I say this phrase more than any other...except "I Love You." I say that phrase about 20 times a day to my daughter. I'd say it more except she doesn't live with me right now. She will soon though, and then I guess I'll say it even more. Most of the time, I just say it into the wind and hope it finds it's way to her at the right moment. I call her every night to tell her. I see her every day when I pick her up from school and I tell her then too. She's 15. I'll be 50 in three weeks. In her 15 years I would bet she has heard me say "I Love You" about a million times. No exaggeration. A million times. In my 50 years, I've never heard those words from my father. Not ever. Yesterday I saw a man in the grocery store who looked something like my father. It made my eyes tear up. It wasn't him but it might as well have been. It made me sad. It's a story for another day...or maybe one I won't ever tell here. But the boiler plate is that I have been chasing him since I was 21. He desires no relationship with me and likely never will. I've wrestled with it for 29 years now and only recently decided that it wasn't worth wrestling with anymore. It simply is what it is. Becoming a dad has healed a lot of it. It's helped me grasp some of it. And it also has rendered it incomprehensible. I'm a dad. If ever...at any time in my life, a young man appeared and said I was his dad I would embrace him. I suppose I would verify it of course, but then I would embrace the role. Because you never - not ever- get to a point where you wouldn't like to have your dad around.
But I digress...this is about wanting to go home.
Maybe the two are connected somehow. Maybe the gaping hole in my heart is dad-shaped.
I know I have been here in Nashville for 16 years this November. In all that time, I have felt like I was living from a suitcase and waiting to leave. I've had some successes here. My daughter was born here so of course that is a highlight. I became a fairly successful mortgage banker. Successful in that, I did a very good job for my customers, was respected as one of the best in the business, and earned a decent income at one point.
But at any given moment, had God appeared and asked me "What would you really like to do with your life?" Mortgage banking would not have been on that list. My victories in the industry were hollow. Hollow because it was not a dream job for me and hollow because by the time I was successful and making good money, I was an ex-husband. My wife wanted it all and wanted it now. We struggled as most young couples do and she left, assuming the grass was greener. I guess it was at first, but as with all grass, it turns brown in Winter. It doesn't grow in the shade.
I have owned two houses here. One was special because it was my first house. The other was special because it was sort of my dream house. Nothing fancy by any means. But I had land and I had a workshop where I could make furniture and work on my car. I had an enormous garden and I enjoyed growing things. (I get that from my Uncle Franny, a man who could plant Cheerio's and donuts would come up)
But neither house was my home. Not the way I use that word. It was almost a home when Morgan would be there with me. It was a diversion on the days she wasn't. A diversion from the fact that all I had, all I worked for...it was without real meaning without a family to share it with.
I stayed away from dating and from remarriage. I don't really know why. Fear, I'm sure. Afraid to fail again. Afraid to go through the awful, vortex of hurt and pain that accompanies the breaking of a vow and the breakdown of a marriage. It hurts to be alone too, but you can control that pain. It's only yours. You can't control what someone else might do to you. I wasn't ready for that unknown again.
So I've been here for 16 years. Here in a place I can't call home. I feel lost. Trapped between two worlds. I have come to love certain things about this area. I like the Harpeth River. It's not in any way like the Delaware...my one place back home where I feel most at peace. It's very much like the Brandywine. But it isn't the Brandywine.
I miss the beach. I miss the boardwalk and the sand under my feet. Not just any sand...sand at Rehoboth, or Bethany. My sand. I miss the very early mornings watching the sun rise up out of the Atlantic and seeing pods of Dolphins in the distance, and being mesmerized every single time. I could watch them for hours and it would still feel like someone had pulled back a curtain somewhere and I was seeing something that few ever get to see. I miss the way salt-air smells. The peace of the early morning with the metronome of the surf supplying a canvas for my thoughts.
I have made some good friends here. Almost all the best friends I've made have been guys I play hockey with here. Terry and Pete and Andy and Dave and a bunch of guys who have the same love for the game. And who have done the little things that friends do while I have been struggling so much these past years. There is something about a hockey locker room that simply overflows with brotherhood in ways no other sport does. At least not the ones I played.
But I miss the guys back home I played with. I miss the ice at University of Delaware. The way the puck took a weird bounce off the boards in the right corner by the Zamboni door and ricocheted back into the slot. If you played there long enough, you knew to watch for it when the other team tried a wrap-around and once in a while, if you broke for the middle, you would catch the carom and get yourself a garbage goal.
I miss Tim and Kenny and Butchie and Shawn and Mr. and Mrs. Winward and working on the dragster at the track. I miss being part of something special.
I miss Timmy and me riding motorcycles through Beaver Valley. I miss Action News on Channel 6 and Angelo Cataldi on WIP.
I miss the people who became the family I never really had. Bob and Cathy. Pop and Jewell.
I have watched from afar as some of the boys I coached in hockey when they were in high school have become husbands and dads and business men. They are men now. Older than I was when I was their coach. I'm not their coach anymore, now we are friends and I miss them.
I miss Pastor Paul Walters and his sweet wife Betty. He was special to me and still is and I wish I could just go visit. But I can't.
I miss the beauty of the Chesapeake. The Chesapeake Bay has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. If you've never seen it, I can't begin to describe it to you.
I miss things being familiar. I miss street names and pizza joints and smiling faces opening the front door and inviting me in. I miss my long walks beside the Delaware, at Battery Park in Old New Castle. Everyone has their places where they feel alive, and at peace and where God seems to be able to speak a little more clearly to them. That one is mine. Bethany Beach is mine as well.
I have no place like that here. I've looked. Maybe I defeat myself by comparing. Maybe.
I want to go home. But I am caught in a dilemma because home without my daughter, simply doesn't exist. So I stay here. I stay here for love. I wish I was there, because I love it.
I wonder sometimes if I will ever, ever really have a home again.
Maybe Thomas Wolfe was right...