And I was just listening.
Now normally when I am faced with someone who speaks and speaks and speaks and never stops, I tune out and write my grocery list in my head or replay the latest episode of my current Netflix binge behind my eyes looking for nuggets of plot that I may have missed. Sometimes I pretend I have to go the bathroom. But not this time. This time I just listened.
He talked about his dad who has long been so mysterious to me. Suddenly I felt like I knew my late grandfather. I could feel his love for his dad.
He talked about my uncle who had experienced real war and all the horror that comes with combat. I started to understand my uncle who I rarely see and often wonder about. I could feel his love for his brother.
He talked about my mom and all of the reasons he needed her. He gave me a glimpse of the tie that keeps them together. I saw a soft and vulnerable part of his heart that he rarely shows. I could feel his love for my mom.
He talked about his grandchildren- each one of the six getting their own few minutes to shine through his musings of them. I learned what it is about each of them that he adores along with the parts of them he still tries to understand. I could feel his love for his grandchildren.
This might seem like it's no big deal if your dad regularly feels things right in front of you. But mine doesn't. Don't get me wrong - he's not hard. He's just hidden. There always seems to be something right there under his surface that he guards. But he is unable to keep his eyes from betraying him. When they do, he deflects with a joke or heads back to his room until the threat of revelation subsides. I have always known he had stories to share.
And maybe that's why my kidlets interact with him the way that do.
Plum is skeptical and is constantly challenging him. At first this stressed me out but I have come to see her resistance for what it is. She's a straight forward, outwardly feeling, emotion bomb. She demands total feelings exposure from Brandon and I. So, of course, she expects full disclosure and misreads people all the time. She has fewer layers and walls. My dad? Not so much. So it takes more for her to feel close to him. It's interesting to me that during my mother's hospital stay, Plum was gentle and loving with my dad. It's because she could see his struggle. She understood it because she missed grandma too. He suddenly made sense to her.
Pants, on the other hand is 100000% at ease with Grandpa. And the reasons are obvious to me. Pants sees my dad through the mirror they share. There is an echo that happens between them. Pants understands his Grandpa. He understands his guarded layers and his soft center. He understands them because they are also his own.
A few nights a week, once the lights go out and the blue light is on, Pants will ask me to turn toward Plum so that "our faces cannot see each other". That might sound a bit rude if you are a Feelings McFeely Face like Plum and I but I cherish these particular nights because once the request is made, I know what is coming.
It is under the cover of darkness, with a ray of the bright blue nightlight, that Pants lets those layers peel back and talks freely about the harder stuff. He allows the pesky emotions to reveal themselves without trying to coat them or excuse them. Love, stress, excitement, sadness and all the things that can leave us vulnerable and exposed - it all comes out when we are back to back. His little leg sometimes lifted over mine. His hand seeks out my side. He pushes against my back with his back like he is creating a seal. He feels safe and he talks about all that is going on inside of him. All of this comes as long as he doesn't have to look in my face as it does.
Just like the day I sat in the waiting room with my dad. Side by side with our backs to the wall and looking forward. Not at each other. No eye contact. Just our arms brushed together as they lay on the arm rests of the strangely comfy hospital chairs.
Writing that out it sounds so stiff, but it wasn't. I knew that eye contact would ruin the gift my dad was giving me. I knew that if I talked too much he would stop and I didn't want him to stop. I knew all of this because we had done this a few times before with many years between each time. But THIS time, this time as we sat in the waiting room, I realized why I knew how to roll with Pants and his rules about talking.
And I wonder if my dad had the chance to lay in the dark and talk about his insides when he was a little boy. I suspect not but I could be wrong. I'd like to ask him but I will have to wait for life to place us together, alone and quietly waiting. Those are the rules.