
I know those words fall flat. Two words can’t fill the space, the years, between us.
I don’t know what to do. It’s too big. I’ve let my shame devour me.
I wish I could say I did the best I could, that I tried, even if miserably. But I didn’t.
I reasoned cowardly, made you someone else’s story.
I didn’t want you, son. I had plans, and it was easy to blame your mother. I was embarrassed. My parents knew before I did. My mother was angry, demanded an explanation. Her family had been dishonored. I was blindsided. It was easy to tell her that it was a mistake, that your mother was only seeking money. I told her that I would clear things up, make sure that your mother was exposed as a fraud.
I know these words are hard to read. But I think only the truth can possibly rescue me.
When you blindsided me that night at Pier 23 Cafe, I knew. Before you spoke a word. You look just like me, just like your younger sister that you never met. And then I panicked, because you were there, just feet from me. All those years that you weren’t my son were gone. There could be no more denial, no more hiding.
So I bullshitted. I pretended not to know.
Did you know? Did you see me squirming?
I thought you’d punch me. At least yell. But you didn’t. You were kind. And that was worse.
I tried to cope by telling you things that would make me feel better, that I’ve told myself over the years… I know that probably made things worse for you, confirmed that I was the man you have thought I was your whole life, flushed any doubt of your mother’s opinion of me.
But all you said was that you were recently married and wanted to know if there was anything on my side of the family genetically that you needed to be concerned about. You didn’t get angry. You apologized for the heavy meeting in the middle of my set. I showed you pictures of the half-sisters and brother you had never known.
And then I had to go perform some more, in front of you, as my son. It was hard to play my trumpet as you sat in front of me. Did you notice?
After, when we sat at the bar, and I introduced you to everyone like a brag… I didn’t know how else to do it. Even when we said our goodbyes and you gave me your number, I knew I’d never call.
I’m sorry I left it to your half-sister to call, to put the burden on her to close my wounds.
I’m sorry I could never accept your invitation to know you willingly.
I’m sorry for the pain of my absence, for my refusal to face my shame so I may help guide you for better or worse.
I’m sorry you have to write my letter to you, that I can’t tell you that I’m proud of you, that writing is what you were meant to do.
I’m sorry I wasn’t your father.
I’m sorry I didn’t love you.
Originally published on Cabot O’Callaghan